Letter to Trade Minister Re: Kidnapping - May 9, 2002

May 9, 2002

The Honourable Pierre Pettigrew
Minister for International Trade
Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade
Lester B. Pearson Building
125 Sussex Drive
Ottawa, Ontario   K1A 0G2

Dear Minister Pettigrew:

I am writing you today on behalf of the NGO Working Group on Export Development Canada to denounce the recent attempted kidnapping of indigenous community leader Sara Imilmaqui in Chile and demand EDC to withdraw its support of the Ralco dam project until the voice of the indigenous Mapuche people is heard.

On April 14, Sara Imilmaqui, 60-year old Mapuche leader and member of the Mapu Domuche Newen organization in Chile, fought off attempts to force her into the backseat of an unknown car.  This has not been the first case of harassment against Ms. Imilmaqui.  One month before, her home was broken into and her computer was stolen.  In 1998, she was followed and harassed by an unknown man, later identified as a Customs Officer.

The construction of this dam will negatively affect the Pehuenche people, the last Mapuche tribe to live a traditional, seasonal pastoralist lifestyle.  Without arable land and suitable areas to migrate within, their culture is at risk.  This project will flood 3,400 hectares of land, displace 600 people (400 of them are Pehuenche people), and threaten the existence of 50 animal and aquatic species.

Despite court injunctions filed by the Pehuenche and environmental groups, the construction of Ralco is continuing illegally.  President Frei of Chile dismissed the director of the National Commission on the Environment in order that this agency would overturn its original ruling that the project was illegal and provide a permit to build the dam.  We are very disturbed to know that Canadians, through EDC support, are endorsing these blatantly corrupt activities.

We fear that the safety of Ms. Imilmaqui’s life is in danger, and we demand EDC to withdraw its support to the Ralco dam until the harassment against the Mapuche resistance stops and the project listens to the voice of the Mapuche people.

Yours sincerely,

Melanie Quevillon
NGO Working Group on the EDC
Cc:  Ian Gillespie, President and CEO, Export Development Canada