Frontline World

BOLIVIA - Leasing the Rain, June 2002


Synopsis of "Leasing the Rain"


by William Finnegan

An Interactive Investigation

Cochabamba Water Revolt

Facts and Stats about Bolivia

Background, key players, the world's water woes



Links & Resources
News Coverage of the Cochabamba Water Crisis
The Key Players
Bolivia Online Resources
Learning More About the World's Water Woes
Is a Water Crisis Close to Home?

News Coverage of the Cochabamba Water Crisis

"Violence Erupts in Bolivia"
What happened during the final days of the protesters' struggle to regain control of public water in Cochabamba? How did demonstrations to voice public dissatisfaction result in violence and a state of emergency, replete with crackdowns on civil liberties, tear gas and widespread arrests? This report from the BBC covers the frontlines of the fight for public water in Bolivia. (BBC News, April 8, 2000)

"Protests Rock Bolivia; Officials Blame Drug Traffickers"
Read the announcement of Aguas del Tunari's departure from Cochabamba after nationwide protests resulted in at least five deaths and 40 injuries. Bolivian Information Minister Ronald MacLean attributed the violence not to public anger at Aguas del Tunari's skyrocketing water rates but to cocaine traffickers "looking for pretexts to carry out subversive activities." (, April 10, 2000)

Protests in Bolivia
In this three-minute audio file, NPR reports on the dispute in Bolivia and resulting violent demonstrations. (NPR, Morning Edition, April 11, 2000)

"Cochabamba -- Water War"
Originally released in June 2000, this report was commissioned and published by Public Services International Research Unit, a U.K.-based group that carries out empirical research on privatization, public services and globalization. The report describes the events and economic climate that preceded the April riots and analyzes the challenges lying ahead for municipal control of water and sanitation services in the Cochabamba region.

"Multinational Company Thwarted by Local Bolivian Community"
A few months after the residents of Cochabamba regained control of their municipal water system, the BBC reported on the result and what lay ahead. Although activist Oscar Olivera and others believe that their victory over privatization was well-earned and justified, many challenges remain before the improved water delivery materializes. (BBC News, July 21, 2000)

"Bolivian Leader to Resign Post for Treatment ..."
Bolivian President Hugo Banzer resigned in 2001 to undergo cancer treatments. Vice President Jorge Quiroga, a former IBM executive, was installed to finish out Banzer's five-year term. (San Francisco Chronicle, July 28, 2001)

"Bechtel Battles Against Dirt-Poor Bolivia ..."
The Bechtel Corporation recently petitioned the World Bank-affiliated International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) to recoup $25 million from the Bolivian government as compensation for the cancellation of Aguas del Tunari's water supply contract in Cochabamba. This article explores the differing opinions about which party is to blame for the fallout in Cochabamba. It also traverses a thicket of complex legal issues that may prove decisive in the resolution, if any, to a conflict that is still smoldering after three years. In its appeal for international arbitration, the Bechtel Corporation claims that the Bolivian government violated a bilateral trade treaty between Bolivia and the Netherlands when it revoked Aguas del Tunari's contract. (San Francisco Chronicle, February 2, 2002)

"Cochabamba's Water Rebellion -- and Beyond"
This article spells out the Bechtel Corporation's connection to price hikes that beset Cochabamba residents shortly after their city's water system was taken over by the multinational consortium Aguas del Tunari. Also included are statements from Oscar Olivera's sister, Marcela, who claims bullying tactics were used by the Bolivian government and describes activists' fears that the government will try to take over the city's water system again. (San Francisco Chronicle, February 11, 2001)

back to top

The Key Players

The Democracy Center
The Democracy Center offers a series of articles and newsletters published from February to June 2000 by the center's founder and executive director, Jim Shultz. Shultz was in Cochabamba, chronicling the Bolivian people's protest against the privatization and sale of their water, and played a role in the ensuing debate. The site archives Shultz's correspondence with World Bank officials and the Bechtel Corporation, and includes an updated report on the unfolding legal battle between Bechtel and the Bolivian government.

