Bolivian Protesters
Win War Over Water


Cochabamba, Bolivia: As many as six thousand protesters continued to pour into the city's central plaza Monday on the widespread public unrest continues to bring normal life throughout the nation to a near halt. The enormous uprising here was sparked initially by a public battle in Cochabamba over the selling of the region's public water system to an affiliate of the San Francisco-based Bechtel Corporation, but the strength of the water protests here sparked parallel protests across the nation including a police strike in La Paz, the nation's capital, and marches by farmers regarding water, roads and other local issues.

Those leaders of the Cochabamba water protest who were not arrested and jailed over the weekend came out of hiding today to begin a new round of negotiations with secondary level officials of the national government.

Late this afternoon details of an accord were released to the media and public which includes, among others, the following components: a) an agreement that the Bechtel affiliate, Aguas del Tunari, will leave the country; b) that the dozens of civic leaders arrested over the weekend will be released; c) the government will approve reform of the national water law that is the object of rural protests over maintaining local water control; d) financial compensation for the families of at least six people killed in the past week and scores of others injured.

The Bolivian official who negotiated the accord claimed on television here that it had the support of Bolivian President Hugo Banzer. However, given the turn of events Friday, in which a similar agreement over the water company's departure was promised by officials and then rescinded, protest leaders appear to be taking a wait and see attitude before calling off the general strike and transportation blockages and asking protesters to go home. There has been no written agreement or direct statement by Banzer as of yet, nor from Bechtel's affiliate here. The thousands gathered in Cochabamba's plaza appear to be growing more angry as each day passes without a believable accord. Many have walked to the city on foot from as far as 70 miles away.

Meanwhile, human rights groups tonight are expressing deep concern about the possible escalation of government repression Monday night, as government officials state publicly that they are preparing to more aggressively enforce the "state of emergency" restrictions on civil liberties declared here on Saturday by President Banzer.. Sweeps late Friday night through private homes in the city resulted in the arrest and jailing of more than a dozen civic leaders, most of whom were then transported by air to a remote prison in Bolivia's jungle.

President Banzer has appointed the second new Governor for the state of Cochabamba in three days, Army General Walter Cispedes. Cispedes is most known here for being at the head of the army's violent repression of civil protest in the Chapare region in April 1998 which left many dead and injured. The Cochabamba Permanent Assembly on Human Rights reported this afternoon that at unknown number of people who have been arrested in the past three days are now unaccounted for and not present in any of the jails or prisons in Cochabamba.

In addition, there are army troops posted at various entrances to the city, just outside highway blockades erected and protected by hundreds of peasants farmers from the rural areas outside the city. A confrontation at a similar blockade near La Paz over the weekend resulted in the deaths of at least two farmers and one soldier. Meanwhile, throughout most of they city blockades streets remained calm as children idle from closed schools played stickball and soccer in the street. Women from various neighborhoods went door to door gathering food and cooking for the thousands of protesters in the plaza. Sunday, April 9th Cochabamba, Bolivia

The situation here in Bolivia remains critical. Since the declaration of martial law yesterday at least three people have been killed, including a 17 year old boy shot by soldiers with live ammunition here in Cochabamba. More than 30 people in Cochabamba alone have been injured from conflicts with the military. Respected leaders of the water protests have been jailed, some flown to a remote location in Bolivia's jungle. Soldiers continue to occupy the city's center. However, there is now something very real and straightforward you can do to help.

The massive protests that prompted the declaration of martial law here were prompted by the sale of Cochabamba's public water system to a private corporation (Aguas del Tunari, owned by International Water Limited) which then doubled water rates for poor families that can barely afford to feed themselves. It turns out that the main financial power behind that water corporation in the Bechtel Corporation, based in San Francisco (Source:

The people of Bolivia have made it very clear that they want Bechtel out. The Bolivian government is so committed to protecting Bechtel that it has declared martial law and killed its own people. While some in the government here are saying this afternoon that Bechtel will leave, given the government's reversal on the same promise Friday the statement has no credibility here absent a written agreement and end to martial law. It is critical that pressure be brought to bear directly on Bechtel in the US. You can help, here's how:

Transnational Corporations & the Third World