<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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For the Reconstitution of the Movements from Below: Autonomy and Independence

A Reflection almost Ten Years After the Water War


By Oscar Olivera
Special to The Narco News Bulletin

December 15, 2009

As a way of introduction, prologue, or whatever you call it.

The Reason

When the brothers and sisters of Yaku (Water) told me that they were going to translate the book “We are the Coordinadora” into Italian, it gave me great happiness and hope. I felt happy because I have visited with the Italian people more than any others in the world in the ten years since the “Water Wars” in Cochabamba, Bolivia. The popular uprising in 2000 provided the world the ability to see that we are capable of changing the course of our lives, that if we take our capacity to make change into our hearts and hands, we can confront our most powerful enemies and win. Translating this book also gave me hope, because we have seen in the Italian people struggling with the same expressions on their faces, the same anger, the same sufferings and the same dreams. That is why we know that the people are going to win, in spite of all the challenges we face.

These almost ten years since the water wars and the new edition of the book in Italian open the door for us to reflect about the work we have done from the grassroots in Bolivia, and on what those in power have done, now that they are no longer part of the grassroots.


Oscar Olivera at the 2004 School of Authentic Journalism, Cochabamba Bolivia.
I will never forget when the indigenous farmers came to those of us who live in the city and told us that the rich and powerful wanted to appropriate our water. At the same time they explained that water is a generous gift of the Pachamama, the Mother Earth, for all, and that it belongs not only to human beings but also to the plants and animals and even the stones. According to this ancestral Andean vision, everything is alive. Since water is a gift for all, no one, especially a transnational corporation, can own water.

We rose up from our communities and neighborhoods, from our factories and schools, and occupied the roads and streets, plazas and markets to say ENOUGH. Until that moment we didn´t exist in the eyes of the politicians, capital, the transnational corporations, the owning class and the wealthy. We made ourselves heard by organizing and mobilizing and regained a voice. As the Zapatistas say, we sent our words out walking.

The greatest legacy that we gave when we fought the Water Wars in Cochabamba, was to inspire with our actions. A little inspiration and hope stays with us as well, after almost ten years after this struggle.

The Commons and Our Natural Resources

Today, ten years later, we are at a different juncture. Within the grassroots there are mixed feelings of dissatisfaction, sadness and anger. The demand of re-appropriating the commons and natural resources like gas, petrol, minerals and water has fundamentally not been met. Transnational corporations continue to exploit and extract these resources, and the government manages them in a private, sectarian, inefficient and in many cases corrupt manner. The petrol company had issues with corruption, because government structures have not changed and in many cases the people running the companies have not changed either.

The Constituent Assembly and a New Institutional Framework

Another obstacle for social movements has been the work of dismantling old institutions that are corrupt and inaccessible, in order to allow the construction of new spaces that promote new ways of living together based in solidarity, reciprocity, respect, transparency, fraternity, self governance and the re-establishment of a harmonious balance with Mother Earth. This new institutional framework is far from being a reality. The Constituent Assembly was dead from the onset, because it was developed and run by political parties instead of ordinary and working class people. Moreover, it handed the work of creating new structures and institutions over to the political parties. This became a huge contradiction because we fought for a Constituent Assembly precisely because of the failure of political parties to be intermediaries between citizens and the government.

Thus, we are far from the real participation, social control, and control over decision making that we realized in 2000 and 2003, when we stopped the privatization of water, the sale of our gas, and threw out a criminal and compliant government. When we put in place an agenda which is based in power from below, we were able to expel transnational corporations and bad governments.

The Social Movement

Very little remains of the strong, autonomous and horizontal social movements we built in Bolivia. The movement that arose in the rural areas and was able to unite with the urban areas has been co-opted.

Important movement figures have become government officials, or political operatives, transforming the autonomous and independent nature of the movement. Those qualities had been fundamental in driving and accelerating the process of change since 2000.

Today we are struggling to re-establish the movement in the cities and semi-urban neighborhoods, with water committees, factory workers, the homeless, and all of those who, until now, have been ignored because we have not given up on autonomous struggle and real dignity. We have not given up in the face of the inefficiency, corruption, blindness, deafness and contempt that continue in various levels of government.

