Angel" <email@example.com> Subject: Bolivia, Kickin' Bechtel back
to wherever they came from!!
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
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
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
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
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.
WORLD BANK HEAD COMMENTS ON WATER PROTEST
AS BOLIVIAN PROTEST LEADER HEADS TO WASHINGTON
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
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.
ASSASSIN WHO FIRED ON WATER PROTESTERS WENT TO "SCHOOL OF THE AMERICAS"
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.
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
AND BOLIVIAN GOVERNMENT - WAR OF WORDS
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.
ZEALAND PROTESTERS HOSE DOWN BOLIVIAN CONSULATE
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:
BECHTEL AND WORLD BANK RESPONSIBLE FOR WATER PROTESTS, NOT NARCOTRAFFICKERS
(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
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
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
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
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.