Cochabamba

The protagonists: Marcela

15 years ago, the government of Bolivia decided to privatize its main cities’ water system. The people of Cochabamba rose against the state to prevent stop the international private agents from controlling their own water resources. Marcela Olivera was there. We now present Bolivia’s Everyday Water War teaser trailer, in which we meet Marcela, one of our three main protagonists, and learn about her fight for water rights.

The Water War

15 years ago, the city of Cochabamba rose up against the privatization of its municipal water company, SEMAPA.

Former president of Bolivia Hugo Banzer had entered into contract with the multinational company Bechtel in compliance with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to give the monopoly over all the city’s water resources to Aguas del Tunari consortium. This consortium was led by Bechtel and had Edison, the Spanish company Abengoa and the Bolivian companies Petricevich and Doria Medina as shareholders. Shortly after starting the operation, Aguas del Tunari drastically increased the rates and threatened to cut the water supply to anyone not being able to pay for it. In accordance with Law 2029, which guaranteed that the private consortium would have control over all water resources, the people of Cochabamba would have to pay for the water they consumed regardless of how it was obtained. Theoretically, Law 2029 allowed Aguas del Tunari to charge for the water that the people had obtained from wells, streams or even from the rain itself.

The inhabitants of Cochabamba took the streets for months to protest against the imposition of such draconian measures and the foreign sale of their public resources. The coca growers, led by a younger Evo Morales, the Federation of Irrigators, led by Omar Fernández and the Bolivian Workers’ Union, led by Óscar Olivera, joined the citizens (such as Marcelo Rojas “El Banderas” shown in the photo) in their struggle to reclaim the municipal water company. They all created the Coordinator of Water and Life association, which ultimately spearheaded the opposition movement against Law 2029 and the negotiation talks with Banzer’s government.

The Water War left several dead and many injured. The people of Cochabamba managed to banish Aguas del Tunari. They recovered SEMAPA and spearheaded the first great movement for the defense of water in Latin America. 

Today, a decade and a half later, there are still many neighbourhoods that lack proper water supplies and sanitation conditions. Did Cochabamba win the battle but lost the war?

 This is where our story begins…