Bolivian Water Officials Call on World
Bank to Acknowledge, Discuss Cochabamba Privatization Disaster
at This Weeks Water Conference;
Bank-Led Water Fiasco in Bolivia Omitted From
"Water Week" Discussion
- March 4 - Bolivian water officials are calling on the World
Bank to include in this week’s international water conference
a discussion of the privatization disaster in Cochabamba, the
Bank’s most notorious failure in its push for privatization.
The Bank, convening
an international conference on water issues today in Washington,
D.C., has conspicuously left off the list of discussion topics
the failure of water privatization in Cochabamba, Bolivia, which
occurred as part of the Bank’s worldwide push for water privatization.
In a letter
sent last week to World Bank officials, Cochabamba water officials
demanded that the forum take up the devastating impact of water
"We think this
is a critical opportunity for water officials to look at the real
experience of privatization in Cochabamba, " the letter said.
ago, under direct pressure from the World Bank, the government
leased the public water system of its third largest city to a
subsidiary of the San Francisco-based Bechtel Corporation. When
Bechtel charged poor consumers rates far beyond what they could
afford, citizens rebelled and forced Bechtel to return the water
system to public hands. A 17-year-old boy was killed and more
than a hundred others were injured in the anti-Bechtel protests.
Bank believes in water privatization as a matter of theology,"
said Jim Shultz, executive director of The Democracy Center, based
in Cochabamba. "Bank officials forced that theology onto Bolivia
by directly threatening to withhold up to $600 million in debt
relief if the government didn’t privatize the water. Now Bank
officials would like to keep the Bolivian water fiasco from coming
up at their Washington cheerleading session for privatization.
After the international attention Cochabamba received, it’s a
"The Bank is
no doubt wary of including the whole story because it’s such a
delicate time for proponents of water privatization," added Sara
Grusky, a water policy analyst with Public Citizen. "With the
recent failure of projects in cities as far apart as Manila, Buenos
Aires and Atlanta, putting a happy face on water privatization
at this conference will depend a great deal on what is left out.
Far from providing access to clean and affordable water, privatization
has meant rapid increases in consumer water rates, public health
crises, job losses, secret deals and weak regulation. "
The World Bank
has invited water officials from all over the world to the three-day
conference on "Water and Development." Featured topics include
"Beyond the Public-Private Debate" and "New Approaches to Private
Sector Participation" (Click here to view a full program). The
director of Cochabamba’s new public water company, Gonzalo Ugalde,
was invited less than two weeks before the session was to open
– and only as an observer. There is no scheduled forum for talking
about the Bank policy of forced privatization or notable failures
such as in Cochabamba.
The World Bank’s
water conference comes just weeks after the announcement by a
secret World Bank trade tribunal that it would not allow the public
or media to participate in or even witness proceedings in which
Bechtel is suing the government and people of Bolivia for $25
million. The panel, whose chair was appointed by World Bank President
James Wolfensohn, rejected an international citizens petition
calling for an opening of the case, endorsed by more than 300
citizens groups from more than 43 countries. (Click here to view
a release issued by the petitioners at the time of the decision.)
Bank is not only imposing its ideas and programs on us, it is
also preventing the people affected from participating in a case
that directly affects our lives," said Oscar Olivera, a leader
of the coalition of Bolivian peasants, workers and others that
formed in opposition to Bechtel. "This is profoundly undemocratic."
action is being heard by the International Center for the Settlement
of Investment Disputes (ICSID), a tribunal administered by the
World Bank that holds all of its meetings in secret. Bechtel is
suing Bolivia for the profits it claims it would have made from
the water privatization scheme had the rate hike protests not
led to its unplanned departure from the city of Cochabamba in
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