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There’s Something About Water

Ireland and Bolivia have a lot in common. Both are relatively small countries, colonized for large parts of their history, slowly healing the wounds of the consequent rupture with their native languages and cultures. Both peoples share a self-deprecating character and indirect communication style – in which one can clearly detect the years of sidestepping colonial bosses. In another unfortunate parallel, Bolivia is undoubtedly the Ireland of South American soccer.

Most recently however the connection between Bolivia and Ireland is something as simple as water, and the transformational effect of this basic element of life on the politics of the two countries.

In the Spanish language, when you want to say ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’ the equivalent term is ‘the drop of water that made the glass overflow’. There couldn’t be a more appropriate metaphor for what happened here in Bolivia 15 years ago this month, during Cochabamba’s famous ‘Water War’.

It was April 2000 when a city of half a million people – twice the size of Cork – joined together and literally shut itself down in general strike three separate times, with a common objective of taking their water system back from a foreign multinational. In a remarkable grassroots struggle the victory over the Bechtel Corporation became a story known all over the world. Less understood is how this struggle over water radically transformed the politics of a country in ways that have been enormous and enduring.

The echoes of Bolivia in the current Irish water conflict are clear. Firstly, the struggle has awoken a sleeping giant – mobilising people in ways that until recently seemed impossible. And, how the struggle plays out may have equally enormous and enduring affects on Irish political culture.

There’s something about water that just gets people at both a rational and visceral level. We rely on it to meet our most basic needs wherever we are in the world. And when people begin to mess with it – polluting water sources, using it for mining or fracking, or turning it in to just other ‘product’ on the market – people get angry, real angry.

What in Ireland in 2015 is being called austerity, in Bolivia 15 years ago was known as structural adjustment: cuts upon more cuts, and a relentless drive to privatise public services and infrastructure – often without democratic consent or stopping to question the conditions under which national debt was accumulated.

In Ireland it’s the ECB and IMF in the background calling the shots; in Bolivia it was the World Bank that was insisting on water privatisation. The Denis O’Brien of Bolivia’s water conflict was played by the Bechtel Corporation, a giant Californian engineering conglomerate.

Bolivians activists didn’t just straight off denounce “structural adjustment” when the water war began, just as Irish activists didn’t begin talking about the injustices of “austerity” at the start of their water conflict. Both struggles, however, pushed the tip of a concealed iceberg above the surface just long enough for regular people – who never normally think of themselves as activists – to get a clear and undeniable glimpse at how the economic system works against their interests.

Most of the time, this system operates below the surface, with corruption and corporate encroachment into our democratic spaces only on the radar of activists and specialist researchers. The ship hits the iceberg when suddenly the system’s mechanics are revealed so that many more people see it for what it is. That’s when we have a chance to articulate that what they see above the surface is propped up by something much bigger that they need to be worried about. Struggles like these ones over water give us the ear of the general public in ways that most of the time we only imagine we have. As Oscar Olivera, the trade unionist leader of Coordinadora del Agua in Cochabamba during the water revolt pointed out, “we always repeated those slogans ‘death to the World Bank’, ‘death to the IMF’, ‘down with Yankee imperialism’ but I believe that [the water war was] the first time that the people understood in a direct way.”

So a key lesson from these water struggles is that often the place where we accrue popular power sufficient to challenge the system comes less from the situations that we carefully plan, and more from spotting the right moments – usually provoked by our adversaries – that reveal the systemic injustices and their impacts on ordinary people. At these moments, new activists emerge from the shadows of a normally disengaged public.

According to Maria Eugenia Flores, a young activist coming of age at the time of the water revolt “that historic moment in Cochabamba allowed me to see clearly what was happening in my country, to understand the politics of water, privatisation, the struggle to defend this resource and especially to get to know other people like me who were waking up and opening their eyes to the injustices that we were living through.”

At these moments, the possibility of things changing utterly suddenly seems within reach. In Bolivia after the water revolt, a set of political parties that had rotated the presidency for decades vanished from the map in less than five years, along with the polices that had driven the country’s economics. As soon as it became clear that they could be challenged and beaten, people lost their fear and traditional political powers and structures came tumbling down. Instead of being ironclad, they turned out to be papier maché.

