The Story of Cochabamba

Reclaiming Water as a Basic Human Right


The First Water War / Win of the 21st Century

Review of the book "Blue Gold"
by Maude Barlow & Tony Clarke

(The New Press, New York, 2002.

Initial events:

In 1998, the World Bank, under the guise of a "Structural Adjustment Program" (see "Note on SAPs" below) notified the Bolivian government that it would refuse to guarantee a US$25 million loan to refinance water services in the city of Cochabamba unless the local government sold its public water utility to the private sector and passed on the cost to consumers.
Only one bid was considered and the utility was handed over to Aguas del Tunari, a newly formed subsidiary of the U. S. engineering giant Bechtel -implicated in the Three Gorges Dam in China, which has caused the forced relocation of 1.3 million people.

In January 1999, before it had even hung up its shingle, the company announced the doubling of the water prices. For most Bolivians, this meant that water would now cost more than food; for some, water bills suddenly accounted for close to half their monthly budgets.
The World Bank granted monopolies to private water concessionaires, announced its support for full-cost water pricing, pegged the cost of water to the US dollar, and instructed the Bolivian government that the loan monies could not be used to subsidize the poor for water services.

All water, even from community wells, required permits to access & small farmers even had to buy permits to gather rainwater on their property.

In the beginning of 2000, tens of thousands took to the street, shutting down the city for four straight days. The protest was coordinated by the Coordiadora de defense de Agua y la Vida (Coalition in defense of Water & Life). After a week of escalation, the government placed the country under martial law and announced that it would break its contract with Bechtel -but not before a 17-year-old boy was shot to death. The government then handed Cochabamba water services to the community itself who set up a new company committed to provide first for those without water and to work directly with local neigborhoods to solve water service problems."
This community-based water company has rapidly become an example of hope for the Third World.

Happy ending of an isolated story ? Not exactly...

The Cochabamba scenario of selling off public services to trans-national corporations is subreptitiously duplicated all over the world: Asia, Africa, South America and developed countries... without much resistance yet... The "Unholy Trinity" (see "Note on Unholy Trinities" below) of the IMF (International Monetary Fund), World Bank and WTO (World Trade Organization) is scrambling, hand in hand with competing mega-corporations, to acquire the rights to "commodify" all the world's waters (surface, underground aquifers and atmospheric water)... "Future wars won't be about oil but about water" warn the global "think tanks" studying the catastrophic effects of a planet drying up... Global control and monopoly of water as a "product" leads to direct control of human existence & behavior and ultimately human spirit... (see "Note on the Global Water Game" below)
And there is a sequel to the Cochabamba story...

Bechtel Retaliation:

"Flagging a 1992 BIT (Bilateral Investment Treaty -see "Note on BITs" below) signed betwen Bolivia and the Netherlands, Bechtel is now using one of its Dutch holding companies to sue the Bolivian government for US $40 million in compensation for "expropriation rights", due to "losses" incurred by the cancellation of the water contract in Cochabamba. Bechtel, of course, is a U.S.-based corporation, but in 1999 it moved its Dutch holding company for Aguas del Tunari from the Cayman Islands to the Netherlands, thereby gaining the right to sue Latin's America's poorest country at the World Bank's International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes.

Since's Bechtel actions became known in November 2000, the Bolivian government has publicly stated that it will fight this challenge. But there are others in the government who think it would be best to pay Bechtel its compensation demands in order to prove that Bolivia is ready for "globalization" and can be a "good player" in the new world order dictated by the WTO and ruling elite."

Water is a Universal Human Right

Note on the Global Water Game:
"The name of the game is to secure control over bulk water supplies and deliver them to 'targeted demand areas' on 'the ability to pay', at a price that will not only cover costs but also satisfy the desire for increasing profit margins (read 'pure greed')".
In other words, the global elite's agenda of "unlimited growth, free trade and hi-tech consumerism" (for a few) will soon reveal another facet: reducing the world's populations to thirsty slaves, ready to give bodies & souls for a glass of clean water.
(Just watch for "clean air" being sold in plastic bags to the mass of the people while the wealthy live in air-conditioned bubble-resorts...)

Note on SAPs:
"Since the early 1980s, the World Bank and the IMF have been imposing "Structural Adjustment Programs" on Third World countries as conditions for renewing their financing and international debt payments.
Through these programs the indebted governments were compelled to undertake a series of radical measures, ranging from the sell-off of public enterprises to massive reductions in public spending on health, education, and social services. These "structural changes", in turn, have had devastating impacts on the living condition of the poor majority in these countries over the past decade and a half.
These SAPs are undermining (sapping) the ability of sovereign governments to act according to democratic principles...
by transferring political power to foreign corporations.
In recent years, one of the primary conditions for the renewal of World Bank and IMF loans has been the privatization of a country's public water and sanitation facilities."

Note on BITs:
According to the UNCTAD (UN Conference on Trade and Development),1726 BITs (Bilateral Investment Treaties) have been signed up to 2001.

"Very few politicians, let alone citizens, are aware they exist, and fewer have any knowledge of the powers they grant
to the trans-national corporations operating outside their own countries. Since 1994, many of the BITs began to incorporate some of the key rules and disciplines (read "punishments") of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Association), including the "investor-state mechanism'.
The 'investor-state mechanism' gives trans-national corporations the unprecedented right to sue national governments directly, bypassing both the domestic laws and the national judicial systems of the countries being challenged...Claims by corporations are adjudicated in secret by commercial arbitration panels, which can award substantial monetary damages to be paid by governments accused of violating the rules."

In other words, we have the lawyers, we make the rules and if you don't want to abide, w'll send the UN-NATO high-tech army and/or w'll starve & parch you to death.

Note on "Unholy Trinities":
"The primary institutions of global economic governance (dominance) - the World Trade Organization, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (aka the "Unholy Trinity")- have been relentlessly working to provide the financial & legal leverage required to build a 'global water market'.

To carry out this strategy, an integrated network of lobby organizations, professional associations, and corresponding political machinery has been put in place."

Another such self-serving Trinity is the interrelated nexus of the three 'international water agencies' that emerged from the international and UN conferences on the environment in 1992, namely: the GWP, the WWC and the WCW.
"On the surface, each of these agencies appears to be neutral because they exist to facilitate the dialogue between various stakeholders and to bring about a "more sustainable management of the water resources". But a closer look reveals that they promote the privatization and export of water resources & services through close links with global water corporations and financial institutions."
Representatives of global water corporations are strategically placed at the top levels of all three of these
global agencies."

Note on Greenwashing:
A "Greenwash" is when trans-national corporations preserve & expand their markets by posing as friends of the environment and enemies of poverty. The corporate PR involves promoting a "soft public image".

Example. "In response to the UN Water Decade (1981-1990), British water corporations set up WaterAidas a non-governmental organization (NGO) with this stated goal: 'to help poor people in developing countries achieve sustainable improvements in their domestic water supply, sanitation and associated hygiene practices'.

In fact, WaterAid promotes a public image of concern for the struggles of water-deprived Third World peoples, but meanwhile, private corporations carry on with business as usual."

Credits: All quotes from Maude Barlow.
Barlow, Maude and Clarke, Tony. Blue Gold,
The Fight to Stop the Corporate Theft of the World's Water.

The New Press, NY, 2002.
Barlow, Maude. "Water Is A Basic Human Right - Or Is It ?",
Toronto Globe and Mail, Canada, 5-11-00.


Water is a Universal Human Right
Water is the Soul of the Earth
Water is Spirit in Body
Sacred is Water