The Legacy and New Echoes of the Water War – 15 Years On
It is impossible to overstate the impact of the people’s victory in Cochabamba against Bechtel. At a time when winning real victories seemed like a distant dream, we suddenly saw that it was still possible to win, even against a giant U.S. multinational. That truth reverberated around the round, spreading hope and, most of all, courage, wherever it traveled.
– Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything
Fifteen years ago this month here in Cochabamba, I found myself in the middle of a set of events that came to be known as the Cochabamba Water Revolt. Citizens here took to the streets and shut down a city of half a million people, three times, to take back control of their water system from a foreign corporation.
Our struggle had a profound historical, political, human dignity and respect. We drove out one of the most voracious transnationals on the planet, Bechtel.
– Oscar Olivera, key leader of the Water Revolt, Cochabamba
The story began when the World Bank coerced Bolivia to put the city’s water up for lease, landing it under the control of a company that raised water rates overnight by more than 50% and in many cases far higher. Something as basic as a running tap was being pushed beyond the economic reach of many families. The people rebelled. The government responded with tear gas, bullets and death. The corporation was forced to leave. In the midst of it all I was able to use an Internet still in its infancy to discover and report Bechtel as the corporation behind the scenes, get the story out across the world, and later to help launch the global campaign that forced Bechtel to drop its $50 million legal retaliation against the Bolivia people. It was all an extraordinary experience.
The Cochabamba Water Revolt was a turning point in the history of our water justice movement. The courageous people of Bolivia showed the world how to stand up to bullies and that public water is worth fighting for. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Bolivians for their leadership and commitment.
– Maude Barlow, chair, Council of Canadians
In the years since, the Cochabamba Water Revolt has been the subject of a full length drama on film, scores of documentaries, many articles, and a collection of academic papers almost as numerous as the multitudes in the streets those days in April 2000. To help mark the 15th anniversary of these remarkable events, the Democracy Center team has written a new collection of articles about the legacy of those events and their echoes today.
In There’s Something About Water Thomas Mc Donagh looks at how the battle over water in Bolivia echoes today in a water rebellion in his native Ireland, with just as much potential to upend an entire political system. In Bolivia, 15 Years on from the Water War Aldo Orellana, a Bolivian who was part of the Revolt, writes about the current situation in Cochabamba and the struggle’s legacy for the broader water movement. In 15 Years After the Water Revolt, Echoes in New Cases of Corporate Abuse Philippa de Boissière from the U.K. writes about how the corporate-driven abuses suffered by Cochabamba are being repeated today in Peru and Colombia, again with natural resources as the target. In The Case That Blew the Lid Off the World Bank’s Secret Courts, I have an article looking at the international campaign that beat back Bechtel’s $50 million legal retaliation after the Revolt and the lessons it holds for today’s battles over a pair of new global trade agreements, TTIP and TPP. Also, below you can find links to a deeper history of the Water Revolt, my dispatches from the streets in 2000, and more.
That extraordinary moment in April 2000 in the struggle against the giant Water Corporation Bechtel was an unprecedented expression of Peoples protagonism in intervention on the agenda of water and people’s rights. This is a revolt that lives today in many places and struggles around the world.
– Brid Brennan, Transnational Institute, the Netherlands
It was a powerful thing to have been such a direct witness to history and to have played a role in communicating that story around the world. It is still a story that still has much to say to us today and we are proud to bring it to you, in ways both new and old.
By Jim Shultz
Read More About the Water Revolt and its Echoes Today:
- In Foreign Policy in Focus: The Case That Blew the Lid off the World Bank’s Secret Courts by Jim Shultz
- In Narco News: Bolivia, 15 Years on from the Water War by Aldo Orellana (también publicado en en español)
- In Upside Down World: 15 Years After the Cochabamba Water Revolt, Echoes in New Cases of Corporate Abuse by Philippa de Boissière
- In Rabble.ie: There’s Something About Water by Thomas Mc Donagh
- Dispatches from the streets, April 2000
- Water War chapter in Dignity and Defiance
- The Bechtel case
|Testimonies from Bolivia: Bolivia’s deposed President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada faces criminal murder charges in Bolivia for his oversight of massacres that killed more than 60 people in 2003. Earlier this month Mercer University in Georgia refused to show video testimonies which we recorded with the families of those killed when it invited Lozada to speak to students about ‘political freedom.’ Since he fled Lozada has lived in self-imposed exile in suburban Maryland. We’d like to be sure 1,000 people see what Mercer wouldn’t show.
Please help us share these powerful new testimonies.