Guest artists: Jean-Dominique Gautier and Jean Ortiz

Caimanes: The Without-Waters

In the village of Caimanes (population: 2,000) in the Valley of Choapas in Chile, the transnational mining company Minera Los Pelambres has privatized the community’s water and allegedly poisoned it with toxic tailings dust.  (This is a direct outcome of Chile’s privatizing its entire urban water supply–for more information, please see the endnote below.*) After ten years of resistance, in late 2010 eleven of the villagers conducted an 81-day hunger strike to bring much-needed attention to their water crisis. Caimanes: Los sin agua (Caimanes: The Without-Waters) is a Spanish-language documentary short by the social-activist filmmakers Jean-Dominique Gautier and Jean Ortiz. My English translation follows. ~ Diana Rico

Narrator: In Chile, for the past ten years, the multinational mining company Los Pelambres has left some rural communities without water and has poisoned the water with total impunity. The company violates the most basic human rights. It has constructed, in the middle of the Andes mountain range, in El Mauro–which means the place where the water spouts forth, in the indigenous language–the biggest chemical waste dump of Latin America, thumbing its nose at standards of basic safety. The community members resist with all their might a transnational thief that does not hesitate to present itself as a benefactor. Eleven of them made, from 27 September to 17 December 2010, 81 days of a hunger strike, amid the silence of a complicit media. They have risked death in order to defend life.

Patricio Herrera: We are fighting against the mining company Los Pelambres, which is a multinational that has Japanese and Chilean shareholders. They installed themselves over the groundwater we had, and they cut it off. And now the river has no water. And the little bit of water that is left to us, for all intents and purposes, in a year or two will be contaminated. And we don’t have any place else from which to get water. We have a problem with the water in that the water is already coming out a yellow color. To see the kettles now, the kettles are turning green.

Sign: “THE LUKSIK GROUP [an owner of Los Pelambres] POISONS THE ENVIRONMENT”

Herrera: They did everything with deception. That dam, even though the Supreme Court pronounced itself against the project…


Herrera:  …since Pelambres has a huge amount of money, they bought our leaders. The government of La Concertación [a coalition of center-left parties that won every Chilean presidential election from 1990 to 2010] was the one that sank us. Because they virtually authorized–in that time it was President [Ricardo] Lagos–he authorized it so that they could create this dam.

T-shirt: “STRIKERS”

First Man: It’s all dry.

Second Man: That’s the line? But…nothing. Look. Nothing. Zero moisture. Here is the drip hose.

Juan Villalobos (First Man): In this direction is where the majority, the majority of the area affected is down there.

Gilberto Carvajal (Second Man): The one that’s down there. Down there, some 400 plants are dead.

[He peels a piece of fruit.] It’s the pulp and the skin, and nothing else. No moisture, look, no moisture. Everything is dry.

Jerman Calderon: We are not asking for riches. We are asking that they return our water, the way it used to be.

Juan Ruiz: We learned how the politicians operate, how the mining company operates.

Villalobos: Our government, the only thing they are doing is trying to privatize our waters. I, at this time, am suffering from hunger, I have problems in both eyes, a problem for which I applied for a “miracle operation,” as it’s called, in Venezuela. And our president prevented the possibility.

For us, as a community, it has impacted us in a striking and powerful manner. Do you understand me? The social fabric, it’s how they use…the way in which they come in and divide us, breaking up families…

Off-camera: Offering money.

Villalobos: …offering money.

Ruiz: Look. These are the ponds, here you can see the walls. This wall is supposed to reach to there. It’s 240 meters. And they have given us absolutely no assurance of safety, no assurance of safety. What’s it going to do? It will contaminate everything, pollute the air, we’ll inhale toxic dust, as will the animals, the birds; the animals eat there. The Supreme Court said that you could not construct a dam because the firmness, when they probed it, it was inadequate for constructing this type of mineral basin. Because it was too soft and it disgorged too much water.


Narrator: The members of the community of Caimanes depend on the neighboring city of Los Vilos, where the right-wing mayor agrees to receive them.

Villalobos: The greatest riches of our region are in El Mauro, where they have been confiscated by a private company. At this time we are alone. We are an orphaned community, without support, without anybody who is watching out for us. Nobody is asking what might happen if at any moment a catastrophe occurred that impacted a place where 2,000 people live. 

Juan Jorquera, Mayor of Los Vilos: The company has a different story.

Herrera: You have political power. You are the boss. How can you justify that a multinational company has more power than the power of politics?

Jorquera: Because we, as the mayor of this municipality, we do not have a single legal right, legal, from our country to be able to intervene, to be able to demand.

Villalobos: The government has not supported us. Because never in those 81 days when we were on a hunger strike–I was there, he was there–the president never came.

Jorquera: There are laws in our country that do not permit us, that do not authorize us. If we had the authority, we would be right in the middle of this. The state tells us–what we are also told–that this multinational complies with the normal laws in force.

Off-camera: And why are they poisoning the water? Poisoning the air? Are those legal norms?

Jorquera: I have been with the elected people from France, from municipalities in France, and they consider our municipalities to be beggars. The demands that they have against Pelambres are legitimate. How can you not be in accord with that? Here the community says that the press has been silenced. I share that point of view. So many days of striking, never on the front page, I agree.

Ruiz: I would like to stress something else: the bad faith act that the mining company made, which was to deceive people in order to be able to build.

Jorquera: Ah, well, that was a lousy thing that they did.

Ruiz: That’s why, that’s why the mining company silenced the people.

Jorquera: I am in agreement. The Minera, when it got to the point of starting up, it did so under conditions that we didn’t know, distributing money. We, I have asked the Minera, with the local board of directors, to let me tour the reservoir. I never have been able to go.

Narrator: In a Chile that is ultraliberal, a multinational has confiscated the waters of the Valleys of Choapa and of the Pupio, when this ought to be a universal public right. Its treacheries have been reinforced by the recent privatization of the waters in the entire country.*


* According to Wikipedia, between 1998 and 2005 Chile became “the only country in Latin America that privatized its entire urban water supply and sanitation sector. It also carried out the most far-reaching reform in Latin America—transferring ownership of assets to the private sector—while in other Latin American countries, this involved the private sector governments’ signing concession agreements while maintaining ownership of assets in public hands.” For more about Chile’s water privatization, click here. For a detailed backstory of the Caimanes-Los Pelambres water dispute, click here.

Jean-Dominique Gautier has been directing documentaries for television and for private companies since 1982.  Jean Ortiz is a historian, author, labor activist, politician, and the son of a Republican combatant in the Spanish Civil War.  In 1994 the two joined forces to make the documentary film “Guerillero” (Guerrilla), which won both the Prix Jean Rouch and the Prix François Schachter. Since then they have collaborated on numerous historial and social-issue documentaries, including  “Espejo rojo” (Red Mirror), “Le Cri du silence” (The Cry of Silence) and “Confidencias cubanas” (Cuban Confidential). They are based in southern France.

Video © 2011 by Jean-Dominique Gautier and Jean Ortiz and is used here with permission of the artists. English translation by Diana Rico of “Caimanes: The Without-Waters” text may be reused under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported license.

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