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Cochabamba, Bolivia
by Bob Olsen

From: "Roey Angel" <blkflg@disinfo.net> Subject: Bolivia, Kickin' Bechtel back to wherever they came from!!

hello everyone. here's a report from regarding the water crisis in Bolivia. just a reminder: the bolivian government sold her water company to the foreign Bechtel company, after a while the company had more then doubled the price per family for water, the poor Bolivian who could not stand the prices started revolting and finally kicked Bechtel out!!!
Thursday - April 13, 2000
Dear Friends:

      It has been one hell of a week here in Cochabamba. Humble Bolivians, led by a 45 year old machinist, kicked the Bechtel Corporation out of the country after one of the world's largest companies tried to pick their pockets over water. I'd like to see a consumer revolt in my homestate of California match that. The people stood down President Banzer and martial law. Some did not survive what happened here, including Victor Hugo, the 17 year old killed by an army bullet here Saturday. These people we mourn and honor.
      I am in awe, as well, at what we were able to accomplish together, all across the globe, using the Internet. Hacking away at this keyboard in a corner of the Andes that few ever think about, the news of what happened here went out to thousands and thousands of people. In a matter of hours, with a little research and a lot of support, we took the Bechtel Corporation and turned it from being "the invisible hand" behind the scenes to a corporation on the hot seat. Hundreds upon hundreds of e-mails forced the corporate giant to respond, with a hedging P.R. statement that became headlines in Bolivia and forced the Bolivian government to say once and for all that Bechtel's water company isn't coming back.
      The solidarity and support expressed around the world was utterly amazing, messages from Mexico, England, Canada, Iceland, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Nepal, Australia, all over the U.S. and elsewhere; people here heard that the whole world was indeed watching. And how can I ever forget those amazing New Zealanders who cared so much about the people here that they drove a bright red fire truck, adorned with protest banners, to the Bolivian consulate in Auckland and hosed the place down (story below). God I love that!
      And we made the powerful speak. This morning I received an e-mail from a Finnish journalist in Washington alerting me that some enterprising reporter (who probably got our material from one of you) asked the President of the World Bank Wednesday about Bolivia, giving him a public chance to stick his foot properly in his mouth (see below).
      I am grateful, very grateful, to all of you who became citizens of the world, spreading these alerts and requests like wildfire and demanding that reporters cover the story across the world. Gathering and confirming the facts was no small challenge in the midst of press censorship and key sources having to go into hiding. I want to thank Tom Kruse, Lee Cridland, Kathryn Ledebur, and Theo Roncken for their incredible help in getting the facts. I want to thank as well my family, Lynn, Elizabeth, Miguel and Simone the dog for their patience as I neglected them entirely for ten days.
      Even though the formal "state of emergency" is still in effect (see below), I knew life was returning to normal Tuesday morning when the doorbell rang early, our friend who had left his bus in our driveway (stuck by the barricades days earlier) had come to claim it. In the street our neighbors were running off to work. Once again our biggest problem was the neighbor's dog sneaking in to chase the cat.
      Thanks for your patience and interest in all these messages. I promise to be quiet for a while. Despite it all, Bolivia is still is the most peaceful place I know.
        Despite the end of national protests over water and other issues, the 90 day "state of emergency" declared by President Banzer is still in effect here, including an evening curfew, limits on public meetings, and the ability to arrest without warrant. While it is unclear how much of these rules will be enforced, labor, human rights and civic groups have demanded that it be lifted. People in the U.S. can help by contacting the Bolivian Embassy in Washington to demand that it be ended: Tel: 202-483-4410; Fax: 328-3712.


