Latin America: An Institutional and Cultural Survey

Tainos, Even the Rain and The Cochabamba Water Wars

Breakout Rooms Discussions

How do Taino rebellions of the early 1500s and the Cochabamba water wars of the early 2000s as represented by Even the Rain resemble? Under the global climate crisis, is water the new gold?

Pick a leader to take notes and report back.

Oral/slide presentations




Cochabamba Water War- Historical Context

“[In 1998] in an attempt to stimulate economic development in the country, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) persuaded the government to allow privatization of formerly state-owned industries. This included SEMAPA, Cochabamba’s water company. In the year that followed, citizens saw price hikes in their water supply due to tariffs that SEMAPA had introduced. Nonetheless, the World Bank discouraged the Bolivian government from providing subsidies. According to The New Yorker’s William Finnegan, the World Bank’s decision was all part of it and the IMF’s broader plan to encourage “market discipline and efficiency.”

Their plan failed miserably in reducing poverty. Aguas del Tunari, a subsidiary of the US-based multinational company Bechtel, purchased Cochabamba’s water distribution system. Soon thereafter, the company raised water prices even further — in some cases by upwards of 50 percent. Bechtel denies that the price of water increased in Bolivia to this extent as well as any wrongdoing in the matter. Still, in December 2005, Bechtel and the Bolivian government released a statement announcing the termination of “the concession for the supply of water services and related contracts to the city of Cochabamba.”

Nithyani Anandakugan

An ongoing crisis

Two decades have passed since the original water crisis in Bolivia. The dust has settled on the matter of water privatization, but the country still faces issues related to its water supply. A 2017 report from Public Radio International (PRI) noted that Bolivia “is suffering from its worst drought in 25 years.” Ill-equipped to handle this new crisis, the country once again found itself in a state of emergency except this time the shortage is not artificial due to astronomical prices, but rather environmental.

While the Bolivian people suffered from economic neocolonialism during the Cochabamba Water Wars, this time the issue lies in large part with mismanagement of water on the part of the state. Water conservation has been a major issue that the government ignored for years, leading to a naturally occurring drought to be exacerbated into full crisis.

Open Group Discussion

Reflecting on the ongoing water crisis, David Solnit argues that “Bolivian social movements catalyzed by the Water War are, perhaps, the most radical and visionary in the world with their mass participatory, democratic and horizontal way of organizing and mobilizing, drawing on the communitarian roots of the majority indigenous country.” He highlights the 2010 Feria del agua and Water Committees as examples of community-led projects of autogestión (self-management).

Thinking of the Bolivia case, what do you think about the indigenous strategies of questioning the concept of the public and creating a horizontal self-managed organization to deal with the effects of climate change, corporate and governmental mismanagement?