Ipararí, saced site of the Cubeos and Guananos, turned into a hydroelectric power station
In the Santa Cruz rapids, on the Vaupés River, a small hydroelectric power station is being built
By Ignacio Gómez Montes - Fundación Gaia Amazonas - February 27, 2011
The power station is being built on one of the sacred sites of the Cubeo indigenous group. Cubeo territory covers the area between the Vaupés River (from the mouth of Cudyarí to the Santa Cruz rapids) and its tributaries, Querarí, Piratobón, Cubiyú and Cuduiarí Rivers to the west of Mitú. According to Koch-Grünberg, the Cubeo territory traditionally started upriver of Taiassu Cachoeira, but the Guanano, of the same linguistic family, pushed them to their current area.
Travel from Mitú takes approximately one-and-a-half hours along a badly maintained, unpaved road. The hydroelectric power station will supply electric energy to the city of Mitú, which is currently supplied by a thermoelectric station that provides an intermittent service with frequent energy cuts. The project, which the national government handed to Gensa S.A. ESP, is in its final phase of construction. Building works started in 1998 but were abandoned in 2000 due to “technical, budget and administrative problems”, according to the National Planning Department.
In reality the problems have been of all kinds. Some have been technical, relating to river levels that passed the highest historical levels, the presence of a geological fault at the place where the engine room would be located, problems of permeability of the dike, and problems in the excavation phase. Delays in the mobilization of army troops also caused postponement of the works.
The project also depends on a certain amount of infrastructure. It is necessary to have airports and road access. Setbacks occurred in preparing the access road to Mitú, and there were logistical problems linked to the lack of availability of air transport from the Colombian air force, difficulties in the transport of explosives, fuel and building materials.
There were also funding and administrative problems relating to delays by the national government in adding to the budget, due to the lack of detailed studies for finalizing the microstation. Likewise there were delays in payments destined to the project from the National Royalties Fund, which affected the flow of capital, and in general there were difficulties in the project programming and planning, as well as with control and monitoring schemes, as the agreement between the entities involved (Ministry for Mines, IPSE and Gensa) did not have tools that enabled them to carry out an administrative and financial inventory. In the light of these problems, the Ministry for Mines presented a new institutional scheme for finishing the works, which were resumed in April 2009.
The hydroelectric power station consists mainly of 4 turbines located on the river-bed to take advantage of the water current. Each turbine has the capacity to generate 500kw. The project will therefore have the capacity to generate 2.000kw of electric energy.
However, within the design of the power station there is space for 2 additional turbines, which would increase the power generation by an additional 1mw.
The project is located within the Vaupés indigenous resguardo, which requires a prior consultation with the communities affected by its construction. The prior consultation was carried out in 1995. At that time it was agreed with the communities where the project would be located, how it would be carried out, and where the equipment, turbines, engine room, etc, would be sited. The consultation with the communities determined that there were 17 fishing sites that would be affected. It was recognised that the project would be located over a sacred site for the Cubeo, although this did not imply much for the project managers. The environment management and restoration plan was agreed with the communities who also negotiated compensation for the impacts.
After 1995 new consultations were carried out due the need to intervene in additional zones within the territory, mostly in some places for extracting sand. The communities asked to be kept informed and to be provided with a basic update on project works and progress. A social impact that arose afterwards, and which had not initially been budgeted for, were the restrictions in river travel caused by the works. Another important impact concerns the explosions needed for the work, which are underwater and eliminate fish populations. The compensations agreed upon with the communities included the provision of fish tanks in 3 affected communities. They received compensation also for the construction of malocas (communal long-houses), repairs to paths and a bridge.
Traditional elders and payés (shamans) took part in the process of consultation and negotiation. However, the employees of the consortium responsible for negotiating with the indigenous people claim that they have a limited capacity for negotiation. The extremely high costs relating to the construction of the work and provision of electric energy to Mitú represents an enormous challenge for national and departmental public administration. Furthermore, the intervention of the sacred site, known as “Ipararí” by the Cubeos and “Cuaracapurí” by the Guananos, the place of origin of these ethnic groups, represents an irreversible impact for these groups, with serious consequences such as sickness and the loss of identity, culture and tradition.
On returning to Mitú I marvelled at a sunset like few others. Just a few kilometers from Ipararí, the spiritual owners of the sacred site seemed to have favoured us with incredible colours with the sun setting over the forest. And in the tranquility of that afternoon the inevitable question arose as to the real need for the project, given that financial costs will likely never be paid, its functioning is not possible without an ongoing State subsidy, and its very conception corresponds to an idea of development little suited to this forest region.