Saturday, December 1, 2007

Essay on Bolivian Water Wars

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The Bolivian Example to Citizenry

“Instead of governance being "of the people, by the people, for the people", governance becomes "of the corporations, by the corporations, for the corporations".”

It is amazing how men and women study and understand the deep intricacies of strategies, distribution, and demographics when it comes to football or baseball. They will know the most monotonous facts about these trivial things, yet they ironically shrug when current events are discussed. The American majority is plagued by such ignorance, inaction and complacency; for they rather watch sports than understand or question the basic tenets of our existing society. It is this same complacency that has allowed our government and its corporate affiliates to forcibly liberalize the post-colonial nations’ economies. They have only been furthering the advent of destruction of the people of these nations in the namesake of ‘development,’ and as these evil trans-national conglomerates rapidly grow in size, power and capital; we watch Tiki Barber running around in tights chasing a ball. Against all odds, the people of these oppressed nations have gathered and found within their souls enough strength to mobilize against these atrocities. As such allow us to review the events of and those that led up to the mass movement against privatization in Cochabamba, Bolivia.
“I am not a liberator. Liberators do not exist. The people liberate themselves.”
In April of 2000, the Bolivian President Hugo Banzer raged that “the chaos has begun to spread ... just at the moment in which we are beginning an important economic reactivation plan,"[1] and declared a “state of siege.”[2] Later that day, BBC News reported globally that “The Bolivian Government has called the army onto the streets after protests over water price rises spiralled into violence, leaving several dead.”[3] The average individual would shrug at such violence and would perhaps even reprimand those who resorted to such means; especially to protest these menial and trivial issues. Thus, exemplifying how unaware the individual is in regards to the current dynamical global events. The events of Cochabamba did not categorize ‘random acts of insurgency,’ rather; it illustrated the unified and mass mobilization of Bolivian peasants to protect the public interest. The price rates of water had recently increased to estimates close to 200 percent[4] and affected the core survival of both the aggregate community and the individual family. To further dispel the disparity between the foreign reader and the events of Cochabamba; we need to highlight certain historical events that molded the current state of affairs of Bolivia.
“It all seemed a riskless romp - until a few thirsty, angry peasants decided they could stop it.”

