On Monday, January 30th, members from five Mapuche-Pehuenche communities occupied the municipal government of Lonquimay over the lack of water in their communities. The protest seems to have been sparked by the fact that the local government recently delayed a bidding process aimed at ultimately providing water to the communities. The local alcalde has explained that the process was delayed is because there were irregularities in the bidding that included possible intimidation and coercion.
Lonquimay is located in southern Chile, approximately 140 kilometers east of Temuco. In total, the affected Pehuenche communities (a sub-group of the Mapuche people) include more than 200 individuals who live within about 75 kilometers of the municipality itself. According to Gerónimo Nahuelcura, a Mapuche community leader, the group came to the municipal government because, “We are five communities who, for 25 years, have not had access to potable water and have been affected by drought. [...] Where else are we to go? We have a great need as our children our sick and our wells are dirty.” The protestors indicated that they do not intend to leave until they come to an agreement with Alcalde Guillermo Vásquez.
The Alcalde has admitted that there are project funds — approximately US$ 3 million worth — to bring water to the communities. That said, it appears that on January 26th, those bids were either rejected or, at least, the process was halted. It seems to be that decision that brought the protestors to Lonquimay this week. Alcalde Vásquez has indicated that there was “pressure and manipulation” in the bidding process. As such, the municipality government unanimously decided to turn over all their information on the process to the regional comptroller.
In a statement given on Tuesday, January 31st, Alcalde Vásquez explained the city’s actions to the media and added, “We are very concerned about this much needed project and its significance to the Pehuenche people [and understand] the troubles that come with this type of delay.” The alcalde went on to explain that the government was trying to act with transparency in this case and that, hopefully, the issues will be resolved soon.