Locals Still Wary Despite Cancellation of Inambari Dam

Monti Aguirre

Men holding protest sign
Men holding protest sign
Foto SER

For over a month, close to 2,000 people in the Puno area of the Peruvian Amazon went on strike in an effort to convince the government to cancel mining concessions and the Inambari Dam. They blocked access roads to the region and held mass protests.

To appease the strikers, the government established a high-level commission to review the Inambari Dam. After a tense meeting with local communities on June 13, Commission Chair and Vice-Minister of Energy Luis Gonzales Talledo cancelled the project, stating that the Brazilian consortium Egasur's rights to develop the project had been revoked.

The Inambari Dam was to be built at the corner of Puno, Cusco, and Madre de Dios states, 300 km from the border with Brazil.The project would have flooded 410 square kilometers of forest, including part of the Bahujan Sonene National Park buffer zone. More than 15,000 people would be deprived of their agricultural lands and thus their main source of livelihoods. 

The Inambari Dam was one of at least six hydropower projects that are part of an energy agreement signed by Peru and Brazil last year. The projects would be primarily for export of electricity to Brazil, and would be built and financed by Brazilian entities. 80% of the electricity from Inambari would have been exported to Brazil, necessitating a 1,500 km transmission line to connect the two countries.

Olga Cutipa, Vice President of the Carabaya Defense Coalition, lives in San Gaban in the state of Puno. She has been a leader in the fight against construction of the Inambari Dam and was one of the leaders of the recent strike. In this interview with Peruvian NGO Servicios Educativos Rurales (SER), Olga reflects on the cancellation of Inambari Dam, her experience with the Brazilian construction consortium Egasur, and how the Inambari Dam has affected the local Carabaya indigenous communities.

Olga Cutipa
Olga Cutipa
Foto SER

SER: After three years of protests against the Inambari Dam, the government has revoked the temporary license to Egasur, the Brazilian dam promoter. Are you and the affected Carabaya communities satisfied with this decision?

Olga: No, we are not satisfied. We asked for definitive cancellation of the project, but the document released by the Ministry does not say that. We have a Ministerial Order, which cancels the temporary concession for Egasur, and limits their work in the district of San Gaban. But it is possible that a license could be granted to another company, or even to Egasur in the coming months. Therefore, the ministerial decision has not convinced us; the communities still live in fear.

SER: If another company were to request a license, according to the Ministerial resolution they would have to comply with the law of prior consultation. 

Olga: It is true that prior consultation is an important issue that was identified in the Ministry's document. However, besides consultation on the construction of Inambari, we would want to be consulted on other development projects proposed in the Carabaya province such as mining, oil, or water projects. We need to be consulted on everything.

SER: Would you go back on strike?

Olga: We are taking a 15-day break to assess the situation. We are also coordinating a trip to Lima to meet with representatives at the Brazilian embassy and let them know about our agreements. We will deliver our resolutions to newly-elected president Mr. Ollanta Humala once he takes office in July. If Humala does not listen to us, we will continue the struggle and make him respect us, because when the people say no, it's no.

SER: How many people would the Inambari Dam have affected?

Olga: About 15,000 people. We were born and raised here. There were no roads. Our parents took us out riding on mules and we ate wild foods. We have no diseases - we are healthy, yet they want to make us leave? They are committing an abuse; Egasur should not bother us, they should stay away.

SER: What is life like for local communities?

Olga: In the summer we work in artisanal, small-scale mining and save money for the winter. In the winter, the river floods mining areas, and we use our savings and also work in agriculture. We are free here; that freedom can't be stripped from us, they can't force us out. We know our human rights - there is an ombudsman's office here and we talk to them. If they ignore us, we can contact the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

SER: What would the final cancellation of the Inambari Dam mean for the province of Carabaya?

Olga: It would signify a great achievement for us; it would be a battle won for our rights and our land. If we win, that will propel us to move forward to work in our lands. The Inter-Oceanic Highway will be key for our development; we will be able to transport our crops to other countries. The regional government of Puno is developing a project called Plan Selva, and that will help us to support the livestock sector and agriculture.

Women protesting
Women protesting
Foto SER

SER: How do you evaluate the role of Egasur in this project?

Olga: Since the beginning they have been deceiving us, saying there were starting to build right then, which caused trauma to humble people who cannot read or write. Egasur wanted to persuade people, and even told people in my community that I am ignorant, that I do not know what I'm doing, that people should not listen to me, and that I am trying to convince everybody that they are not bringing development. The company workers told people that they live in poverty, and they are going to build good houses for the people, that they will give them money and bring development so that they can educate their children. But I told my community that that is not true. The same thing happened when Intersur came to build the Inter-Oceanic highway and offered us the moon and the stars. The company said they were going to pay for all of the damages to our crops, for the bananas, pineapples, etc., but did not. And now, after building the Inter-Oceanic highway, the government wants to flood it for the dams? Who is the government defending? Is that not embezzlement? The Peruvian government invested millions on the road in partnership with Brazil, but for what? Why bury it under water?

SER: Carabaya is a province of great poverty, and there is informal mining and illegal cultivation of coca leaf. What alternatives should be promoted to end those activities?

Olga: Well, Carabaya province has those problems, but it also has great wealth. We will demand that the regional and local governments address and put order on informal mining activities, and promote development that encourages alternative work, agriculture, forestry and livestock.

Thursday, June 16, 2011