In Ireland many of the political power arrangements that people deem to be set in stone may well turn out to be just as thin and vulnerable as they were in Bolivia – and are proving to be in places like Greece and Spain. As Brendan Ogle, trade unionist and spokesperson for the Right2Water campaign has said about the achievements of the movement in Ireland so far: “Until now people felt alone; they felt that what the Troika want, what the IMF want, what the ECB want is what the government will deliver, not what the citizens want. They now know that they’re not alone.”

There’s something about water and the ways that it unites people in common cause that can expand peoples’ horizons as to the possibilities of affecting broader social change. And while moments of victory – when edifices crumble – are unpredictable, fleeting and rare, when they do happen, we sometimes find that all is changed, changed utterly. As Maria Eugenia Flores said, “in the face of so much injustice, we stood up and lost our fear.”

Getting Action: Frackdown 3 – a few updates

by Mads Ryle and Sian Cowman

GFD-Facebook-Profile-Image-2014October 11th was the third Global Frackdown – a day of international actions and resistance against the fracking industry and the governments supporting it. The extraction of ‘uncoventional fuels’, and fracking in particular, remain one of the most prominent battle lines in climate activism and the movement for a clean energy future. Very recently this has been underlined by Naomi Klein, who at speaking events and interviews to promote her new book ‘This Changes Everything’ has repeatedly emphasised the power and new potential of today’s anti-fracking struggle.

With the Democracy Center staff as usual spread about the place, here we just give you a quick update on some fracking and anti-fracking news from the UK, Ireland and Bolivia.

UK

In the UK the government continues to scythe away at trespass laws in order to open doors to the fracking industry in the face of enormous public opposition, with up to 60% of the country now being declared fair game for exploration, and with fracking companies now relieved of the obligation to inform homeowners if fracking infrastructure will be built underneath their houses. The government did carry out a consultation on whether fracking should go ahead, but when 99% of 40,647 respondents stated their objection to the industry, the government simply ignored them, saying that “no issues have been identified that would mean that our overall policy approach is not the best available solution.” Which kind of tells you what they think about A. Citizen’s opinions. Just a few days ago what looks like an extremely sloppy bit of new legislation has also given those companies the right to use and leave ‘any substance’ in the ground that they produce through their operations, making a mockery of the reassurances that have been given on the tight regulations that would be put in place on fracking in the UK.

Seen at the TTIP rally in London on October 11th
Seen at the TTIP rally in London on October 11th

Nevertheless, grassroots opposition remains very active, particularly in the prime sites of the southeast and northwest of England. There were frackdown events across communities on the 11th (often joining up with groups protesting the TTIP free trade agreement), but more significantly there are ongoing community blockades at several sites around the country, targeting exploration activities by a number of companies including Celtique Energy, Raithlin Energy, Dart Energy, Cuadrilla Resources and Angus Energy. Just a few days ago a new protest camp was set up at the Horse Hill site in Surrey, not far from Gatwick Airport, where oil has recently been discovered. ‘Frack free’ groups around the country continue to assess and react to local events and decision-making processes by local and regional councils. In West Sussex this has just been successful at getting the council to refuse a drilling application by Celtique Energy, though the company has been quick to appeal the decision.

For more information on the UK visit Frack Off or the British Anti-Fracking Action Network on Facebook.

Ireland

In Ireland, several events took place across the country, North and South, for Global Frackdown Day.

11th October was also the European Day of Action against TTIP (a trade and investment partnership between the US and the EU). In Dublin, a network of civil society organisations hosted a series of workshops on the impacts of these trade agreements, including a workshop on fracking and climate change. Campaigners from the grassroots network No Fracking Ireland attended the TTIP event, and then moved on to join in one of the largest protests to take place in Ireland recently.

Dublin fracking 2The march was called for by a campaign group for the abolition of the new Irish water charges, Right2Water. Anti-fracking campaigners joined in the 100,000 strong march, a united turn-out of people from communities all over the country joining together to stop water privatisation. With the demonstrated destructive impacts of fracking on water, the presence of anti-fracking campaigners at this march highlighted the important links between these campaigns.

