Bolivia: 15 Years After the Cochabamba Water Revolt, Echoes in New Cases of Corporate Abuse

Fifteen years ago this month the people of Cochabamba, Bolivia were victorious in their now-famous showdown with one of the most powerful multinational corporations in the world, in what has come to be known as the Cochabamba Water Revolt. The attempt by the US Engineering giant Bechtel to privatize the city’s water supply backfired spectacularly when the people of Cochabamba faced down government forces to kick the multinational out of the country and to reclaim their rights to one of the most basic human necessities on the planet.

For people the world over, this stunning popular victory over corporate hubris in the Andes not only continues to inspire hope that another world is indeed possible; it also shines an urgent light on three fundamentals in the ongoing wider battle against the abuses of corporate power in South America: how the road is paved to allow foreign corporations to seize control of the continent's forests, waters and territories; the damages they inflict when they get there; and how communities are fighting back against a deepening transnational assault on their resources and on their sovereignty.

For Bechtel, the road into Bolivia and its water systems was paved by Washington Consensus-inspired loan conditionalities. In the late 1990s the World Bank told Bolivia to privatize Cochabamba’s Water as a condition of further lending for water expansion. In 1999, the Bolivian government agreed and signed a lavish forty-year lease with a mysterious Bechtel subsidiary that wasted no time in hiking up the cost of water. Rates rose by 50% and sometimes by as much as double. The result for ordinary Cochabambinos was devastating, with many families being forced to choose between such basics as water or food. People from across the department responded with unified indignation, three times shutting down the entire city with blockades, marches, and general strikes. Despite heavy state repression that left one teenage boy dead and hundreds more injured, the people succeeded in kicking Bechtel out of the country, reclaiming their water supply and achieving a powerful victory that still resonates globally today.

Fast forward to South America 2015. These same fundamental themes of foreign corporate dominance and resistance are echoed across three current cases involving powerful European multinationals, profiled in a recent report, Corporate Conquistadors, from the Democracy Center, Corporate Europe Observatory and Transnational Institute. In Peru, Spanish Repsol is threatening not only the sovereignty but the very existence of local indigenous communities, as it pushes ever deeper into fragile Amazonian ecosystems in the insatiable quest to expand its reserves of oil and gas. To the south of Peru, in the region of Espinar, Swiss Commodities and Mining conglomerate Glencore Xstrata is bulldozing over human rights as local community members share testimonies of  already scarce water supplies being destroyed by its twin mega mining projects, Tintaya and Antapaccay. Finally, Italo-Spanish energy giant Enel-Endesa is set to flood some 8,500 hectares of vitally important agricultural lands in Huila, Colombia where it is constructing a 400MW dam to generate cheap energy - either for export or to set in motion a new wave of mega mining and unconventional gas operations.

For the complete article, please see Upside Down World.