rn: Inspiring News from Bolivia


Jan Slakov

Date: Mon, 10 Apr 2000 09:43:41 -0400
From: Eric Fawcett <•••@••.•••>
Subject: sfp-93b: The New World Order overtakes Bolivia - who's next? 

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   Bolivia is as well supplied with water as Canada, but Bolivians are
more politically aware, like most Latin Americans, having been exploited
brutally for centuries by Europe and N. America - see Eduardo Galleano's
"Open Veins of Latin America: five centuries of the pillage of a
continent," published in 1973; and things have got much worse since then
with the depredations of debt and "market forces." So when the Bolivian
Congress introduced legislation that would invite large-scale
privatisation of water utilities and force peasants to pay for water they
now get free, they rioted in protest.
   This was reported briefly at the bottom of page A11 of today's G&M, and
no doubt we'll hear no more about it, just as Ecuador has dropped out of
sight as soon as the violent protests against the economic crisis, which
it was proposed to cure by "dollarisation" of the currency had been
   Next month it may be Venezuela, which threatened the New World Order
by the election of a popular progressive President; and of course the
'"drug wars" in Colombia are a continuing running sore that can erupt any
time.  Then there's Peru, and of course all the Central American republics 
are in deep social and economic distress, with high levels of crime and
paramilitary violence.  
   Of course, Canada may be next - our waters are threatened by the Free
Trade agreement. But of course the corporate-government-media elite will
make sure that the bleeding of our veins is represented as being good for
us, and anyway Canadians never riot!

From: Brydon Gombay <•••@••.•••> 
Sunday, April 9 
I am in constant touch with our eldest son Christie, who lives in
Cochabamba, where he does community development work.

Monday April 10 
The Water STrike in Cochabamba is Over: at 3 pm Sunday, the Superintendent
of Waters, a national regulatory body, came on TV to say that the British
corporation leading the consortium to develop the water system in
Cochabamba has said that it is leaving. Thank God. No more loss of life
here in Cochabamba. By tomorrow, we should be able to go out, Christie

From: "Helen Forsey" <•••@••.•••>

-----Original Message-----

Date: Friday, April 14, 2000 10:34 PM
Subject: Bolivia and Victory over water privatization: a report from
JimSchultz in Bolivia

>>From: "Armand Cote" <•••@••.•••>
>>Greetings All!
>>Here follows good news after a long and bitter struggle.  We can see
>>that a people's win is possible if civil mobilization is committed and
>>Something to think about; this victory was achieved in a country where
>>the police, the government, the oligarchy and the corporate rule is
>>the name of the game.
>>Best regards
>>Armand Cote
>>Jim Shultz
>>> The Democracy Center
>>> •••@••.•••

In a stunning concession to four days of massive public uprisings, the
Bolivian government announced late Friday afternoon that it was breaking the
contract it signed last year that sold the region's water system to a
consortium of British-led investors.
A general strike and road blockades that began Tuesday morning in Cochabamba
shut down the city of half a million, leaving the usually crowded streets
virtually empty of cars and closing schools, businesses and the city's
25-square-block marketplace, one of Latin America's largest.

The government's surprise agreement to reverse the water privatization deal
follows four months of public protest. It came just as it appeared that
President Hugo Banzer Suárez was preparing to declare martial law, possibly
triggering fighting in the streets between riot police and the thousands of
angry protesters who seized control of the city's central plaza.
Greater meaning
While rumors are surfacing that the government might backtrack on their
promise, for Bolivians the popular victory apparently won over water has
much wider meaning. ``We're questioning that others, the World Bank,
international business, should be deciding these basic issues for us,'' said
protest leader Oscar Olivera. ``For us, that is democracy.''
The selling-off of public enterprises to foreign investors has been a heated
economic debate in Bolivia for a decade, as one major business after
another -- the airline, the train system, electric utilities -- has been
sold into private (almost always foreign) hands. Last year's one-bidder sale
of Cochabamba's public water system, a move pushed on government officials
by the World Bank, the international lending institution, brought the
privatization fight to a boil.
In January, as the new owners erected their shiny new ``Aguas del Tunari''
logo over local water facilities, the company also slapped local water users
with rate increases that were as much as double. In a city where the minimum
wage is less than $100 per month, many families were hit with increases of
$20 per month and more.
Tanya Paredes, a mother of five who supports her family as a
clothes-knitter, says her increase, $15 per month, was equal to what it
costs to feed her family for 1 1/2 weeks. ``What we pay for water comes out
of what we have to pay for food, clothes and the other things we need to buy
for our children,'' she said.
Public anger over the rate increases, led by a new alliance, known here as
``La Coordinadora,'' exploded in mid-January with a four-day shutdown of the
city, stunning the government and forcing an agreement to reverse the rate
In early February, when the promises never materialized, La Coordinadora
called for a peaceful march on the city's central plaza. Banzer (who
previously ruled as a dictator from 1971-78) met the protesters with more
than 1,000 police and an armed takeover of La Cochabamba's center. Two days
of police tear gas and rock-throwing by marchers left more than 175
protesters injured and two youths blinded.
February's violent clashes forced the government and the water company to
implement a rate rollback and freeze until November, and to agree to a new
round of negotiations.