At the root of the ‘water revolt’[5] was the neo-liberal ‘Decree 21060’ by President Victor Pas Estensorro in 1985.[6] Drafted by Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, an American-educated technocrat;[7] it essentially laid the foundation for privatization of state-owned companies and the destruction of the powerful unions.[8] President Estensorro tried to legitimize the legislation by declaring its necessity to challenge the preposterous inflation rates Bolivia was suffering. Ultimately, this legislation proved it did not have the public interest at heart; rather it was an invitation to international conglomerates to make the elite even wealthier by selling off the publicly held companies (i.e. tin mines, petroleum, telecommunications, railroads, utilities and manufacturing capital.)[9] To better understand how this could have happened; we need to briefly review President Estensorro’s role in Bolivian history and his political affiliations with the MNR.
President Estensorro originally came to power in 1952, after the MNR successfully overthrew the old military regime during the Bolivian National Revolution.[10] MNR (Nationalist Revolutionary Movement) was a political party that he had co-founded and it consisted of fascist ideology catering to the middle class.[11] Estensorro implemented vast political, economical and land reforms to avert scrutinization from the post-revolution masses.[12] Presumably, they opted for these conservative reforms because were still vulnerable to the masses (which had helped them achieve their power.) The MNR soon shifted their policies back to the extreme right after Estensorro was succeeded by President Hernando Siles Zuazo.[13]
“The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is,
in my opinion, the real source of the evil.”
Once again MNR suspended social programs, which had resulted from the revolution and began laying foundations to privatize industry. They brought in massive financial support from foreign investors (including the U.S.) and even re-invited the ousted American petroleum companies.[14] President Estensorro resumed his presidency after Zuazo’s term and followed suit in liberalizing Bolivia.[15] He also reinstated a national military. In 1965, Estensorro tried to run for another term of Presidency and was ousted and exiled by a military coup.[16] He then returned to Presidency in 1985 and immediately resumed his liberal policies. Since 1985, MNR has ruled Bolivia in conjunction with other parties who have also adopted neo-liberal policies. MNR once again directly secured power in 1993 with President Lozada and began a particular ‘privatization and capitalization program’ in which the “government sold its interests in electrical energy, transportation, communication, hydrocarbon, and airline companies to foreign partners; the remaining government stake in these companies was transferred to a new national pension fund system.” [17]
The dictator who had ruthlessly ruled over Bolivia from 1971 to 1978, Hugo Banzer was elected to presidency in 1997. The following year, Bolivia obtained a loan for $138 million from the International Monetary Fund (IMF.)[18] The loan was received in an effort to stabilize “inflation and bolster economic growth”[19] and it detailed conditions bounding Bolivia to “sell of all remaining public enterprises; including national oil refineries and Cochabamba’s local water agency, SEMAPA.” [20] In 1999, the World Bank prepared an economic report Bolivia Public Expenditure Review and maintained that “no subsidies should be given to ameliorate the increase in water tariffs in Cochabamba.”[21] It prompted the government to privatize its water system in the region, and thus Banzer signed a $2.5 billion contract with Bechtel.[22] Aguas del Tunari, a consortium in which Bechtel held a 27.5 percent interest, assumed controlled of Cochabamba’s water and sanitation supply.[23] Banzer sold off an entire city’s water supply.
“It is a basic tenet of accounting that investors, not customers, fund capital projects. The risk-takers then recover their outlay, with profit, when the project produces a product for sale. This is the heart, soul and justification of the system called 'capitalism'. That's the theory. But when a monopoly operator gets its fist around a city's water spigots, it can pump the funds for capital projects from captive customers rather than shareholders.”
Water formulates two-thirds of the human body and has no perfect substitutes. We have an absolute need for water to cook our food, and to maintain both general sanitary and hygienic standards. Therefore, how do you think we would react to New York City secretly selling off our water supply? The government would have essentially jeopardized our survival and thus marginalized their legitimacy to advocate on behalf of our popular sovereignty. Nevertheless, before we take up arms; we must not forget the old Adam Smith cliché of “there is no such thing as a free lunch.” We continuously elect to live in a capitalistic society, and in order for us to enjoy the utility of a product or a service: we must engage in a trade. Thus, what should be the exchange rate/ value for a substance that is essential to human survival? This question also perplexed Adam Smith, and he questions, in his diamond-water paradox, “why is it that diamonds, which have very little practical use, command a higher price than water which is indispensable to life.”[24] This is not a subject that we can afford to be complacent with. Allow me to reiterate that last point, “…water which is indispensable to life.”
Although water itself is inexpensive, there are high expenditures on the water supply. Since the government appropriates our funds; we barely even know about it. We rarely even wonder how our water is supplied and/or the labour it requires to do so. Most people do not take interest in whether or not there has been a general increase in costs of production inputs as the environmental and health codes stricken and as new technologies are introduced. While we are complacent with our water supply, many companies are working hard to find ways to legitimize water privatization across the world. This is bad. Privatization has many downfalls and aside from the basic textbook disadvantages of privatization, such as the loss of ‘local control’ and ‘negative aspects of a long-term contract,’[25] there are some major factors to consider: what kind of contractual agreement to enter; evaluations and feasibility of privatization; assessments of risk and benefits; financial feasibility; regulatory considerations; and an evaluation of legal and institutional factors.[26]
Yet the community in Cochabamba was not even informed that Banzer had privatized their water supplies until October of 1999, when Aguas del Tunari (ADT) announced they now controlled what once was;[27] and always has been: a public utility. This should have been grounds from which grass root organizations could find immediate legal recourse; especially since ADT “was also to be given control over hundreds of rural irrigation systems and community wells, projects paid for and built by local people without government help.”[28] Therefore, not only were people not informed about the decisions, they were cheated as well. The masses were profoundly against privatization, “On March 26 we conducted a popular consultation in the Cochabamba area served by the water company. We asked the people what they wanted. Did they want the contract? Did they want the law to continue privatizing the water? Did they want increases in the water bills? Between 94 and 98 percent of the people said no to all of these. Fifty thousand people voted. It could have been more, but we didn't have the resources to make arrangements for more.”[29]
At this moment I am happy, for I realize that I am achieving the goal of my life: to do something meaningful for others, to put into concrete actions my desire to love
Soon broad based grassroots organization quietly developed in Cochabamba; included both “urban and rural, both poor and middle class.”[30] La Coordinadora for the Defense of Water and Life consisted of the “local factory workers union, irrigators and farmers, environmental groups, local economists, [and] progressive members of Congress.”[31] Everybody was against this privatization, “all of the people were united against the water company.”[32] Teachers with an $80 monthly income and workers living on the minimum wage of $60 could not afford to pay $15-25 a month for water. With $25 being 58% of $60, workers were paying more then half of their salaries for water. Proportionately, it would be relatively cheaper to shower with bottled water in New York City! As the people of Cochabamba were uniting; La Coordinadora began planning demonstrations.
Oscar Olivera stated that “On December 28th, we had the first mass mobilization. Many people said it wasn't a good time for it -- the end of the year during the holidays -- but we mobilized 15,000 or 20,000 people in the central plaza of Cochabamba.”[33] They rallied for reforms in both the water contract and the national parliament promulgated law number 2029. This demonstration lasted for four days and endured Banzer’s oppressive tactics to subdue to demonstration (once a dictator - always a dictator.) The demonstrators, while weathering against elements as such as tear gas, set up “blockades closed down the two main highways leading in and out of town, eliminating bus transportation and food shipments. The airport was shut. Roadblocks fashioned out of piles of rocks and tree branches cutoff all traffic in the city.”[34] The government finally ceded and singed an agreement, which stated that they would make the necessary adjustments to both the law 2029 and the contract with Bechtel within the next 45 days.[35]
“Great spirits have always found violent opposition from mediocre minds. The latter cannot understand it when a man does not thoughtlessly submit to hereditary prejudices but honestly and courageously uses his intelligence.”

