Chile, Mapuche Families in Panguipulli Demand Compensation for Hydroelectric Dam Flooding
by Ryan Seelau

More than sixty Mapuche families from Panguipulli are banding together to demand compensation for flooding that occurs on their lands each year caused by a nearby hydroelectric dam. The hydroelectric facility was originally built by the Chilean government in the 1950s, but for more than a decade it has been operated by the Italian company, ENEL. The Mapuche admit that their lands cannot be recovered, but are seeking compensation from both the Chilean Government and ENEL for continuous damage to their lands.

More than 50 years ago the Chilean Government decided to build a dam on lands that were traditionally used and occupied by the Mapuche people. The construction of this dam produced an artificial lake called Laguna Pullinque. The creation of this lake destroyed more than 740 acres of land, which directly affected the Mapuche’s ability to farm and raise animals in the area. The Mapuche neither participated in the proposal to construct the dam, nor did they receive any compensation for the land that was lost.

Since that time, the size of the lake has continued to increase. Each year the lake floods and more Mapuche land is lost. According to Joel Huiriman, the president of the Mapuche community of Llongahue, “Day by day, the land is shrinking, the animals are losing their food and dying, and each year the lake expands.” And as Manuel Collinahuel, a member of the Mapuche Community of José Antonio Reinahuel Tralahuapi, “The animals have also died — [such as] sheep — and that means a loss in revenue for us. The rising water has meant loss of land to Mapuche families who live from agriculture and livestock, and our lands have been progressively deteriorating.”

In response to this ongoing problem, the Mapuche communities in the area are beginning to organize to present their demands. They are being assisted by the Observatorio Ciudadano (a Chilean NGO that does a lot of work with Indigenous peoples), and are, essentially, making three demands:

1. To receive just compensation from the Chilean Government for the original flooding that created Laguna Pullinque;
2. To receive just compensation from ENEL for damage the annual flooding causes to their lands; and
3. To set-up some sort of profit-sharing agreement with ENEL so that the community can benefit from the land that it cannot use due to the flooding.

At the moment, the two sides are not very close to an agreement. That said, ENEL has made an offer to compensate the Mapuche communities at a rate of approximately US$640 per acre damaged. The Mapuche, on the other hand, are requesting more than US$40,000 per acre in addition to a percentage of the profits.