Cecilio Olivares Cadagan, a model Patagon

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By Peter Hartmann
 
It has been almost a month since December 29, 2014, when he took his ride to the afterlife. After 96 years of fruitful existence, Cecilio Olivares Cadagan, the much loved and respected pioneer from the Baker River, the iconic leader of the horseback ride through the Aysen region in 2007 that helped launch an ultimately successful campaign for a Patagonia without Dams, has passed away. 
 
It can be said that Cecilio was born several times. First, in Argentine territory, the son of Chilean parents. Later, he was legally registered as a Chilean in the Baker River region during the 1930s when he was 12-years-old, a place he would never leave. "My old man was tired of walking everywhere,"  recalls Cecilio, in the Aysen Decide video documentary. "It was the era of the Lucas Bridges Company. We worked without salary, and after work sometimes had great joy. The young were very sought after at the time." 
 
In March 2006, we would all meet Cecilio at his call to defend the Baker River in one of the first demonstrations against Endesa's dams – later named HidroAysén -- that he led at the confluence of the rivers Baker and Nef. The following year, I was with him in Spain, with his son Aquilino, making clear in the Endesa headquarters that in Aysen we do not want dams. And in November of that same year, we saw Cecilio, at 89-years-old, mounting his horse and leading an epic horesback ride for the Patagonia without Dams campaign, one that traveled for 9 days from Cochrane to Coyhaique.
 
His moving message and spirit at that horesback ride was recorded forever in the Aysen Decide documentary. At a community and religious gathering in Bahia Murta, Cecilio told the crowd: "To all friends of the countryside, the young, the children, let’s record with the memory, and lets take a lot of responsibility, when I tell you: we will not go where they have gone, we will not be swayed by things that come from other lands. Listen to your people, listen to your parents, listen to your bishop, listen to what your countrymen have to say, and take note of the union we are forming at this moment….Here, nobody comes looking for personal benefits, here we are making a sacrifice, as our priest says, in general we are embracing everyone. With calmness, with tranquility, with serenity, but firmly, we will confront what is to come.  I asked the Lord that with my 80 years I might arrive alright to Coyhaique, and I want to reach the town of Coyhaique. No matter what happens to me along the way, it does not matter, I do not fear it..”
 

 
 
A few days later, Cecilio and 127 other riders made a glorious entrance into Coyhaique. In the city square in front of the governor’s offices, he gave a defiant plea to keep the Baker River free of dams: "We do not want dams on the Baker River! They are not going to destroy our heritage! This place we have lived for years raising our children and making a home. Why are they now so interested in doing this? They lack energy, they lack this, they lack that…they can not change and do something else?”
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
His anti-dams position must not have been an easy one in Cochrane, the town near the proposed HidroAysen dam site, and where he lived with his wife in his last years. I remember when we were greeted kindly in his cozy home when I went to interview him with an American photographer. By that time, he had become an attractive target for journalists.  "I for one am a staunch opponent to the construction of dams on the Baker river. They say it's very good ... many people here have called me a brute, an animal, they say I am against progress. No sir, I'm not against progress, nor am I against anyone. I understand that everyone wants to find a place to live, everyone want’s work, but do not come ruin what we have here!” And in an interview for the documentary Defensores del Baker, he stated: "Our authorities have shown little concern for us…And now are coming big shots who care even less for our land and our people -- they just want to take out what they produce in the region. I would not want to see the Baker destroyed and that they change the way of life of the first residents of this land; the Baker is for everyone.” 
 
The last time I saw Cecilio was in February 2010 at a cultural festival in Cochrane, in which they were paying tribute to the pioneers and earliest settlers of the Baker. Afterward, he went with us to an exposition about Paso San Carlos, a place he knew all too well after crossing through there on horesback with his father during the era of the Lucas Bridges Company. For sure, the declaration of Paso San Carlos as a national monument in July 2014 must have made Cecilio glad in the last months of life. Although much greater was his happiness when on June 10 of last year the government rejected HidroAysén.
 
One could say Cecilio could finally rest in peace with his misión accomplished, to go with happiness on his ride into the beyond, at once becoming a legend and an example for all of Aysen. 
 
 
José Cecilio Olivares Cadagán (1918-2014), photo by Bridget BesawJosé Cecilio Olivares Cadagán (1918-2014), photo by Bridget Besaw