The National Coalition in Defense of Water, the Environment, Basic Services and Life has become the starting place for an organizing process that will be long and hard.

Water

Water and the needs of the people are still a method of cooptation and subordination of electoral and other manipulation by the State apparatus.

This re-articulation of our water issues is necessary because of the government´s attitude that the issue of water low on the agenda. The government does not have a budget and depends largely on international “cooperation” to solve all aspects of our many water problems. Until now, the Ministry of Water has not been able to respond to the expectation that they become a participatory agency, as was originally planned. Due to this system of government, our water, and the needs and suffering of the people, are still co-opted and subordinated to the needs of the government.

In Cochabamba, the issue of Water is of great concern, because of the migration of many people to semi-urban and agricultural regions, which jeopardizes basic services in these settlements, most of which are the result of speculators who are destroying vast tracts of land that once produced food. And that, in turn, puts the the population’s food security at risk.

In addition to chronic lack of water, I believe that the existence of our entire region is at serious risk due to climate change, the contamination of surface and groundwater from irrational solid waste treatment policies and the disposal of poison residues from industrial activity, irrigation with polluted waters, as well as modern urbanization and consumption.

Today we are in the middle of a fight for recognition of these problems that are the everyday life of the people. The struggle is hard, but strong and dignified.

Like Water: Transparent, Joyful, and in Movement

In the face of these realities emerges the convergence of different movements and struggles for water in Bolivia as well as throughout the planet.

In Bolivia, the following are just a few of the most inspiring examples where women, men, children and elders together manage their water and life. In San Cristóbal of Potosí, communities are fighting against the world’s biggest silver mine operated by the Japanese company Sumimoto. Communities near the Silala River along the Chilean border and fisherman from Lake Titicaca (the highest lake on Earth) are struggling to stop their water from being polluted. Communities from eastern Bolivia are tenaciously opposing both oil extractions that destroy the Amazon and dam construction projects promoted by the governments of Brazil and Bolivia as a part of the Initiative for the Integration of South America’s Regional Infrastructure (IIRSA). Water companies are working with a handful of young workers transform into transparent, efficient, fair and participatory businesses. Additionally, the people of Cochabamba’s ASICASUR have fought for water for years and shown the viability of autonomous and participatory water distribution systems.

In Mexico, communities fight against dam construction in places like Arcediano. The people of Temacapulin are fighting against the pollution of El Salto River. In Colombia they are building aqueducts as alternatives; and residents along the Magdalena River are directly fighting against pollution and the development of African palm oil plantations. The Mapuches, an indigenous group from the mountains of the Argentine-Chilean border, fight daily against the exploitation of minerals that will destroy their snow covered mountains. Our brothers and sisters in Uruguay remain generously committed to the development of mechanisms to exchange knowledge between water companies and water justice movements. Our peers in Ecuador continue to struggle against laws that privatize water, even though they have a “progressive “government. Venezuelan neighborhoods have developed technical water tables. The people of Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina have maintained their fiscal attitude and struggle to prevent the Guaraní Aquifer from becoming a big business for the World Bank and multinational corporations. Peruvian workers continue to defend their water as a public resource. Neighborhoods and communities in the United States are fighting against corporations that want to bottle their water. Canadians are fighting against the exportation of their water, and the destruction of their snow. All of this is a clear demonstration that our people are always in MOVEMENT and TRANSPARENT. This is a fight for life, and despite all of its difficulties, this is a struggle we fight with joy. We are joyful because we are building a world and a society where happiness will drive our relationships with one another, with our everyday lives and with the Mother Earth.

They can privatize everything, but not our dreams. While we are still alive we will always fight for our dreams.

Cochabamba, Spring (Southern Hemisphere) of 2009

This text is a translation of the new introduction to the book “We Are the Coordinadora” (Italian language edition) by Oscar Olivera, Bolivian union leader, organizer and professor of Narco News’ School of Authentic Journalism.

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The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America