Deal scrutinized
Meanwhile, La Coordinadora, aided by the local College of Economists, began
to scrutinize both the contract and the finances behind the water company's
new owners. While the actual financial arrangements remain mostly hidden,
the city's leading daily newspaper reported that investors paid the
government less than $20,000 of upfront capital for a water system worth
Amid charges of corruption and collusion in the contract by some of the
officials who approved it last year, La Coordinadora announced what it
called la * úúltima batalla (the final battle), demanding that the
government break the contract and return the water system to public hands.
The group set Tuesday as the deadline for action.
Government water officials warned that private investors were needed to
secure the millions of dollars needed to expand this growing region's  water
system. They argued that breaking the contract would entitle the owners to a
$12 million compensation fee, and pleaded for public patience to give the
new owners time to show the benefits of their experience.
Among the vast majority of Cochabamba water users, however, that patience
had run out. Two weeks ago, an inquiry surveyed more than 60,000 local
residents about the water issue and more than 90 percent voted that the
government should break the contract. During one of the marches this week
protesters stopped at the water company's offices, tearing down the new
``Aguas del Tunari'' sign erected just three months ago.
Tuesday, city residents took to the street with bicycles and soccer balls --
only a few cars moved across town to take advantage of the day off from work
and school. By Wednesday, armies of people from the surrounding rural areas,
fighting a parallel battle over a new law threatening popular control of
rural water systems, began arriving, reinforcing the road blockades, and
puncturing car and bicycle tires. Thursday night, with another day of wages
lost and no sign of movement from the government, public anger started to
Protesters arrested
A crowd of nearly 500 surrounded the government building where negotiations,
convened by the Roman Catholic archbishop, were taking place between protest
leaders and government officials. In the middle of negotiations, the
government ordered the arrest of 15 La Coordinadora leaders and others
present in the meeting.
``We were talking with the mayor, the governor, and other civil leaders when
the police came in and arrested us,'' said Olivera, La Coordinadora's most
visible leader. ``It was a trap by the government to have us all together,
negotiating, so that we could be arrested.''
In response, thousands of city and rural residents filled the city's central
plaza opposite the government building, carrying sticks, rocks and
handkerchiefs to help block the anticipated tear gas. Television and radio
reports speculated all day that the president would declare martial law, and
there were reports of army units arriving at the city's airport.
Freed from jail early Friday morning, the leaders of water protests agreed
to a 4 p.m. meeting with the government, called by the archbishop.At 5 p.m.,
government officials still had not arrived and the plaza crowd waited
tensely for the expected arrival of the army.
Suddenly and unexpectedly, the archbishop walked into the meeting and
announced that the government had just told him that it had agreed to break
the water contract. Jubilant La Coordinadora leaders crossed the street to a
third-floor balcony, announcing the victory to the thousands waiting below,
many waving the red-green-and-yellow Bolivian flag, as the bells of the
city's cathedral echoed through the city center.
"We have arrived at the moment of an important economic victory," Olivera
told the ecstatic crowd.
Subject: Re: rn: Inspiring News from Bolivia
Date: Mon Apr 17 08:13:43 2000
X-Auto-Reply-From: •••@••.•••
From: (Jim Shultz)

Dear Friends,

This is an auto-reply.  I am going to Washington,
accompanying Oscar Olivera and Tom Kruse.  I don't know 
if I will be able to check e-mail while away.

If it is urgent you can leave messages for me at
(202) 234-3200.

I will return to Bolivia on April 20.

Thank you,

Jim Shultz
The Democracy Center

PS: For information about the situation
in Bolivia see www.americas.org