Sometimes teachers feel they do not have time to keep students up to date on important issues. Our history is often too limited to what is happening or has been happening in our home country. With this lesson or primer to the history of the Cochabamba “Water Wars” in Bolivia is intended to help teachers and students explore rights and our ability to take action.
The primer looks at the global issue of water and how different local and international organizations had functioned (1998-2005) to evolve democratic control of their own water resources at a time when dominant free market schools of political economy had both controlled their government leadership and had forced the privatization of a great region’s water supply.
VOCABULAR Y: World Bank, IMF, Bechtel Corportion, realist, neo-liberal, dependency, and cognitive schools of political economy
CONTENT–Listening, reading, writing, and discussion opportunities.
THE WATER WAR—BOLIVIA : A PRIMER
By Kevin Stoda, for students and teachers
Synopsis of the Issue: “The fresh clean water pouring freely from your spigot, shower head and garden hose isn’t just a gift of Mother Nature. It’s fast becoming a profit center. Savvy businessmen have been buying up water sources across America, hoping that one day our most precious resource will become their route to riches. Already, a few multinational companies have cornered the water market in countries like France and England, reaping billions in profit. But what are the consequences of treating life-sustaining water as just another commodity to be bought and sold to the highest bidder?”—Bill Moyers.
Food for thought: To what degree can private organizations help in aiding development and protecting the environment?
- I. An Example of one Successful Struggle
“Water Wars. Ten years ago this month, the Bolivian city of Cochabamba was at the center of an epic fight over one of the city’s most vital natural resources: its own water. The Water Wars occurred just months after the Battle of Seattle. The uprising against Bechtel on the streets of Cochabamba was seen as the embodiment of the international struggle against corporate globalization.”-Amy Goodman
- II. A Timeline of the Water War
1999: “After closed-door negotiations, the Bolivian government signs a $2.5 billion contract to hand over Cochabamba’s municipal water system to Aguas del Tunari, a multinational consortium of private investors, including a subsidiary of the Bechtel Corporation. Aguas del Tunari was the sole bidder for the privatization of Cochabamba’s water system.”
Here is the story as seen on Frontline:
- III. Memories of the Water War
“Ten years ago this month, the Bolivian city of Cochabamba was at the center of an epic fight over one of the city’s most vital natural resources: its own water. The Water Wars occurred just months after the Battle of Seattle. The uprising against Bechtel on the streets of Cochabamba was seen as the embodiment of the international struggle against corporate globalization. Over the past week, water activists from around the world gathered in Cochabamba to mark the tenth anniversary of the Water Wars.”
- IV. NOW—What are some lessons?
“Over the past week, water activists from around the world have gathered here in Cochabamba to mark the tenth anniversary of the Water Wars. Meanwhile, thousands of climate justice activists have begun arriving here in Bolivia for the World Peoples’ Summit on Climate Change and Rights of Mother Earth. Bolivian President Evo Morales called for the gathering to give the poor and the Global South an opportunity to respond to the failed climate talks in Copenhagen. The global summit kicks off today here in the Bolivian town of Tiquipaya, just outside Cochabamba. We’ll be broadcasting here at the site of the summit throughout the week, right through Earth Day.”
Memories of Mobilization in Cochabamba are seen in South American relations today and with its policies in Europe and North America
“Today marks the start of the World Peoples’ Summit on Climate Change and Rights of Mother Earth here in Tiquipaya. Bolivian President Evo Morales called for the gathering to give the poor and the Global South an opportunity to respond to the failed climate talks in Copenhagen. We are joined now by Pablo Solon, Bolivia’s ambassador to the United Nations. Prior to his role in the government, Solon was a social activist who worked for several years with different social organizations, indigenous movements, workers’ unions, student associations, human rights and cultural organizations in Bolivia.”
- V. Some Study Questions for Discussion
(1) Who should control and make decisions about water supplies? Name the stakeholders. Explain why each has or should have the right.
(2) Who is Bechtel Corporation and what was its role in the Water War? How has Bechtel been involved in other wars?
(3) Summarize the creation and the building of the movement which took place in and around Cochabamba Bolivia in the early part of this past decade.
(4) How are the movements in Bolivia related to other global movements these days? E.g. climate change, indigenous rights, sustainable development, and the right to resources.
(5) How has the United States responded to the movements in Bolivia and Latin America in the past few years?
(6) What is the purpose of the big meetings in Bolivia this month? Which countries are involved? What other institution and organizations are involved?
(7) What is your government and society doing to combat environmental issues, such as climate change and protecting natural resources and wildlife?