Oscar Olivera
Profile Oscar Olivera, executive secretary of the Federation of Factory Workers and spokesperson for La Coordinadora (the group of academics, union members, clergy and other activists that organized the Cochabamba protests), 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 former 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.

Shortly after municipal control of water was returned to the people of Cochabamba, Oscar Olivera was interviewed by the Multinational Monitor. As the title of the article, "The Fight for Water and Democracy," suggests, the events in Cochabamba were symptomatic of a growing struggle that spread beyond the borders of Bolivia, a sign of discontent within the globalized market place, as price tags are attached to resources upon which we all depend, rich or poor, in industrialized or developing worlds.

Bechtel Corporation
Founded in 1898, San Francisco-based Bechtel Corporation is the largest engineering and construction company in America, boasting such high-profile projects as the Hoover Dam and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Bechtel is currently affiliated with projects in over 60 countries.

Bechtel's Response
Read Riley Bechtel's official response to The Democracy Center's criticism of his company's recent decision to pursue legal action against the Bolivian government. Bechtel attributes the skyrocketing water rates to the Bolivian government and not to Aguas del Tunari, which, Bechtel claims, only raised water prices by 30 percent to cover the cost of updating the previous municipal water agency's outdated infrastructure.

International Water Ltd.
International Water Ltd. is the London-based engineering and construction company co- owned by the Bechtel Corporation and Italian utility giant Edison SpA. It was also a major shareholder in Aguas del Tunari, a private consortium of European and Bolivian engineering and utility firms that, in September 1999, was awarded an exclusive 40-year contract to build and distribute an electricity and drinking water network in the Cochabamba region of Bolivia.

The World Bank
The World Bank has been assisting with economic development and lending projects in Bolivia since 1964. This Web site offers links to information about the assistance currently being offered to Bolivia under the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative, a plan that was created in 1996 to aggressively tackle debt reduction in the poorest, most heavily indebted nations in the world. Bolivia has been receiving such assistance since September 1998. An overview of the country and "facts at a glance" are also available at this Web site.

The International Monetary Fund
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is a specialized division of the United Nations created after World War II. It now consists of 183 member countries. Whereas the World Bank was created to provide long-term loans for modernization and development projects, the IMF was founded to provide short-term, nonproject-specific loans to nations with "balance of payment" difficulties. Access this Web page, "Bolivia and the IMF," to find out more about Bolivia's relationship with the IMF and its compliance with IMF poverty reduction initiatives. Though it is heavy with statistical information, and a degree in economics would help one to fully understand Bolivia's relations with the IMF, the Web site does offer some easy-to-read press releases highlighting international economic aid and debt relief for Bolivia.

The European Commission
The European Union provides here an overview of its relations with Bolivia, emphasizing trade partnerships and economic assistance.

back to top

Bolivia Online Resources

This is an online edition, in Spanish, of Bolivia's weekly newspaper, Los Tiempos.

The Bolivian Times
This is the only English-language weekly paper in Bolivia.

"Empresas a Ser Privatizadas"
Written in Spanish, this government Web site contains a listing of Bolivian state-run industries and companies set to be privatized -- i.e., available for purchase -- and those already "rearranged" as of 1999. While the ownership status of many of these companies may have changed since 1999, the Web site nonetheless affirms the scope and savvy of the Bolivian government's efforts to sell off once state-subsidized industries to private investors.

The Washington Post, "South America"
This Web page contains a repository of information about Bolivia and other South American nations.

BBC News
The BBC is regarded as one of the best sources of accurate information in international news coverage. In addition to the latest international headlines, their Web site also boasts country profiles spanning the globe. Divided into four sections ("Overview," "Facts," "Leaders" and "Media"), their country profile of Bolivia makes for quick, informative reading and statistics-gathering.

Resource Center of the Americas
The Resource Center of the Americas' Bolivia page monitors news in South America, with particular attention to human rights. The Minneapolis-based nonprofit's concern for political developments in the Americas hearkens back to 1983, the year it was founded to protest American military involvement in Central America. This page chronicles news from and about Bolivia.