This Global Frackdown Irish anti-fracking campaigners had a victory to celebrate: an Australian company, Tamboran Resources (who hold fracking licences both North and South) have been halted in their tracks. In the North, their licence allowed for an exploratory borehole, with which they attempted to bore on an old quarry in Co. Fermanagh, only a couple of kilometres from the border. Campaigners set up a full time vigil outside the site, dubbed ‘The Gates of Hell’, and ran many community events and e-actions to mobilise people against fracking. They gained a first victory when the Northern Environment Minister called for full planning permission and an environmental assessment at the site, and so halted the borehole. A few weeks later, Tamboran’s licence was due to expire. The licence had already been renewed once by the Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster, and this time she did not renew the licence again (though she claims that public pressure had nothing to do with her decision).

In the region of this important victory, the border area between counties Fermanagh, Leitrim and Cavan, community campaigners organised several Global Frackdown events: a pig on a spit outside the former borehole (now dubbed ‘The Gates of Heaven’), a day and an evening of music, story-telling and craic as a ‘farewell to Tamboran‘, and a gig of comedy and music in an arts centre.

Of course, the battle is not over. Tamboran are planning to bring judicial reviews against both Ministers’ decisions. And two more areas in the North are in the immediate firing line. Global Frackdown events took place there too – an info stall by the Protect our Coast and Glens group in Antrim, and an anti-fracking and TTIP bus tour in Belfast by Not for $hale.

Bolivia

Fracking is also threatening its arrival across much of Latin America, where activists are just starting to get to grips with the threat it poses and how they will confront it. One of the most active countries so far, both for exploration and resistance, is Argentina – read the new report from Friends of the Earth about UFF extraction there. The Colombian government is also poised to embrace the technology in the face of falling conventional oil supplies. As far as Bolivia is concerned, we had this message from one of our allies on the state of play here:

Since 2000, Bolivia has become a hydrocarbon state, where the majority of state revenue comes from exporting gas (roughly $6 billion per year of gas). But it plans to massively increase exports and simultaneously build 19 industrial plants in the near future to industrialise the country. At present rates of extraction, Bolivia has 19 more years of gas, but with this additional extraction planned, it will only last another decade. For this reason, YPFB, the state hydrocarbon company, is planning to begin fracking so that Bolivia can exploit its 48 trillion cubic feet of shale gas reserves (the 17th highest in the world). In June 2013 Bolivia signed an agreement with YPF Argentina to begin shale gas exploration in Abapó, Santa Cruz. If Bolivia exploits all these reserves, it will consume 242 million liters of water and produce 2.6 GigaTons of CO2. Environmental activists in Bolivia have held two small preventative/informative protests over the last two years, and wider civil society is started to get informed about this growing threat, so watch this space to see what happens next…

The Democracy Center is looking at ways to develop links between the fracking movement internationally in order to effect knowledge and strategy transfer between communities facing this threat. Do get in touch if you are working in that area, or would like to be involved.

Getting Action: What Does Climate Change Mean to You?

Messages from the 21.09.14 People’s Climate mobilizations, North and South

The Democracy Center had ‘boots on the ground’ in Cochabamba and Oruro in Bolivia, and New York, London and Dublin for the events on Sunday September 21st. We asked people: “What does climate change mean to you?”

Here we offer you some of their responses (in English and Spanish).
sound_off
(You can see the whole album of over 60 responses here on our Facebook page.)

Violet, 11, London: “In 50 years the world will change completely. The sky will turn black, the grass will stop growing, and human beings will be no better than robots.” “En 50 años el mundo se cambiará por completo. El cielo se volverá negro, el pasto dejará de crecer y los seres humanos seremos igual que robots.”
Violet, 11, London: “In 50 years the world will change completely. The sky will turn black, the grass will stop growing, and human beings will be no better than robots.”
“En 50 años el mundo se cambiará por completo. El cielo se volverá negro, el pasto dejará de crecer y los seres humanos seremos igual que robots.”

