Kintul Folil, Kona Niyeo, Quiñelaf, Sierra Paileman, Los Berros and Kural Malal. It is difficult to understand, first hand, what this string of words means. But the explanation is simple: they are the names of some of the Mapuche and Tehuelche communities that inhabit the Atlantic zone and the Somuncurá plateau in the province of Río Negro. It is one of the most inhospitable and least developed regions of Argentina.
On April 20, the legislature of Río Negro approved a law that establishes the basis for the concession of 650,000 fiscal hectares of the same area to the Australian capital group Fortescue. The corporation, whose representative in Latin America is the former Puma Agustín Pichot, plans to install there a plant for the production of green hydrogen
, green ammonia and its by-products, fed by electric energy obtained from wind farms, which will also be developed by the same company.
Green hydrogen is considered one of the fuels of the future.
Only six countries produce it worldwide. Bill Gates maintains that its production, although complex and costly, is key to reducing global warming.
The concession for the execution of the project in Río Negro will have a term of 50 years, extendable for 25 more years
. For the area assigned, the province will charge a royalty and it will be divided into "land in production" (affected to the infrastructure) and that "retained for future stages".
This is a millionaire investment of more than 8 billion dollars
, announced at the time by President Alberto Fernández, during the Climate Change summit held in Glasgow, Scotland, last year. Governor Arabela Carreras expressed that there will be environmental impact studies (although they have not yet begun) and that the needs of the inhabitants of the area will be addressed.
The project was unanimously approved by the provincial legislature. There, both the government and the opposition see it as an injection of economic dynamism and an unprecedented opportunity for development. The possibility of increasing the demand for jobs in a forgotten and at times ghostly area in the south of the country generates high expectations.
But there are at least 16 communities like the ones mentioned at the beginning of this article that oppose or pose conditions to the original project. Some indigenous leaders, who are more determined, do not rule out the possibility of directly initiating a protest against the Australians
The president of the National Institute of Indigenous Affairs (INAI), Magdalena Odarda, has already asked Governor Carreras to comply with the process of participation and free and informed prior consultation with the indigenous communities. "The communities must have access to information on the scope of the project and its environmental impact," the head of INAI told the Río Negro newspaper last month.
The communities claim that they are not part of the process and have not yet been consulted. They fear for the environment.
In a note presented to the Legislature they point out that the public lands mentioned in the project "are mostly occupied by groups of indigenous descendants and scattered Mapuche and Tehuelche settlers in the province of Río Negro".
They question that the project does not contemplate the constitutional reference
to the indigenous right and to the Integral Indigenous Law 2.287, which was ratified by the province.
"The constitutional rights of the dispersed communities and settlers are violated", they warn and indicate that no management plan is contemplated for the protected natural area Meseta de Somuncurá, a site as unexplored as it is full of natural wealth in its subsoil. It is a land of guanacos and desolation, with a few towns lost in the distance. Valcheta is the geographical reference town. Sierra Grande, a few kilometers away, is the headquarters of the Fortescue project.
But its viability remains to be seen and keeps the company, which has already committed itself to "attend to local needs", on alert. In the last few days, the werkén (spokesman) of the Coordinating Committee of the Mapuche-Tehuelche Parliament of Rio Negro, Orlando Carriqueo, warned in radio conversations that the Legislature approved the cession of 625,000 hectares for a fee that he considers insignificant. "Transformed into pesos, it is minimal," said Carriqueo. "The most serious thing is that they cede land with the people inside."
Carriqueo was asked if he was surprised by the support of the Frente de Todos
block, a political force considered close to the claims of the native peoples: "The Frente de Todos is part of the business. One can see how little political capacity the Front has when the legislators jump up and down and wag their tails with business like this".
The leader says that the project foreigners land without having knowledge of what the company will do. "Does anyone know where the wind farms will be installed? A project is approved with closed eyes with the discourse of progress and spillover, something that never happened," he stated.
"Who told them that urban is necessary for the communities? Did they ask the communities what their expectations are? Maybe the communities do not want a wind farm and what they are proposing is a site in the middle of Bariloche or at the side of Viedma, where the wind blows anyway", he expressed and anticipated that they are considering to carry out international protests and complaints to the company if they do not rethink the times and the way in which the project is discussed.