Center for World Indigenous Studies
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Dam Lies

Published: September 27, 2007, Author: MHirch

Hydroelectric dams have since the beginning of the twentieth century fueled industrial development and economic expansion of states like Egypt, Indonesia, the Philippines, and of course the industrial powers of Canada, the United States of America, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Russia). While the result has indeed been economic expansion and the formation of moneyed wealth and power in oligarchies, Fourth World peoples and the natural world have suffered. Real negotiations between Fourth World nations and states’ governments are now required to avoid adverse affects.

During the Ferdinand Marcos regime (early 1980s) in the Philippines the president and his cronies conspired to get the World Bank to provide funds for the development of a series of dams in the Luzon province on the Chico River to generate electricity for sugar plants. The Kalinga and Bontoc nations reacted in opposition because their rice terraces and villages were going to be drowned under vast lakes created by the dams. Using weapons and stealth Kalinga warriors attacked road builders in an effort to prevent dam construction. The American government transferred funds to President Marcos to support his military to “defend against communists” in Luzon. The American government paid twice to ultimately kill many Kalinga by first allocating funds to the World Bank in support of the Philippine dam projects and then appropriating funds to provide military aid to defend against communists who were in reality Kalinga warriors defending their territories from certain destruction. The United States-based National Congress of American Indians campaigned in 1983 to force the US Congress to withhold funds from the Philippine project and that effort with the pressure of many others combined to halt dam construction in the Cordillera region.

During the same period, the World Bank considered providing funds to construct dams in Costa Rica on rivers that would flood Boruca and Bribri nation communities. Members of the Bribri publicly protested construction of dams that were intended to provide power for an aluminum plant on the Lemon coast. The World Council of Indigenous Studies and the Center for World Indigenous Studies worked with other Fourth World organizations to block funding for the project.

These two projects were initiated to secure funding from the World Bank even though the Bank had written and put in place an indigenous peoples policy: Tribal Peoples and Economic Development: Human Ecologic Considerations designed to require states’ government negotiations with Fourth World peoples before development of dams, roads, high power facilities and more projects could be funded. The World Bank policy generally failed and has served to shield states’ governments from criticism.

Fourth World nations are being duped into accepting dam construction plans when states’ government officials provide partial or misleading information about their intentions when they negotiate. They get signatures from nation representatives and claim they have consented though the agreements are based on a tissue of lies.

The Cree of James Bay in Canada are now opposed to construction of a massive dam project now that they have become informed that grave environmental damage will be done by Hydro Quebec. Canada’s company wants to construct the dam not because Canada needs electricity. The sole purpose of the dam is to generate electricity for New York and New York City in the United States. They want to sell the power outside Canada. The Cree now say they will: “…stand up to Hydro Quebec because the economic benefits do not reflect the ecological consequence.”

In Chile, the government promotes the Spanish energy company Endesa and Colbun, the Chilean energy company to construct a massive hydroelectric power station on the Baker and Pascua rivers. HidroAysén, as the project is known is expected to flood 5,910 hectares of wilderness and lands originally occupied by the Pehuenche (a branch of the Mapuche). The Pehuenche were relocated to higher land based on an agreement with the dam builders and the government. The agreement between the Fourth World peoples and the dam builders required provision of jobs, housing and road improvements, “student scholarships, health centres and technical advice for production of the families’ new lands.” The Chilean government had already made an agreement with the companies BEFORE negotiations with the Pehuenche.

Oil, dams, communications facilities, roads–all of these development projects have an affect on Fourth World peoples and the environment. Fourth World nations must be provided third party guarantors for agreements being promoted by states’ governments and their development partners BEFORE a project moves from the initial planning stage. The World Bank is owned by states’ governments so it is probably only realistic to believe that institution will defend state members and give lip service to Fourth World nations. Nations must take the initiative to force strict negotiation procedures to avoid being lied to, to avoid conflict in the future.

(c) Center for World Indigenous Studies

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