Find out what the CIA has to say about Bolivia, its history and people, by visiting their World Factbook 2001 listing for the country.

back to top

Learning More About the World's Water Woes

"The World's Water -- Information on the World's Freshwater Resources"
This site is a treasure trove of information on the world's water supply, from data sets to books examining issues of water consumption and management as well as links to other water-watch Web sites. It includes particularly helpful statistical summaries of renewable freshwater supplies, ranked by country and even hydroelectric capacity, for different regions of the world.

"Populations Without Access to Safe Drinking Water"
This map on The World's Water Web site graphically illustrates those areas around the world in which people lack access to safe drinking water.

"The Next World War Will Be Over Water"
Jeffrey Rothfeder wrote this editorial for the January 6, 2002, Boston Globe.

Every Drop for Sale: Our Desperate Battle Over Water in a World About to Run Out
Read a review of this book by Jeffrey Rothfeder.

Jeffrey Rothfeder on Forum
Listen Hear Jeffrey Rothfeder, journalist and water privatization expert, in his October 17, 2001, appearance on public radio's Forum.

International Water Law Project
International water law and policy intersect in this easy-to-use Web site, which includes a case law section and a table tracking the length and flow of major international water basins.

"The Human Right to Water"
This document was written by Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security and first published in 1999.

The World's Water 2000-2001: The Biennial Report on Freshwater Resources
Peter H. Gleick writes about such topics as the human right to water (see above), desalination, water recycling and dams.

Green Cross International
Green Cross International is an organization founded by Mikhail Gorbachev and dedicated to water conflict prevention. Projects to which it is currently committed include the Water Emergency Plan for the Middle East, the Fight Against Desertification in Burkina Faso and Cote d'Ivoire, and dispute arbitration for people impacted by large dams in Argentina and Paraguay.

"Water Security Policies and Global Systems for Water-Scarce Regions"
This analysis by J. Anthony Allen was published by the World Bank.

The World Water Council
Dubbing itself an "International Water Policy Think Tank," the Marseilles-based World Water Council was founded in 1996, and its founding is a testament to the environmental headway made at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. Members come from NGOs and United Nations organizations as well as from the public and private sectors.

The World Water Council's World Water Forum, 2003
From March 16-23, 2003, international delegations, NGOs and a host of technical experts will convene in Japan to address water consumption and conservation issues in the 21st century, "the century of water." You are invited to participate in the "Virtual Water Forum," a vehicle for expanding the reach of the conference and linking personal opinion to international action.

"World Water Crisis"
This BBC News feature provides an overview of water needs and case studies of some of the world's water flash points.

back to top

Is a Water Crisis Close to Home?

The Northern Californian Klamath River Basin Water Crisis
Between California and Oregon lies the Klamath River Basin, an area that recently became ground zero of a water war that pitted the politics of environmental conservation against agricultural interests. The Klamath Basin Project was built by the federal government to provide irrigation water to the drought-prone farming region. However, in April 2001, the irrigation water stopped flowing when the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation decided that there was not enough water in the Upper Klamath Lake to support both the habitat of endangered species of fish and the irrigation needs of thousands of acres of farmland. Some desperate farmers illegally tapped water from the basin until federal authorities released 75,000 acre-feet of water into parched, brittle fields three months later. Farmers still fumed, environmentalists cried foul, and a complacency over water's abundance evaporated in the halls of Congress and in the agricultural heartland of Northern California. Here are some articles chronicling the conflict.

Two sides with differing views of the conflict:
The Farmers, "Klamath Basin Crisis"

Water Watch of Oregon

"Drought could be our next crisis -- Population growth threatens water supply"
San Francisco Chronicle environment writer Glen Martin evaluates the risk of a full-blown water crisis for California, citing factors such as explosive population growth in the state and massive per capita consumption of water. (San Francisco Chronicle, July 22, 2001)

"The Coming Water Crisis"
This report was published in 1998 by the Center for Communication Programs at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

back to top