Four elderly Pehuenche Indian women have thrown a big wrench into plans for a $570 million hydroelectric dam in southern Chile. Arguing that the hydro project would flood sacred land and destroy their traditional way of life, the four have refused to sell 103 acres they own along the Bio Bio River, land that would be submerged if the dam were finished. The Chilean government and the Endesa power company insist that the hydro project, which is 90 percent complete, is needed to meet Chile’s energy needs and stimulate economic growth, but Indians and environmentalists have battled the project in court, saying it would destroy old-growth forests and habitat for endangered species as well as Pehuenche communities and ceremonial grounds. The four indigenous women and their lawyers vow they’ll fight to the bitter end. “I’ll only leave here when I’m dead,” said 78-year-old Berta Quintreman. They’ve turned down offers of more than $1 million for their land.
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