Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Revolt of the Damned: The Bolivian Water Wars

Likely everyone has heard of the book Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, wherein the author John Perkins described his former career as convincing the political and financial leadership of underdeveloped countries to accept enormous development loans from institutions like the World Bank and USAID. Then saddled with debts they could not hope to repay, those countries were forced by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to accept privatization of all natural resources and government functions as a condition for refinancing. Full disclosure: I did not read this book and have cribbed a bit from Wikipedia.

However, I have read the book The Best Democracy Money Can Buy by Greg Palast, investigative reporter extraordinaire, who came into possession of documentation of the concealed objectives of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the World Bank, and the IMF. I adopted the title of this post from a sub-section title in Chapter 4 of Greg's book. And here below are some selected passages from The Best Democracy Money Can Buy:
      So I thumbed through my purloined IMF "Strategy for Ecuador" searching for [something else]... Instead, I found a secret schedule. Ecuador's government was ordered to raise the price of cooking gas by 80 percent by November 1, 2000. Also, the government had to eliminate twenty-six thousand jobs and cut real wages for the remaining workers by 50 percent in four steps and on a timetable provided by the IMF. By July 2000, Ecuador had to transfer ownership of its biggest water system to foreign operators, then grant British Petroleum rights to build and own an oil pipeline over the Andes.
      Officially, the WTO assures us that nothing threatens the right to enforce laws in the nation's public interest. But that's not according to their internal memo, where the WTO reports that trade ministers, in the course of secretive multinational negotiations, agreed that, before the GATS [General Agreement on Trade in Services] tribunal, a defense of "safeguarding public interest ... was rejected."
      One of the key aims of the GATS treaty is to turn publicly owned water services over to private enterprise. Governments have built a trillion dollars in piping systems workd wide, with no intention of turning a profit. ... But water was cheap stuff -- foolish governments seemed to give the stuff away, just covering the cost of pipes. Higher prices would make markets in water possible, and lure entrepreneurs to the spigots.
      Public water was first sold off to corporate operators in England. Prices jumped 250 percent and watering English gardens has, at times, been criminalized. The English, as they do, grumbled, then shrugged, then paid. Meeting no resistance, the water privateers marched on to Egypt, Indonesia, and Argentina. But when they reached Cochabamba, Bolivia, something happened that the water barons did not expect. The thirsty poor resisted. In the end they payed, too -- in blood.

With the above as background, I hope that you will be motivated to sit through this stirring segmenent of yesterday's edition of Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman.

If you do watch the above and would like to watch more, there are two follow-on segments that you can play by clicking these links:

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