 

Benjamin, Oruro: “Destruction of the ecosystem - death of innocent living beings"
Benjamin, Oruro: “Destruction of the ecosystem – death of innocent living beings”
“Me da miedo cuando la gente dice que no cree en el cambio climático. No es una creencia, sino un hecho científico. Apoya y actúa ahora.”
Dublin: “Me da miedo cuando la gente dice que no cree en el cambio climático. No es una creencia, sino un hecho científico. Apoya y actúa ahora.”
Cochabamba: "Are you part of the problem or part of the solution?"
Cochabamba: “Are you part of the problem or part of the solution?”
Jess, New York: “For me it’s a manifestation of how mother earth is actually feeling. That she's in turmoil. The crazy weather and increasing natural disasters, it's like she's going through a really rough time, kind of like having a mental breakdown but it's manifesting physically.” “Para mi es una manifestación de cómo la madre tierra se siente. Está en tumulto. El clima loco y los desastres naturales crecientes, es como que ella está pasando por un tiempo muy duro, como que está teniendo un colapso nervioso pero que se está manifestando físicamente.”
Jess, New York: “For me it’s a manifestation of how mother earth is actually feeling. That she’s in turmoil. The crazy weather and increasing natural disasters, it’s like she’s going through a really rough time, kind of like having a mental breakdown but it’s manifesting physically.”
“Para mi es una manifestación de cómo la madre tierra se siente. Está en tumulto. El clima loco y los desastres naturales crecientes, es como que ella está pasando por un tiempo muy duro, como que está teniendo un colapso nervioso pero que se está manifestando físicamente.”
Philippa, Cochabamba: "Solidarity with affected communities - we are all affected communities"
Philippa, Cochabamba: “Solidarity with affected communities – we are all affected communities”
Andy (and Riley), London: “A perfect storm of international and intergenerational unfairness. But also an opportunity for us to develop beyond fossil fuels.” “Una tormenta perfecta de la injusticia internacional e intergeneracional. Pero también una oportunidad de alcanzar un desarrollo más allá de los combustibles fósiles.”
Andy (and Riley), London: “A perfect storm of international and intergenerational unfairness. But also an opportunity for us to develop beyond fossil fuels.”
“Una tormenta perfecta de la injusticia internacional e intergeneracional. Pero también una oportunidad de alcanzar un desarrollo más allá de los combustibles fósiles.”
Dublin fracking
Dublin
Aldo, Cochabamba: "Struggling to change the system is not an option, it's a question of survival!!"
Aldo, Cochabamba: “Struggling to change the system is not an option, it’s a question of survival!!”
Raymond - New York: “I love the outdoors in Alaska & we're seeing dramatic changes that are a bit scary. Indigenous communities are being affected by lack of sea ice forming. Species diversity is falling off. With all of the different aspects it's a crisis. It's become a crisis...” “Me encanta el campo en Alaska y estamos viendo cambios dramáticos que dan un poco de miedo. Las comunidades indígenas están siendo afectadas por la falta de formación de banquisa. La diversidad de especies se está decayendo. Con todos los diferentes aspectos es una crisis. Se ha vuelto una crisis…”
Raymond – New York: “I love the outdoors in Alaska & we’re seeing dramatic changes that are a bit scary. Indigenous communities are being affected by lack of sea ice forming. Species diversity is falling off. With all of the different aspects it’s a crisis. It’s become a crisis…”
“Me encanta el campo en Alaska y estamos viendo cambios dramáticos que dan un poco de miedo. Las comunidades indígenas están siendo afectadas por la falta de formación de banquisa. La diversidad de especies se está decayendo. Con todos los diferentes aspectos es una crisis. Se ha vuelto una crisis…”
Wanda, Oruro: Wanda, Oruro: "Unconscious voluntary global genocide"
Wanda, Oruro: “Unconscious voluntary global genocide”
Liane and Echo, London: “If your neighbourhood was falling apart you'd do something about it.” “Si tu barrio se estuviera derrumbando, tú harías algo al respecto.”
Liane and Echo, London: “If your neighbourhood was falling apart you’d do something about it.”
“Si tu barrio se estuviera derrumbando, tú harías algo al respecto.”
Dublin 12
Dublin: “Climate change is affecting communities in Latin America. There are droughts and deforestation. We need to learn that a better and more sustainable world is possible.”
Julian, London: “I live 2.5 metres above tidemark, along with the rest of Portsmouth. If sea level rise increases we are all going underwater.” “Yo vivo 2.5m por encima del nivel del mar, junto con el resto de Portsmouth. Si incrementa el nivel del mar, vamos a estar todos bajo el agua.”
