Bolivia is South America's poorest country, where a third of the population has no access to clean water and 70 percent of people live below the poverty line.
The World Bank estimates that 83% of the population has access to improved water sources. In 1999 the Bolivian government passed a law which allowed the privatization of water and wastewater systems. The World Bank directly backed the law.
The new law resulted in two major privatization projects of public water utilities. In Cochabamba, Bechtel privatized the water utility and in La Paz, Suez took control of both water and sewage services. In both cities, residents experienced rate hikes and an increased number of households were cut off from services. After eight months of problematic services, Bechtel was kicked out of the city by angry residents. In light of the privatization La Coordinadora de Defensa del Agua y la Vida was formed to voice the opinions of Bolivians.
La Coordinadora called for the first mobilization of the people against the water services concessions contract and Law 2029 of basic services regarding potable water and sewage. The results of the initial mobilization ended in a first agreement in which the government committed to superficially revising the concession contract but not the law of basic services.
A labor leader in Cochabamba, Oscar Olivera, has been an outspoken leader of citizens demanding control over their common resources. He recently said: "Private enterprises are for rich people and state enterprises are basically private enterprises of a political party. We want an enterprise based on the four pillars of transparency of management, efficiency, participation of people and social justice." The citizens in Cochabamba have worked hard to ensure that the new water utility is structured in order to meet the needs of the citizens – not to ensure increased profits from large corporations.
The Democracy Center has followed the water issues closely in Bolivia. The struggle against water privatization has been followed closely in the international media. An informative article about the struggle for local control can be found on Z-net.
Current privatization contracts in Bolivia:
In the news:
August: Bolivian government and Suez keep civil society in the dark
July: Suez prepares to bring legal action against Bolivia in World Bank-related court
July 12: Suez Strikes Back in Bolivia
March 21: Bolivian Water Rates Hard to Swallow
March 7: Bolivian President Resigns
March 6: Carta Abierta a las Instituciones Financieras Internacionales / Open letter to the WB, IADB and the German Cooperation GTZ
March 3: Support El Alto, Bolivia - Take action now!
March 1: Not A Drop To Drink
Marco: Fotos represión y heridos
January 28: The Politics of Water in Bolivia
Enero: Los Factores para la expulsión de Aguas del Illimani de las ciudades de La Paz y el Alto
August: The Struggle For Latin America's Water
Water for All initiated a new collaborative website to help coordinate our global campaign focusing on the water transnational, Suez. The website is tri-lingal and collects information regarding the abuses, problematic projects, community protests, and exploitative policies of Suez, Go to:
English - www.stopsuez.org
Spanish - www.fuerasuez.org
French - www.arretonssuez.org