Chilean aboriginal groups protesting about the construction of the Ralco dam by power utility Endesa, have taken their protest to the country’s president, Ricardo Lagos.

The 570MW Ralco hydroelectric dam, on the Bio Bio river in central Chile, was the focus of violent clashes between police and Pehuenche Indians in early March 2002. Endesa Chile, majority owned by Spain’s Endesa, has said the protests will not delay construction of the US$500M project scheduled for completion in late 2003.

Some of the local indigenous population oppose the construction, as the reservoir impounded by the dam will flood land to which they claim historical ownership rights.

Since beginning the project, Endesa has faced fierce opposition from the 93 Pehuenche families on the banks of the river. All but eight families have negotiated with the company to move to new plots.

  Other Pehuenches whose lands will not be flooded are in dispute with Endesa over compensation for ‘indirect’ property damage.