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Water War in Bolivia

by Oscar Olivera and Tom Lewis

Foreword by Vandana Shiva, South End Press, 2004, 224 pp.

Cochabamba is the story of the first great victory against corporate globalization in Latin America. Oscar Olivera, a 45-year-old machinist who helped shape and lead a movement that brought thousands of ordinary people to the streets, powerfully conveys the perspective of a committed participant in a victorious and inspirational rebellion.

Olivera relates the selling of the city of Cochabamba’s water supply to Aguas del Tunari—a subsidiary of US-based Bechtel—the subsequent astronomical rise in water prices, and the refusal of poverty-strapped Bolivians to pay them. Olivera brings us to the front lines of a movement, chronicling how the people organized an opposition and the dramatic struggles that eventually defeated the privatizers.

With hard-won political savvy, Olivera reflects on major themes that emerged from the war over water: the fear and isolation that Cochabambinos faced with a spirit of solidarity and mutual aid; the challenges of democratically administering the city’s water supply; and the impact of the water wars on subsequent resistance.

Historically a common trust, water is now bought and sold as a private commodity. It is easy to understand why this precious resource is at the center of the international movement working to turn back the rising tide of corporate globalization.

Praise for Cochabamba

Cochabamba shows us that a world beyond corporate globalization is not just possible, but is actually happening. As the Bolivian people remind us, there is one power stronger than the power of money—and that is the power of the people.” —Vandana Shiva, from the foreword

“After reading this book, no citizen will ever again take for granted the water that flows from her tap. ¡ochabamba embodies the spirit of a united people who would not allow corporate rule to trump democratic decision-making.” —Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen's Water for All Campaign

“Oscar Olivera provides us with a passionate inside look at one of Latin America’s most important social struggles and popular victories. Here is the tale of how the poor of Bolivia stood down one of the largest corporation’s in the world, told by the man who did the most to lead the battle.” —Jim Shultz, executive director of The Democracy Center

"After reading Cochabamba, I can understand the discontent among the people (as well as their protest tactics) far better than that first bewildering exposure. If I had read this book prior to arriving in-country, I would have had the specific context needed in order to interpret what seemed to be total chaos." —Richard Joseph, author of Transcend: There are Rights, There are Wrongs … And then, There are Truths

"'Cochabamba is the story of the people's struggle to reclaim control over their water and a story of self-determination and standing up to the imposition of neoliberalism and 'market discipline.'" —Clamor

"This concise book … is an inspirational account for the beginnings of popular struggle against neoliberal capitalism in Bolivia, a country that has seen the toppling through mass struggle of two neoliberal presidents since the Water War in Cochabamba: Gonzalo (Goni) Sanchez de Lozada in October 2003, and Carlos Mesa Gisbert in June 2005. Cochabamba is clear, accessible, and uncompromised in its radical political orientation. As such, it is a rare tool for activists and serious scholars alike, who seek both to understand and to change the current world order." —Jeffery R. Webber, University of Toronto

"Cochabamba does not just describe the triumphs of the water war, but also reveals the difficult process of building an alternative movement for real, popular democracy." —Bridget Broderick, International Socialist Review

Table of Contents

Foreword by Vandana Shiva About this book by Tom Lewis Preface The Water War Privatization Organization War Perspectives on the Water War and the Coordinadora The Coordinadora by Raquel Gutiérrez-Aguilar The “Multitude” by Álvaro Garcia Linera Interview with Luis Sánchez-Gómez SEMAPA: Globalizing Solidarity Our Reality and Our Dreams The New World of Labor A Political Thesis For a Constituent Assembly: Creating Public Spaces Toward a National and Continental Rebellion The Gas War Reconquering our Collective Patrimony The Legacy of the Coordinadora by Tom Lewis The Significance of the Gas War Afterword: They Can’t Privatize Our Dreams

About Oscar Olivera

Oscar Olivera executive secretary of the Federation of Factory Workers and spokesperson for the Coordinadora, emerged as the leader and defining voice of the protest against water privatization in Bolivia. Now an integral part of efforts to improve municipal water delivery in Cochabamba, the shoe-factory worker was honored in 2001 with several high-profile awards and accolades, including the 2001 Goldman Environmental Prize and the 2000 Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights International Award.

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