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Cochabamba, the Water Wars and Climate Change

Posted on Apr 20, 2010

By Amy Goodman

COCHABAMBA, Bolivia—Here in this small Andean nation of 10 million people, the glaciers are melting, threatening the water supply of the largest urban area in the country, El Alto and La Paz, with 3.5 million people living at altitudes over 10,000 feet. I flew from El Alto International, the world’s highest commercial airport, to the city of Cochabamba.

Bolivian President Evo Morales calls Cochabamba the heart of Bolivia. It was here, 10 years ago this month, that, as one observer put it, “the first rebellion of the 21st century” took place. In what was dubbed the Water Wars, people from around Bolivia converged on Cochabamba to overturn the privatization of the public water system. As Jim Shultz, founder of the Cochabamba-based Democracy Center, told me, “People like a good David-and-Goliath story, and the water revolt is David not just beating one Goliath, but three. We call them the three Bs: Bechtel, Banzer and the Bank.” The World Bank, Shultz explained, coerced the Bolivian government, under President Hugo Banzer, who had ruled as a dictator in the 1970s, to privatize Cochabamba’s water system. The multinational corporation Bechtel, the sole bidder, took control of the public water system.

On Sunday, I walked around the Plaza Principal, in central Cochabamba, with Marcela Olivera, who was out on the streets 10 years ago. I asked her about the movement’s original banner, hanging for the anniversary, that reads, in Spanish, “El agua es nuestra, carajo!”—“The water is ours, damn it!” Bechtel was jacking up water rates. The first to notice were the farmers, dependent on irrigation. They appealed for support from the urban factory workers. Oscar Olivera, Marcela’s brother, was their leader. He proclaimed, at one of their rallies, “If the government doesn’t want the water company to leave the country, the people will throw them out.”

Marcela recounted: “On the 4th of February, we called the people to a mobilization here. We call it ‘la toma de la plaza,’ the takeover of the plaza. It was going to be the meeting of the people from the fields, meeting the people from the city, all getting together here at one time…. The government said that that wasn’t going to be allowed to happen. Several days before this was going to happen, they sent policemen in cars and on motorcycles that were surrounding the city, trying to scare the people. And the actual day of the mobilization, they didn’t let the people walk even 10 meters, and they started to shoot them with gases.” The city was shut down by the coalition of farmers, factory workers and coca growers, known as cocaleros. Unrest and strikes spread to other cities. During a military crackdown and state of emergency declared by then-President Banzer, 17-year-old Victor Hugo Daza was shot in the face and killed. Amid public furor, Bechtel fled the city, and its contract with the Bolivian government was canceled.

The cocaleros played a crucial role in the victory. Their leader was Evo Morales. The Cochabamba Water Wars would eventually launch him into the presidency of Bolivia. At the United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen, he called for the most rigorous action on climate change.


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After the summit, Bolivia refused to support the U.S.-brokered, nonbinding Copenhagen Accord. Bolivia’s ambassador to the U.N., Pablo Solon, told me that, as a result, “we were notified, by the media, that the United States was cutting around $3 million to $3.5 million for projects that have to do with climate change.” Instead of taking U.S. aid money for climate change, Bolivia is taking a leadership role in helping organize civil society and governments, globally, with one goal—to alter the course of the next major U.N. climate summit, set for Cancun, Mexico, in December.

Which is why more than 15,000 people from more than 120 countries have gathered here this week of Earth Day, at the People’s World Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth. Morales called for the gathering to give the poor and the Global South an opportunity to respond to the failed climate talks in Copenhagen.

Ambassador Solon explained the reasoning behind this people’s summit:

“People are asking me how this is coming from a small country like Bolivia. I am the ambassador to the U.N. I know this institution. If there is no pressure from civilian society, change will not come from the U.N. The other pressure on governments comes from transnational corporations. In order to counteract that, we need to develop a voice from the grass roots.”
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 800 stations in North America. She is the author of “Breaking the Sound Barrier,” recently released in paperback and now a New York Times best-seller.

© 2010 Amy Goodman

Distributed by King Features Syndicate

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By Jazlyn, April 27, 2011 at 3:52 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Wow! That’s a raelly neat answer!

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By ofersince72, April 24, 2010 at 12:12 am Link to this comment

Democracy Now,

Thank you so much for sharing that Culture with us
this week and letting the voices that were shut out of
Copenhagen be heard.

