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article imageOp-Ed: Bio-Bío River - Emblem of the on-going struggle of the Mapuche Special

By Igor I. Solar     Jan 17, 2014 in World
Concepci - The Bio-Bio River is Chile's second largest river and the country's widest. As one of Chile's most important rivers from the historical and economical standpoints, it has become a symbol of the long struggle of the aboriginal Mapuche.
Chile is a very narrow country. The average distance between the peaks of the Andes and the sea is about 175 kilometers. Because of that, although there are many rivers in Chile, few have a length or flow that can compare with the world's great rivers like the Nile of Egypt (6,650 km), the immense Amazon of Brazil (6,400 km ), the grand Mississippi in the United States (6,275 km), or the mighty Mackenzie River in Canada (1,738 km). The Bio-Bío River in Chile only flows 380 kilometers from its source in the Andes, near the border with Argentina, to its mouth at the Pacific Ocean near the city of Concepción.
The Bio-Bio River is Chile's second largest river and the country's widest. Only the Baker River in the Chilean Patagonia region carries a larger volume of water. It is also one of Chile's most important rivers from the historical and economical standpoints.
Bio-Bío River. Near the mouth of the river flowing into the Pacific Ocean.
Bio-Bío River. Near the mouth of the river flowing into the Pacific Ocean.
Bio-Bio River. View of the river towards the 1 465-meter-long Chacabuco Bridge  in the city of Conce...
Bio-Bio River. View of the river towards the 1,465-meter-long Chacabuco Bridge, in the city of Concepción.
P. Contreras
Bio-Bío River Delta. An arm of the river near the mouth  flowing into the Pacific Ocean.
Bio-Bío River Delta. An arm of the river near the mouth, flowing into the Pacific Ocean.
The Bio-Bío River has been for centuries a geographical landmark of utmost importance to the citizens of the country. During the Conquest of Chile, the Spanish conquistador Pedro de Valdivia and his soldiers founded forts and towns along the Bio-Bío River basin. The aim was to establish military posts to facilitate progress towards the south. For almost 300 years the Mapuche aboriginals impeded that. The conquest of southern Chile did not go beyond the Bio-Bío River which remained the de facto boundary between the two nations.
Over the years, the intensity of Mapuche resistance declined. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the area slowly began to be inhabited by the Chilean creole population. However, starting in 1861, through violent invasion, occupation and annexation of Mapuche territories in what the Chilean government called "Pacification of Araucanía,” the Bio-Bío region and areas further south began to be populated by invaders. Many cities were founded and land was allocated to local aristocrats and European settlers mostly Germans, Italians and Croats. The Mapuche were displaced from their ancestral lands, became servants-farmhands of the colonizers or were forced to wander in search of food and shelter.
During the twentieth century, various economic activities including agriculture, livestock ranching and forestry were installed in the Bio-Bío region. Excessive logging in the twentieth century led to heavy erosion that drowned the river with silt and made it impassable to river traffic. The forest industry, and the construction of plants for the production of cellulose, polluted the river causing great damage to the river’s ecosystem.
Bio-Bío River. Where the river meets the ocean.
Bio-Bío River. Where the river meets the ocean.
Bio-Bío River. Beach and rockeries next to the mouth of the Bio-Bío River  Concepción  Chile.
Bio-Bío River. Beach and rockeries next to the mouth of the Bio-Bío River, Concepción, Chile.
Endesa s Ralco Dam in the upper Bio-Bío River. Ancestral sacred land and a cemetery where Pehuenche...
Endesa's Ralco Dam in the upper Bio-Bío River. Ancestral sacred land and a cemetery where Pehuenche ancestors are buried were flooded under about 100 meter of water.
Albinfo
In the early 1980s, the upper reaches of the Bio-Bío were known as one of the best rafting rivers in the world flowing through some of the most beautiful wilderness areas in Chile. Despite
Mapuche-Pehuenche leader Nicolasa Quintremán fought for years against ENDESA in defense of her land...
Mapuche-Pehuenche leader Nicolasa Quintremán fought for years against ENDESA in defense of her land in the Upper Bio-Bio River. Finally she gave up and settled with the company. She was recently found dead in the waters of the dam which construction she opposed.
Futatrawun
strong protests from environmental NGOs and the Mapuche-Pehuenche groups living in the mountainous areas, ENDESA, the main electric utility company in Chile, built two huge hydroelectric plants along the head-waters of the Bio-Bío River. The construction of the “Pangue” and “Ralco” dams ended white-water rafting for European and American tourists, but more importantly, the cemeteries of the Pehuenche ancestors were left under about 100 meters of water, and the native groups were again displaced from the land where they had lived for centuries.
In recent years the Mapuche Conflict and the actions of the aboriginal peoples of Chile have regained impetus, often involving violence. The main demands revolve mainly around three topics: jurisdictional autonomy, return of ancestral lands, and the recognition of cultural identity.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
More about BioBio River, Mapuche, Pehuenche indian, Chile, Hydroelectric dams
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