Julian, London: “I live 2.5 metres above tidemark, along with the rest of Portsmouth. If sea level rise increases we are all going underwater.”
“Yo vivo 2.5m por encima del nivel del mar, junto con el resto de Portsmouth. Si incrementa el nivel del mar, vamos a estar todos bajo el agua.”
Victoria, Oruro: "Don't let consumerism take the green out of you!"
Victoria, Oruro: “Don’t let consumerism take the green out of you!”
Andrea, London: “The damage we are doing to our planet is the measurement of our wrongdoing as a species.” “El daño que estamos haciendo a nuestro planeta es una medida de nuestros errores como especie.”
Andrea, London: “The damage we are doing to our planet is the measurement of our wrongdoing as a species.”
“El daño que estamos haciendo a nuestro planeta es una medida de nuestros errores como especie.”
Dublín: “El cambio climático significa juntarnos para influirnos entre nosotros para cambiar nuestras formas de vida para salvarnos a nosotros mismos.”
Dublín: “El cambio climático significa juntarnos para influirnos entre nosotros para cambiar nuestras formas de vida para salvarnos a nosotros mismos.”
Patricia Scoville (Seattle): “Climate change means if we don't do something, it's irreversible and we must act now. People must wake up and stop denying this is true. It is true and we have only one earth.” “El cambio climático significa que si no hacemos algo, es irreversible y debemos actuar ahora. La gente tiene que despertarse y dejar de negar que esto es verdadero. Es verdadero y sólo tenemos un planeta.” Ted Scoville (Seattle): “Climate change means we're going to change our lifestyle whether we like it or not. We are going to have to live with a more dynamic climate and that's going to affect us in many ways. In certain areas it's going to be a death sentence.” “El cambio climático significa que vamos a cambiar nuestro estilo de vida queramos o no. Vamos a tener que vivir con un clima más dinámico y eso nos va a afectar de muchas formas. En ciertas áreas va a ser una sentencia de muerte.”
Patricia Scoville – New York: “Climate change means if we don’t do something, it’s irreversible and we must act now. People must wake up and stop denying this is true. It is true and we have only one earth.”
“El cambio climático significa que si no hacemos algo, es irreversible y debemos actuar ahora. La gente tiene que despertarse y dejar de negar que esto es verdadero. Es verdadero y sólo tenemos un planeta.”
Ted Scoville – New York: “Climate change means we’re going to change our lifestyle whether we like it or not. We are going to have to live with a more dynamic climate and that’s going to affect us in many ways. In certain areas it’s going to be a death sentence.”
“El cambio climático significa que vamos a cambiar nuestro estilo de vida queramos o no. Vamos a tener que vivir con un clima más dinámico y eso nos va a afectar de muchas formas. En ciertas áreas va a ser una sentencia de muerte.”
Roger, Oruro: "Responsible consumption in bed, at home, at church, at school, in your life and in my life"
Roger, Oruro: “Responsible consumption in bed, at home, at church, at school, in your life and in my life. Let’s make a change.”
Mads and Caspar, London: “It's do or die isn't it? And there's no doing that doesn't involve addressing the entire global operations system, which has gone totally rogue.” “Es una cuestión de actuar o morir, no? Y no hay forma de actuar que no implica enfrentar el sistema global de operaciones por entero, ya que está fuera de control.”
Mads and Caspar, London: “It’s do or die isn’t it? And there’s no doing that doesn’t involve addressing the entire global operations system, which has gone totally rogue.”
“Es una cuestión de actuar o morir, no? Y no hay forma de actuar que no implica enfrentar el sistema global de operaciones por entero, ya que está fuera de control.”
Cochabamba: "El futuro está en NUESTRAS manos "
Cochabamba: “El futuro está en NUESTRAS manos.”
Nicky, Oruro: "Climate change is a call for us to wake up and find new ways to relate to ourselves, to each other and to Mother Earth"
Nicky, Oruro: “Climate change is a call for us to wake up and find new ways to relate to ourselves, to each other and to Mother Earth”
Tom, London: “Decoupling human progress from reliance on fossil fuels.” “Desvincular el progreso humano de la dependencia de los combustibles fósiles.”
Tom, London: “Decoupling human progress from reliance on fossil fuels.”
“Desvincular el progreso humano de la dependencia de los combustibles fósiles.”
Dublin 4
Dublín: “El cambio climático es un resultado directo de nuestras acciones desconsideradas colectivas.”

