When they tried to own the raindrops, it was enough.
Facing a corporate-led threat to one of the basic building blocks of life-- water-- indigenous and non-indigenous Bolivians in Cochabamba were successful in stopping the privatization of the local water supply- including everything from local wells to falling rain, by a multinational consortium headed by San Francisco's Bechtel Corporation in April of 2000. The privately-owned water would have cost Bolivian families up to 50% of the average national wage per month.
As if the raindrops didn't matter, French water company Suez followed Bechtel's path to private profits, and communities in El Alto successfully evicted the company in 2005, retaining the right to publicly administer their access to water.
As Bolivians continue to place public good ahead of corporate greed, social movements seek to redistribute ownership of the country's natural gas reserves, the second largest of the continent behind Venezuela. Successive ex-presidents Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada and Carlos Mesa each sought to pass new gas laws turning the country's large natural gas reserves over to private interests. However, Bolivians mobilized against high utility prices and rejected the corporate model in favor of public management, taking to the streets and bringing a dramatic, democratic end to both the Lozada and Mesa administrations.
Recapturing the right to make their own decisions about local development, the Bolivian Landless Workers' Movement and others have reclaimed land rights and jobs while indigenous communities have untangled cultural traditions from the complex US drug war, aimed at eliminating coca plantations. The coca farmworkers, or cocaleros, have joined the country's other social movements in demanding a new, more equitable model of development and policy makers are forced to recognize indigenous customs of traditional coca leaf consumption.
Now Bolivians have elected a leader they can finally call their own. Evo Morales, the first indigenous president of Bolivia, is supported by millions of Bolivians who are reclaiming their sovereignty, dignity, and access to the most basic of resources- water, heat, shelter, food, and identity- and in the process have built one of the strongest social movements throughout Latin America, if not the world. Visit with Global Exchange to explore one of the first "water wars" of the 21st century, debunk the corporate-led model of development through privatization of natural resources, and learn from communities who continue to exercise direct democracy for the right to survive.