As the people of Cochabamba waited for results from Banzer, La Coordinadora planned a peaceful demonstration. They tried to orchestrate a mass movement, to show that they had not lost public support and were still awaiting results. They planned on a “lunchtime protest,”[36] where people would come to support the cause, and then return to work. With more than 1,000 heavily armed police and soldiers emplaced, 30,000 people entered the into the city plaza with roses in their hands and solidarity in their hearts. Oscar Olivera recalls his experience from that day, of when the protestors were peacefully leaving the plaza: “We hadn't gone more than a couple of hundred meters when there were gunshots. A thousand police appeared, some with dogs. Some of the police had come from La Paz and other places to help the police of Cochabamba. The people fought for two days. It was practically a war -- 175 protesters were injured.” This had become a revolution against the oppressive regime that ignored the people’s voice. With sticks and stones; mothers, Fathers, Sons, and daughters fought against the fully geared police. As the radios began covering the story locally, people began to help people. They offered food to those fighting and helped those that were injured. Victims of tear gas and police brutality finally found victory when the announcement came: the company had “invoked a temporary rate rollback for six months.”[37]
“Why does the guerrilla fighter fight? We must come to the inevitable conclusion that the guerrilla fighter is a social reformer, that he takes up arms responding to the angry protest of the people against their oppressors, and that he fights in order to change the social system that keeps all his unarmed brothers in ignominy and misery.”
In the following month a public poll was set up, which allowed the general population to voice their sentiments towards their water be privatized. The demonstrations were no longer being staged to alter contracts or legislation; for they now wanted full control over the water and waste supply and utilities. The masses proposed that the government cancel the contract, and with their refusal to listen; on Tuesday, April 4th, protestors took to the streets again. Staged as the “The Final Battle,”[38] La Coordinadora announced that it would demonstrate this time until their demands were met. Olivera recalled that “It was a similar action to the one before. But this time we were better prepared. The people prepared for it like for a war. They prepared molotov cocktails, barbed wire fences, things to puncture tires, masks, everything.”[39] At first, as protestors gathered – the streets were still peaceful. There was still dancing in the streets and religious services for the people until the businessmen from the Civil Committee and La Coordinadora held a meeting. While trying to create one common position polar to the government’s policy, police and military person locked down the building they were in for the night. Fighting erupted through the city, 30,000 angry protestors challenged the State’s authority. By Friday, the crowds were amassing to greater numbers in Cochabamba and a 17 year old had already been shot in the face and killed. After confusion between weather Bechtel had agreed to leave or not, crowds temporarily began to disperse. That night the government carried out a sweep and arrested majority of the protest leaders.
Saturday morning Banzer declared a ‘State of Emergency’ and implemented a form of Marshall Law. The people were infuriated and thus began the well know rebellion dubbed as the “water wars.” Buildings were set on fire, the protestors fought against the police and military personnel who were firing both live ammunition and tear gas into the crowds. By Monday there were more than 80,000 protestors in the streets and the news of it spread across the world. CNN broadcasted: “An international consortium pulled out of a planned $200 million waterworks project after violent protests against water rate hikes rocked Bolivia over the weekend, killing at least five people and injuring at least 40, the government says.” As Bechtel employees fled from Bolivia, Olivera emerged from hiding and signed an agreement with the government guaranteeing “the withdrawal of Aguas del Tunari, grants control of Cochabamba's water to La Coordinadora, assures the release of detained protesters, and promises the repeal of water privatization legislation.”[40]
Thus, here we find the true cost of privatizing water: factional insurrection or even an armed revolution. From the Bolivian experience, we learn that when Capitalism continues to serve the interest of the velvet gloved minority and oppress the basic essentials of survival of the majority: people begin to wake up and fight back. As such allow us to remember the struggle of those in Cochabamba and use them as an example to break our patterns of complacency, to stand against our oppressors as well. For there are no national, racial, ethnic or patriotic boundaries binding greed; the masses – be it they are American or Bolivian; black or white; Latino or Asian – are all simply viewed in a dual vision: as consumers and as factors of production. We are all at an equal risk, and must stop privatization immediately. We must find alternative forms of governance and economical structure; one which will provide an more equitable status quo for the peoples of the world. Idealism is not a form of disillusion, nor lunacy: it’s a form of caring about humanity.
To Love is to Die For Your Friends
By, Nestor Paz
To be poured into old wineskins
To cease being
To weep for being
To be other
To be silent
Solitary tree, hand on the landscape
We are winepresses of the memory,
Life clarifying in the joy of being.
Who would say that we must learn to love?
Whoever would say that to love
Is to die.
Felled ceder
Alcoholic green and wasted
To die for your friends
Wood for the sated’s fire,
To die for your friends
Crackling struggle
Twitching hand
Emptiness of being.
To die for your friends
To fill your hands
Not to dry your tears
Cease the mourning
Litany of selfgiving.
To die for your friends
To die in oblivion
To die for our frieds.
Oh, my beloved of the dusty roads,
So many dreams
So many hands interwoven
With songs sweet to ear;
Oh, beloved, companion of the dawn.
Who would say that we must learn to love,
That to live is to die for your friends.
Subworld of the mediocre,
A lawn, pleasant lawn,
And the bank account,
And the life insurance,
And the world of competition,
And to die for your friends
For the alienation
That gallops through your veins,
To die for your friends,
To forget the last name,
The smell, the color,
Of the competition of the status money quo.
To give your life for your friends
And to learn to love.
To die in oblivion
Announced today
Thursday night
Comfort tomorrow
Friday afternoon.
To transcend in wheatgrain,
To be ground up for bread,
To dry the tears.
No more weeping!
To be able to see the people
With hope-filled eyes,
To be able to say
Get set to be a man
To be a man
To be other,
Extended hand
Loving ceder
Sources for quotations between paragraphs
  1. Dr. Vandana Shiva. Bechtel And Blood For Water.
  2. Ernesto Che Guevara.
  3. Gregory Palast, The Observer, 23 April 2000
  4. Albert Einstein. Why Socialism?
  5. Gregory Palast, The Observer, 23 April 2000
  6. Nestor Paz. My Life For My Friends.
  7. Albert Einstein. Why Socialism?
  8. Ernesto Che Guevara.
  9. Nestor Paz. My Life For My Friends.
Book Bibliography
  1. Nestor Paz. My Life For My Friends. New York: Orbis Books. 1975.
  2. Lee, Terence. Residential Water Demand and Economic Development. Toronto: Toronto Press. 1969.
  3. Alexander, Robert. Bolivia. Connecticut: Praeger Publishers. 1982.
  4. Raftelis, George. Water and Wastewater Finance and Pricing. New York: CRC. 1993.
  5. Burns, Bradford. Latin America, A Concise History. New Jersey: Pearson. 2002.
Cited Endnotes