Dublin 3

Pamela, Oruro: "United we can all change the course of history"
Pamela, Oruro: “United we can all change the course of history”
Kate, London: “Either barbarism or a new global politics of prosperity committed to social justice and low material consumption.” “O barbarismo o una nueva política global de prosperidad comprometida con la justicia global y el bajo consumo material.”
Kate, London: “Either barbarism or a new global politics of prosperity committed to social justice and low material consumption.”
“O barbarismo o una nueva política global de prosperidad comprometida con la justicia global y el bajo consumo material.”
London
London

Bolivia Climate Primers

The policy debates around climate change can often seem overwhelming, especially to newcomers to the subject. Its all-permeating nature as an issue which affects everything and everyone is matched by the exceptional depth of complexity and technicality of the debates around it. Getting to grips with the different issues, dynamics and perspectives at play in terms of the ‘global North’/‘global South’ (or ‘developed/developing world’, or ‘rich/poor nations’) is also crucial to understanding these debates, and can be especially daunting. Bolivia, as a resource-limited country on the coalface of climate impacts, which has also taken quite a strong, often alternative, public stance in climate negotiations, makes an interesting and instructive test case for exploring this nexus of issues further.

To help citizens to understand the key debates and what they look like from a global Southern perspective, former Democracy Center researcher and climate negotiator Rebecca Hollender has written this set of three Bolivia Climate Primers. These ‘101s’ seek to help anyone who is interested get a better grasp of the basics of current policies and proposals on the table around mitigation, adaptation and climate finance, and what implications they have for Bolivia. We hope that you will find these useful, whether you are an activist, a student, a researcher, or just generally interested in the subject.

Black October Memorial Recalls a Decade of Impunity in Bolivia

This year marks 10 years of the Gas War in Bolivia.
This October marks a decade since the Gas War in Bolivia.

On the night of October 17, 2003 Bolivians were witness to an extraordinary spectacle on their televisions.  On one side of the screen was the image of the nation’s President, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, fleeing by commercial airliner for the United States.  On the other side of the screen was the image of Sanchez de Lozada’s Vice-President, Carlos Mesa, taking the Presidential oath before the Bolivian Congress and asking the nation to observe a minute of silence for the more than 60 people killed during government repression over the previous three weeks.

This week marks the 10th anniversary of what in Bolivia is known as Octubre Negro, or Black October.  When popular uprisings exploded across the Bolivian highlands in opposition to Sanchez de Lozada’s export plans for Bolivia’s gas and oil, the so-called modern President responded the old-fashioned way, with troops, violence and bloodshed aimed at making his people back down.  In the end his only remaining ally was the U.S. Embassy, which permitted the disgraced President safe passage to suburban Maryland where he has lived a decade unaccountable for his massacres.

This week the U.S. Embassy, warning U.S. citizens to stay away from planned anniversary demonstrations in La Paz, sought to whitewash the events of that bloody month by describing events in this way: “When government forces tried to break a blockade of La Paz which resulted in the death of more than 60 people.”  Absent is any mention of the U.S. role in promoting the policies that sparked those protests, or the ten years of U.S. protection for the man who ordered the massacres.  On this 10th anniversary, to be sure that those killed are not forgotten, the Democracy Center’s Aldo Orellana traveled to El Alto and La Paz to speak with their families, producing this report. 

Jim Shultz

The Democracy Center


The Gas War, ten years on

by Aldo Orellana López

This report was also published in edited form on Alternet.org.

 “Glory to our martyrs fallen in the Gas War!! Long live the city of El Alto” Mourners on the 10th anniversary of the Gas War visiting the graves of their family members murdered in September and October 2003.
“Glory to our martyrs fallen in the Gas War!! Long live the city of El Alto.” Mourners on the 10th anniversary of the Gas War visiting the graves of their family members murdered in September and October 2003.

