Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Jim Shultz on “Dignity and Defiance: Stories from Bolivia’s Challenge to Globalization”  http://www.democracynow.org/2010/4/19/jim_shultz_on_dignity_and_defiance

Jim Shultz, founder of the Cochabamba-based Democracy Center, gives a snapshot of Bolivia ahead of the World Peoples’ Summit on Climate Change and Rights of Mother Earth. Ten years ago, Shultz helped expose the role of Bechtel in the privatization of Cochabamba’s water supply.
In 1999 and 2000, when Bechtel from San Francisco, very huge corporation, obviously, came here, they came under an assumed name. You know, they weren’t going to come here as Bechtel. In fact, nobody knew they were Bechtel. And so, what name did they pick? They called themselves Aguas del Tunari. They named themselves after that mountain.
The fact that the water was privatized at all in Cochabamba, it wasn’t like people in Cochabamba said, “Gee, that would be a really great idea. Let’s vote for it.” I mean, it was done completely behind closed doors, when the World Bank coerced the government of Bolivia in 1997. The World Bank said to the government of Bolivia, “Thou shalt privatize thy water in Cochabamba, or we’re cutting off aid for water development,” which is really crucial in a city like Cochabamba, where you have a growing population and they have a lot of need for infrastructure. So Bechtel—so the government of Hugo Banzer, who was our former dictator in the ‘70s, who became the president—the government of Banzer privatized the water system of Cochabamba into the hands of this mysterious foreign corporation Aguas del Tunari.

And during the water revolt—I remember it was Saturday, and it was the morning that Victor Hugo Daza, a seventeen-year-old boy, was shot in the face and killed. And his family and other people carried his body literally to the central plaza for a wake. And the Democracy Center, I mean, we started looking on the internet and trying to figure out who the heck this company was. And we had a lead from somewhere that there was a Bechtel connection, and we were able to track down that in fact it was Bechtel. And we—a reader of mine actually was able to get us the personal email address of Riley Bechtel, the CEO. And we were able to get thousands of people in the United States to bombard him with emails. 
And just to put that in context, Bechtel is an $18 billion—then, it was an $18-billion-a-year corporation. Bechtel of San Francisco built Hoover Dam, built BART, built that great Big Dig project in Boston that’s worked out so well, and was also, along with Halliburton, one of the two companies that got the big no-bid contract in Iraq from the Bush administration. This was a very power-–you couldn’t find a bigger Goliath than Bechtel.
 In some respects, you can say that the water revolt really began right here in Tiquipaya, because this is an agricultural community. This is the community where I live. Most of my neighbors are cows or corn. And obviously irrigation is very important. And it wasn’t just the city water system in Cochabamba that was privatized; the government had plans, as well, to require these rural communities to get permits for these water systems that they had built and managed on their own, without any help from the government. So the rural people were the first ones to really call for a revolt, and then they allied with the people in the city—the factory workers, others, environmentalists. The cocaleros from the other end of Cochabamba joined in.
 This is a city of half-a-million people. This is, you know, almost the size of San Francisco. Imagine this city, for a week, without any cars. None. This city was shut down by its people, tight as a drum, for a week, in order to kick Bechtel out.
Oscar Olivera, in many ways, is the symbolic leader of the water revolt. And you can’t understate the amount of courage that people had. Remember, when they led this rebellion, they were arrested. Some of them were put on a plane and sent to a jail in the Beni, in the jungle. I remember, in the night that the government—the governor of the state went on television live at midnight and announced he was resigning because he did not want to be responsible for a bloodbath. And for the hours that followed, we were getting calls all night of—the police had just busted down the door of Oscar Olivera’s mother’s house, looking for Oscar. So the courage that people like Oscar and others had, it’s easy to forget ten years later, especially if the city looks so peaceful. They were up against the Pinochet of Bolivia.

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