[1] BBC News: Violence erupts in Bolivia. 8 April, 2000.
[2] PBS Frontline World: Timeline: Cochabamba Water Revolt. June 2002.
[3] BBC News: Violence erupts in Bolivia. 8 April, 2000.
[4] Shultz, Jim. The Democracy Center: BOLIVIA’S WAR OVER WATER
[5] PBS Frontline World: Timeline: Cochabamba Water Revolt. June 2002.
[6] Hylton, Forrest. ZNET: Popular Insurrection and National Revolution. October 2003.
[7] Hylton, Forrest. ZNET: Popular Insurrection and National Revolution. October 2003.
[8] Shultz, Jim. The Democracy Center: BOLIVIA’S WAR OVER WATER
[9] Shultz, Jim. The Democracy Center: BOLIVIA’S WAR OVER WATER
[10] Bolivia. (2006). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved December 20, 2006, from
Encyclopædia Britannica Online:
[11] Bolivia. (2006). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved December 20, 2006, from
Encyclopædia Britannica Online:
[12] Bolivia. (2006). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved December 20, 2006, from
Encyclopædia Britannica Online:
[13] Bolivia. (2006). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved December 20, 2006, from
Encyclopædia Britannica Online:
[14] Bolivia. (2006). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved December 20, 2006, from
Encyclopædia Britannica Online:

