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Mapuche leader found dead in reservoir she opposed

December 25, 2013
Associated Press

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — The body of a Mapuche Indian leader has been found in Chile, floating in the reservoir she spent a decade trying to prevent from being created.

Prosecutors requested an autopsy of 73-year-old Nicolasa Quintreman, who was nearly blind, to rule out foul play. Her body was found Tuesday, a day after she went missing.

Quintreman's protests against the construction of a hydroelectric dam on her tribal land in the southern Biobio region made her the face of Chile's environmental movement.

With her sister Berta, she led a public fight against the European power company Endesa at a time when Chile's environmental enforcement was lax and its indigenous protection law wasn't closely followed. Hundreds of other families supported them initially, but they gradually gave in to the pressure and traded their land for other properties beyond the flood zone. Finally, she too gave up, trading her small plot in 2002 for an undisclosed sum and a larger property 9 miles (15 kilometers) away.

"People who said they were my friends abandoned me," she said then. "If they had stayed with me, I could have kept up the fight."

The project authorized by the center-left government of Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagble (1994-2000) then flooded the Mapuches' valley, generating more of the power Chile needed to grow its economy.

The waters of the reservoir, "Lago Ralco," rose to a point about 80 yards (meters) from Nicolasa Quintreman's new home, where the land drops about 23 feet (7 meters) to the surface, giving reason to suspect that she may have fallen in accidentally, the Radio Biobio website reported Wednesday.

The results of the autopsy were not expected on Wednesday. A day of mourning was declared in the community of Alto Biobio and the body was returned to her family for a funeral.

The Quintreman sisters remained known as the founders of a new environmental movement in far southern Chile, one that now counts on the support of many international NGOs, which have gone to court to stop the construction of more dams such as the HidroAysen project, which would block some of the world's last free-flowing rivers and carve a path through the forests for high-tension power lines running for thousands of miles.

 
 

 

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