      On Wednesday the director of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn, commented directly on the Bolivia water protests and the World Bank's connection. His comments, provided by a Finnish correspondent, come as thousands prepare to descend on Washington to protest Bank policies in developing nations. According to the Finnish reporter who attended the Bank leader's news conference in Washington, Mr. Wolfensohn argued that giving public services away leads inevitably to waste and he said that countries like Bolivia need to have a "a proper system of charging". The former Wall Street financier claimed that privatizing the Cochabamba water system was by no means directed against the poor.
      Reacting to the World Bank President's characterization of the Bolivian situation, water protest leader, Oscar Olivera, said Thursday in La Paz, "In Mr. Wolfensohn's view, requiring families who earn $100 per month to pay $20 for water may be "a proper system of charging", but the thousands of people who filled the streets and shut down their city here last week apparently felt otherwise."
      In its June 1999 "Bolivia Public Expenditure Review" the World Bank wrote that "No subsidies should be given to ameliorate the increase in water tariffs in Cochabamba", arguing that all water users, including the very poor, should have bills that reflect the full cost of proposed expansion of the local water system. Water users in the wealthy suburbs surrounding Washington, home to many World Bank economists, pay approximately $17 per month for water, less that what many families were asked to pay after water was privatized in this part of South America's poorest country.
      Olivera announced that, if granted a visa from the U.S. Embassy here, he would travel Friday to Washington, DC to participate in the worldwide meetings and demonstrations scheduled there this weekend to protest World Bank and International Monetary Fund policies in poor countries. Olivera said he also wants to meet with the World Bank President. "I'd like to meet with Mr. Wolfensohn to educate him on how privatization has been a direct attack on Bolivia's poor. Families with monthly incomes of around $100 have seen their water bills jump to $20 per month -- more than they spend on food. I'd like to invite Mr. Wolfensohn to come to Cochabamba and see the reality that he apparently can't see from his office in Washington DC."
      Olivera's presence is expected to make the past week's uprisings in Bolivia a leading example of the abuses of international economic policies, including the privatizing public enterprises such as drinking water, and put a spotlight on the actual effects of the three institution's policies on poor developing nations. Bolivia's water protests resulted in the breaking Monday of Bolivia's water privatization contract with a subsidiary of the San Francisco-based Bechtel Corporation.

 Note: Reporters interested in speaking with Olivera should contact JShultz@democracyctr.org or call 591-4-290-725.


      A plain-clothed sharpshooter, filmed by a Bolivian television network as he fired bullets into crowds of water protesters here Saturday, has been identified as Captain Robinson Iriarte de La Fuente, a graduate of the controversial U.S. government "School of the Americas". According to the Andean Information Network (AIN), a human rights group here, records show that a Roberto C. Iriarte de La Puente participated in a fall 1978 combat weapons course at the Fort Benning, Georgia school. According to AIN, "One of his ex-students identified him immediately from the filmed footage and stated that he was extremely brutal and had fired directly into the crowd during water protests several years ago in a nearby town." La Fuente, who did his shooting Saturday from behind a line of uniformed army soldiers, has been arrested. A 17 year old boy, Victor Hugo Daza, was killed during the protest by a bullet through his face.
      According to AIN, Cochabamba is now governed by a President (Hugo Banzer), Governor (Walter C»spedes), and Mayor (Manfred Reyes Villa), each of whom is a graduate of the U.S. school known for training Latin American militaries in assassination and terrorism techniques.

Photographic evidence of the assassin in action is available at: http://www.americas.org. For more information on the School of the Americas see: http://www.soaw.org


      On Tuesday the San Francisco-based Bechtel Corporation released a formal statement on the controversy concerning its Bolivian water subsidiary (Aguas del Tunari) in which, as opposed to confirming its departure, explained that, "We are in urgent discussions with local leaders to determine an appropriate resolution to the water shortage problems facing the Cochabamba region." Shown the statement, Bolivia's main official for water issues, Luis UzĂn, confirmed that the corporate giant's departure from Bolivia was final, telling reporters, "We don't have any obligation to communicate with Bechtel about what we have decided because we don't have any kind of agreement." The water official said that he had talked by phone with the head of Bechtel's Bolivia subsidiary and both sides had agreed that the contract with the government was no longer in effect.


      An activist group known as "The Water Pressure Group" staged a wet demonstration Wednesday in Auckland New Zealand, protesting the state of siege in Bolivia by driving a bright red fire truck to the local Bolivian consulate and hosing it down while holding signs aloft such as, "Bolivia, The World is Watching You." Protest leader, Jim Gladwin, said, "This was a symbolic gesture of water being basic to all communities, and that the picket was to demonstrate contempt for the Bolivian Government and military authorities, while offering support to Bolivian citizens." The group also shared other messages it has received in support of their Bolivia actions from Australia, Pakistan and elsewhere.