The Gas War is the name that has been given to a Bolivian social conflict that took place in September and October 2003 that had its origins in the plans of the government of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (2002 – 2003) to sell unprocessed gas to the United States through a Chilean port.  The project had been rejected from the beginning by social organizations that were demanding the nationalization and the industrialization of the country’s hydrocarbons.

Sanchez de Lozada had won the 2002 elections with barely 22% of the vote, and then had to negotiate with other political parties to assume the presidency.  From the start of his mandate many of the measures he was responsible for were highly unpopular.  One of these was the implementation of a tax on salaries in order to reduce the fiscal deficit -a measure prescribed by the International Monetary Fund- which led to a police mutiny and a confrontation between the police and the military.  The conflict left almost 30 people dead and 200 injured. This conflict, known as Black February, was to be a precursor to the Gas War.

Already in September 2003, in the face of the government’s insistence to go ahead with its gas exportation project to the US, social and indigenous organizations began to protest and to blockade roads in the Bolivian highlands, actions which were violently repressed by the army and the police.  The first military intervention to clear the roads took place on the 20th September 2003 in the community of Warisata located approximately 100km from Bolivia’s capital city La Paz.  This intervention which was carried out in order to clear the way for a group of tourists that had been trapped in the town of Sorata, at 150km from La Paz, left several people dead including Marlene Nancy Rojas Ramos, an eight year old girl.

“The most important thing is the lack of political will on the part of the US government to extraditing Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada and Carlos Sánchez Berzain. We have said it time and again that the US government is protecting them.” Rogelio Mayta (middle), lawyer of the families in the Bolivian criminal case.
“The most important thing is the lack of political will on the part of the US government to extraditing Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada and Carlos Sánchez Berzain. We have said it time and again that the US government is protecting them.” Rogelio Mayta (middle), lawyer of the families in the Bolivian criminal case.

From then on the protests by the social organizations and the military repression intensified in the adjoining city of El Alto, the 12th of October being one of the worst days. That day the ´Caravans of Death´ passed through El Alto- these were trucks carrying fuel to La Paz where supplies were beginning to run low.  The trucks had armed military escorts and they left twenty five people dead in their wake.   That was to be the point of no return for a conflict that eventually resulted in the total collapse of the government, the resignation of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada from the presidency and his subsequent escape, together with his defense minister Carlos Sánchez Berzain, to the United States on the night of the 17th October 2003.

The Gas War is considered a turning point in Bolivian history which cleared the way for a new political era and the election of Evo Morales as president of the republic in 2005. The principal mission of the new government, entrusted with the legacy of the Gas War, was to fulfill the October Agenda: to nationalize and industrialize the country´s hydrocarbons and to convene a Constituent Assembly.

But the Gas War was also a turning point in the lives of the victims of those tragic days and their families. The conflict left more than sixty people dead and four hundred injured, many of whom were left permanently disabled. These people have since formed the Association of Family Members of those fallen in Defense of Gas, not only to commemorate the events of September and October 2003, but also to remember the ten long years of their struggle for justice.

Looking for justice in the courts

“Justice wasn’t given to us as a gift, we conquered it, we fought for it, we suffered for it…and that’s what we have come here to remember today!!”  Rogelio Mayta (left), lawyer for the families in the Bolivian criminal case in a short remembrance address to the families of the victims in the Tarapaca cemetery located in the Santiago Primero district of El Alto.
“Justice wasn’t given to us as a gift, we conquered it, we fought for it, we suffered for it…and that’s what we have come here to remember today!!” Rogelio Mayta (left), in a short remembrance address to the families of the victims in the Tarapaca cemetery located in the Santiago Primero district of El Alto.

There are two battlegrounds for the families of the victims of the Gas War in their struggle for justice.  The first is in Bolivia and involves the criminal case against those involved in the events of 2003; the second is in the USA where a civil case is being brought by the families.

