On Friday, May 20th, the Temuco Court of Appeals filed a petition of protection on behalf of the Mapuche community of Felipe Nitrihuala against a high voltage power line construction project in there area. The project is being undertaken by the company, Transnet, which received final environmental approval to begin construction on December 1, 2010. Shortly after the project was approved, the Mapuche community went to court on the grounds that it poses a serious risk to their health, their culture (in the form of sacred sites), and that they were not appropriately consulted as is required under international and Chilean law.
The US$ 6 million project, if completed, will result in high voltage power lines being constructed for 39 kilometers between Loncoche and Villarica. The project was originally rejected in 2008 by the Regional Environmental Commission, but was ultimately approved two years later. According to the report filed by the Commission in 2008, the project was rejected because of the serious environmental damage it could do to Mapuche communities in the area.
After the project was approved this past December, the Mapuche community of Felipe Nitrihuala went to the Temuco Court of Appeals to halt the construction of the power lines. In addition to other arguments, the community claimed that they were never consulted about the project and that they will not receive any of the benefits from it — namely, none of the electricity generated by the project will benefit their community. On May 5, 2011, the Temuco Court of Appeals rejected the community’s claims.
Although the Temuco Court of Appeals rejected the claim earlier this month, today they submitted the necessary documents so that the Mapuche community might be heard by the Supreme Court of Chile. At the time of this writing there has been no determination by the Supreme Court as to whether or not they will hear the case.
Radio Bio-Bio quoted an attorney named Cristóbal Carmona, who stated that the case may become of particular interest to a great number of people because it could have an impact on the HidroAysén megaproject — the highly controversial dam project in souther Chile that received environmental approval this month. Specifically, the attorney speculated that if the case is heard, the Court could put forth a precedent related to the construction of power lines through Indigenous communities — something that is an integral aspect of the HidroAysén project as currently designed.