  Also , thank you for letting the voice of Evo be heard,
they demonize him even though they have never heard him

You are an amazing news service.

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By ofersince72, April 23, 2010 at 11:10 pm Link to this comment

Chemical agriculture uses soluble chemicals which are
either acidic or basic and which have the final effect
of acidifying the soil, distroying the soil life, using
up the organic matter, and finally rendering the soil

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By chicharrone de cochabamba, April 23, 2010 at 12:01 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

off-subject, perhaps. comment, ms.goodman?

(from wikipedia) Morales and fatherhood

“I love to make women cry” said to the camera, Evo Morales Ayma, a long while
before his election as President of Bolivia[62]. The head of government and his
romantic relationships with the mothers of his daughter and youngest son
ended on widely known demands for parenthood and children support

Morales fathered Eva Liz Morales Alvarado, born on September 24th of 1994
and Alvaro Morales Peredo, both extra marital children brought into life by
Francisca Alvarado, former leader of the political party Eje Pachakuti and
Marisol Peredo, a teacher, respectively.

On 2001, Francisca Alvarado claimed that Morales, a member of Congress by
then, was reluctant to acknowledge her five year old daughter, Eva Liz and
supply the child with a maintenance fee [63] . On January 30th in 2001,
Alvarado set a fatherhood claim upon the Family Court in Oruro, Bolivia to get
her daughter recognized by her father and also, the mandated child support
payments,[64] but the accused denied fatherhood and any release of financial

In spite of his defense, the Chamber of Deputies was recommended to punish
Morales with the loss of his seniority and privileges if the representative
refused a DNA test. An official resolution was ready on the 30th of October to
punish him but the legal statement was not going to be executed because
Morales Ayma would finally agree to recognize his daughter in exchange for a
political “joint agreement” [66]. Not very long after, Morales would accuse a
politician, Sergio Cardenas, of “bringing into play a woman to discredit me”.

But on 2004, Morales was going to face a new scandal related to responsible
fatherhood, when his attorney delivered a Habeas Corpus Resource against the
Judge who issued a jail order against Evo, because this one was indebting
children financial support to Alvaro, his youngest son. Morales attorney alleged
that his client enjoyed parliamentary immunity from prosecution and

However, on June 23rd of 2004, the Bolivian Constitutional Tribunal, submitted
the 0977/2004R resolution sentencing that “Evo Morales deputy must look
after his son’s life, health, safety and education” and “parliamentary immunity
shall not be advocated when fundamental human rights are endangered. This
jurisprudence line fits this court case as Evo Morales Ayma is threatening his
son fundamental rights when the mandated child support payments are not
cancelled on time”[68].

Lastly, the Chief Clerk’s Office at the Chamber of Representatives, retained the
owed amount of money out of the congressman salary to honor such family

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By Ken, April 22, 2010 at 11:14 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

One sees two sides to these debates. Some people here are knocking Morales and Solon. I think both are trying to do the right thing. But there are many opportunists on the left, just wanting to get a free ticket somewhere and then talk about how bad it is to fly. Like Al Gore. So let’s not accept these hypocrites with blind faith.
I did just hear a really good talk by Luis Alberto Arce, Bolivia’s Minister for Finance. He held forth at Columbia University. It was worth the subway ride up to see him, he gave an impressive talk and he had figures to show for it all. They are already thinking ahead about when the natural resources run out, and working to create sustainable industries. Eco tourism, paper mills and the cultivation of high altitude crops such as quinoa and maca were discussed.
The lefty posers had nothing to do with all this. They SHOULD be criticised, but credit ought to be given to Morales - the people voted him in again for a reason.

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By Jack, April 21, 2010 at 2:01 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Rulers of “third world” countries are at the table for the promised hand out.

Remember this?

valadj = [0.0, 0.0, 0.0, 0.0, 0.0, -0.1, -0.25, -0.3, 0.0, -0.1, 0.3, 0.8, 1.2, 1.7, 2.5, 2.6, 2.6, 2.6, 2.6, 2.6] * 0.75 ; fudge factor

It’s from the East Anglia leaks.  Take these arbitrary “value adjustments” and multiply them with the measured temperatures and WOW, you get the politically desirable solution and KEEP THE AGW GRAVY TRAIN MOVING.