      Note: Photos of the New Zealand hose action can be viewed at:



      (Syndicated by Pacific News Service - Wednesday, April 13)
      Bolivia, that landlocked country high in the Andes, which few in the U.S. ever think about, has been in the news. A week of enormous, often violent, civil uprisings here left at least seven people dead, more than a hundred others injured and flashed pictures of the nation abroad that made government leaders here very nervous for their and the nation's foreign image. Quick to put blame in the easiest place possible, government spokesman, Ronald MacLean, told the few international reporters here Monday, "I want to denounce the subversive attitude absolutely politically financed by narco-traffickers."
      For reporters and editors who have never been here it may be an easy line to swallow, but it would take about two minutes on the ground to figure out how big a lie the Bolivian government seeks to spin. The issue in the past week's uprisings had nothing to do with drugs, it was about water. The culprits weren't narco-traffickers hiding out in the jungle but the well-tailored executives of the Bechtel Corporation sitting smugly in their downtown San Francisco offices a hemisphere away.
      The roots of the uprisings here began last year when, under heavy pressure from the World Bank, the Bolivian government sold off Cochabamba's public water system to a Bechtel subsidiary, "Aguas del Tunari". The details of the deal are secret, with the company claiming the numbers are confidential "intellectual property". What is very clear, however, is that Bechtel's people were intent on getting as much as they could as fast as they could out of the people's pockets in South America's poorest country. Within weeks of hoisting their new corporate logo over local water facilities the Bechtel subsidiary hit local water users with rate hikes of double and more. Families earning a minimum wage of less than $100 per month were told to fork over $20 and more, or have the tap shut off.
      Tanya Paredes, a mother of five who supports her family as a clothes knitter was hit with an increase of $15 per month. For Bechtel's CEO, Riley Bechtel, that's snack money at Fisherman's Warf. For Parades it's her family's food budget for a week and a half.
      It should have come to no surprise to Riley Bechtel or the Bolivian government that increases like these would send people into the streets, which it did. In January Cochabambinos shut down their city for four straight days with general strikes and transportation stoppages. The Bolivian government promised to force rates down to put, seeking to end the protests, promises broken within a few weeks. When thousands tried to march peacefully here on February 4th, President Hugo Banzer (Bolivia's Pinochet-style dictator for most of the 1970s) returned to his old ways, calling out the police and hammering people with two days of tear gas that left 175 injured and two youths blinded.
      After months of promises made and broken by the government and Bechtel's company, the people of Cochabamba made it clear they'd had enough. In a popular survey of more than 60,000 residents last month, 90% said it was time for Mr. Bechtel's subsidiary to go and return the water system to public control. When residents here staged a final city shutdown starting last Tuesday, the Bolivian government came to the corporation's rescue, saying the company must not leave.
      When the protest, overwhelmingly supported by people here, refused to back down after four days the Bolivian government declared a "state of siege," arresting protest leaders from their beds in the dark of night, shutting radio stations down in mid-sentence, and sending soldiers into the street with live bullets. On Saturday afternoon when 17 year old Victor Hugo Daza was killed by a shot through his face it had finally come to the ultimate penalty for challenging Bechtel's control of local water - death. As protest leader Oscar Olivera said in a statement afterwards, "The blood spilled in Cochabamba carries the fingerprints of Bechtel."
      It is true that the strength and international attention of Cochabamba's water protests did embolden, and become linked with, other protests around the country, marches by people in the countryside over a new law taking away control of rural water systems, a police strike in the capital city of La Paz, complaints about unfinished highways in other areas of the country. But when people marched 70 miles on foot from small towns to joint the protest, when women came door to door in my neighborhood gathering food donations to cook and take to the people at the conflict's center, narco-trafficking had about as much to do with it as Elian and Fidel.
      In the middle of the protest, the mayor of a small town outside of the city explained to me, "This is a struggle for justice, and for the removal of an international business that, even before offering us more water, has begun to charge prices that are outrageously high." Late Monday it appeared that Bolivians had gotten their way, as government officials released a letter it had sent to company executives, accusing them of fleeing the country and therefore nullifying the contract they signed last year.
      Tuesday morning Bechtel released a statement of its own. Like the Banzer government, Bechtel sought to pin the blame on anything but themselves. "We are also dismayed by the fact that much of the blame is falsely centered on the government's plan to raise water rates in Cochabamba," said the $12 billion per year corporation, "when in fact, a number of other water, and social and political issues are the root causes of this civil unrest." Bolivians may be mad about a lot of things, but it was Bechtel's greed and Bechtel's price hikes that was the centerpiece of the protests this past week, and the damage and death left behind. If Riley Bechtel has any doubt about that he can come here. There are about 100,000 angry Bolivian mothers who would love nothing better than to steer him straight.

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