[15] Víctor Paz Estenssoro. Wikipedia. 2006.

[16] Bolivia. (2006). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved December 20, 2006, from
Encyclopædia Britannica Online:
[17] Bolivia. (2006). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved December 20, 2006, from
Encyclopædia Britannica Online:
[18] PBS Frontline World: Timeline: Cochabamba Water Revolt. June 2002.
[19] PBS Frontline World: Timeline: Cochabamba Water Revolt. June 2002.
[20] PBS Frontline World: Timeline: Cochabamba Water Revolt. June 2002.
[21] PBS Frontline World: Timeline: Cochabamba Water Revolt. June 2002.
[22] Bechtel. Wikipedia. 2006.
[23] Bechtel. Wikipedia. 2006.
[25] Raftelis, 91
[26] Raftekis, 94
[27] PBS Frontline World: Timeline: Cochabamba Water Revolt. June 2002.
[28] Shultz, Jim. The Democracy Center: BOLIVIA’S WAR OVER WATER
[29] Multinational Monitor: The Fight for Water and Democray – An Interview with Oscar Olivera. June 2000.
[30] Shultz, Jim. The Democracy Center: BOLIVIA’S WAR OVER WATER
[31] Shultz, Jim. The Democracy Center: BOLIVIA’S WAR OVER WATER
[32] Multinational Monitor: The Fight for Water and Democray – An Interview with Oscar Olivera. June 2000.
[33] Multinational Monitor: The Fight for Water and Democray – An Interview with Oscar Olivera. June 2000.
[34] Shultz, Jim. The Democracy Center: BOLIVIA’S WAR OVER WATER
[35] Multinational Monitor: The Fight for Water and Democray – An Interview with Oscar Olivera. June 2000.
[36] Shultz, Jim. The Democracy Center: BOLIVIA’S WAR OVER WATER
[37] Shultz, Jim. The Democracy Center: BOLIVIA’S WAR OVER WATER
[38] Shultz, Jim. The Democracy Center: BOLIVIA’S WAR OVER WATER
[39] Multinational Monitor: The Fight for Water and Democray – An Interview with Oscar Olivera. June 2000.
[40] PBS Frontline World: Timeline: Cochabamba Water Revolt. June 2002.

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