Notice how it lowers earlier temperatures and raises later ones.

All the hysteria sources from the IPCC. IPCC sources from these computer models. The computer models are garbage.

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By carmela, April 21, 2010 at 12:52 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Over and over again, as many other biased reports on
Bolivia, the water war and Morales movement, this one
hides the fact that the water movement in 2000 was
just a pose used by ambitious leaders to build power
utilizing the poor and their needs. They did not care
about water nor Daza’s fate. In these 10 years
nothing has changed for the poor, they are still
paying more for bad quality water. If that is a
prologue, you know what will result from the Morales
presidency. They are good at speaking while doing the
contrary. Morales became an ecologist out of
oportunism. Goodman should report on National Parks,
environmental permits and deforestation in Boilvia
during the Morales government, instead of talking
about those false speeches of MOrales, Olivera and

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By Shift, April 21, 2010 at 6:59 am Link to this comment

Indigenous values are again heard on this continent, but not in the United States.  Why?  It is time to end the quiet continuing genocide against American Indians and to free their voices once again.  Please contact NPR and ask why the voices of American Indians are not present in their programing.  It is a place to begin.  Please do contact them.  Great voices among American Indians are being suppressed.  The voice of Steven Newcomb is a good beginning place.

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By ofersince72, April 21, 2010 at 5:37 am Link to this comment

I have been a follower of the C02ppm almost almost 3decades
In july 1979 this was delivered to the President’s counsil
on Environmental Quality entitled
The Carbon Dioxide Problem: Implications for Policy
Management of Energy and Other Resources.
“The C02 problem is one of the most important contemporary
environmental problems, is a direct product of industrialization, threatens the stability of cliates
worldwide and therefore the stability of all nations, and
can be controlled.  Steps toward control are necessary
now.  The potential disruptions are sufficiently great
to warrant the incorporation of the C02 problem into all
considerations of policy in the development of energh.”

This is April 2010 , no such incorporation has taken place…
Another early warning 4/21/80, delivered to the EPA
from Hazel Henderson, auther of
The Politics of the Solar Age.
“.....If he is correct, this means we can expect a
continuous RATE of increase of C02 buildup, and that
climatologists were in error in advising the Administration that we had 50 years to complete the
solar/renewable resource transition, before weather
and climate changes would interfere with crops ect….”

Hanson knew all about these warnings.. What happened
is oil and chemical companies became alarmed at the
C02 and climate studies back in the seventies and with
their money and NOAA’S help,  got control of all the
climate studies and which ones would get funded. Of course
the least alarming ones for industry got funded.
At 380ppm,  we lost any chance to control the C02 if
there was ever any chance at all.
I look at the Climate Collapse as a blessing for the
earth.,  she is going to cleanse herself.
It is simple a carbon recycle.

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Paul_GA's avatar

By Paul_GA, April 21, 2010 at 4:15 am Link to this comment

That may be true, Ofersince72—certainly, humanity’s governments can’t or won’t do diddley-squat about the environment; they’d rather fight wars. Note this silly story, for example, about the US Navy launching an “environmentally-friendly” “Great Green Fleet”:

To me, coming up with a “green” military force is akin to taking an old case-hardened prostitute, giving her a new suit of clothes, a new pair of shoes, and a fresh coat of makeup, and calling her “new and improved”.

Unless the war is purely defensive in nature, WAR IS A WHORE.

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By mani, April 21, 2010 at 12:00 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)



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By ofersince72, April 20, 2010 at 10:44 pm Link to this comment

Man cannot stop or even slow down the Climate Collapse.

the result will be many extinction catastrophes.

humans will probably survive,  maybe 10 million and
they will have a very hard time of it.

Enjoy yourself while you can.

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By amunaor, April 20, 2010 at 9:01 pm Link to this comment


I wonder how long before Bechtel, Banzer and the Bank move in the ‘Free-Marketeer’ troops? I hope these poor people don’t get Pinochet’d.

WikiLeaks—Collateral Murder:

Keep the light on!
Peace, Best Wishes and Hope

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By Artful Dodger, April 20, 2010 at 7:06 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Ms. Amy is so sure of herself on global warming. She won’t give Lord Monkton one interview just for the chance to sharpen her polemical skills. Are you that sure that the scandal at East Anglia University was just a matter of climate skeptics just taking advantage of some semantic points, Ms. Goodman?

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