With regard to the criminal case in Bolivia, after eight years of persistence, in August 2011 the Supreme Court finally sentenced five members of the military and two politicians to between three and fifteen years in prison for their role in the events of September and October 2003. While this sentence was considered an historic victory for the families and their lawyers, they await the trials of another dozen collaborators of Sanchez de Lozada who have fled the country, and of course of those they consider most responsible: ex-president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada himself and his closest collaborator and defense minister Carlos Sanchez Berzain, both of whom have been given political asylum in the United States, and whose government has already refused a first extradition request. Now the bolivian government is working in a second request to achieve the extradition, a challenge that itself could be considered as an other true battleground.

    “The process continues and it’s really difficult, but it is an achievement in itself to have brought the case out into the public domain. There are powerful people in the USA that are not interested in what we are doing. Unfortunately Sanchez de Lozada and Sanchez Berzain have a lot of friends.” Beth Stephens, legal representative of the families in the civil case in the USA
“The process continues and it’s really difficult, but it is an achievement in itself to have brought the case out into the public domain. There are powerful people in the USA that are not interested in what we are doing. Unfortunately Sanchez de Lozada and Sanchez Berzain have a lot of friends.” Beth Stephens (left), is the current legal representative of the families in the civil case in the USA. James Cavallaro (right, hands in pockets), is the former representative of the families in the USA.

The second battleground in their pursuit of justice is the civil case against Sanchez de Lozada and Sanchez Berzain being brought by the families and a group of legal representatives demanding compensation for human rights violations (To know more about these legal actions in the US, check this Press Release of the Center for Constitutional Rights).

In Memory of the Fallen

Commemorating ten years since the Gas War, the family members of the victims organized a series of events in the city of El Alto in which the legal teams involved in both the criminal case in Bolivia and the civil case in the United States also participated. The day chosen for these activities was the 12th of October, the day on which ten years earlier the Caravans of Death passed through their streets leaving over twenty five people dead.

The families then visited the places where their loved ones were buried, the mausoleum of the Tarapaca cemetery in the Santiago Primero district, and later to the mausoleum at the Villa Ingenio cemetery.  (See photos here)

In both locations family members and their legal teams recounted their experiences over the last ten years, telling the emotional stories of their setbacks and achievements in their search for justice.

In activities organized by other institutions, on Monday the 14th October an ecumenical ceremony was held by the El Alto Permanent Human Rights Assembly and the Federation of neighborhood committees.

Among the activities organized by other institutions was a range of artistic events, including the painting of murals to mark the 10th anniversary of the Gas War.

Their final message

 “It doesn’t matter if they’re in the US or on the moon, we’re going to pursue the case against them wherever they go”  Jesús Solis (middle), member of the steering committee for the criminal case.
“It doesn’t matter if they’re in the US or on the moon, we’re going to pursue the case against them wherever they go” Jesús Solis (middle), member of the steering committee for the criminal case.

Even if they have not achieved their main objective of extraditing Sanchez de Lozada and Carlos Sanchez Barzain to face criminal charges in Bolivia, in the speeches made by the family members of the victims and the legal teams three main achievements stood out.

The first is the criminal cases in Bolivia and the final sentences which led to the imprisonment of seven of the accused in relation to the events of October 2003; not only has history been made once again in Bolivia by imprisoning a group of politicians and members of the military responsible for grave human rights violations, but this has also strengthened the resolve of the families and their legal teams to continue to pursue the remaining legal cases in Bolivia and the United States.

The second is the demonstration of such strength and bravery in their search for justice on the part of the families, their legal teams and solidarity groups in the United States.  They have made it crystal clear to Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada and Carlos Sanchez Berzain that they will never again have a peaceful public life, that they will never return to Bolivia and that their situation is one of voluntary self-imposed exile in the United States.

The final, most important achievement is the internal strength gained by the families of those who died and were injured, many of whom, despite the immense pain of losing a child or a spouse, or having been left without a mother or a father, have not fallen into depression but rather have been able to remake their lives and carry on.


Testimonies from people involved over the last ten years

Dionisio Cáceres Copatiti
Dionisio Cáceres Copatiti

Dionisio Cáceres Copatiti, injured in 2003, is 36 and is a porter.  He lives in the Cristal 1 area of El Alto.

“The disgrace into which we have fallen is still very painful, it is very painful to remember.  It is painful to walk with only one foot, I can’t lift heavy objects, I can’t run nor jog.  Nevertheless, we will continue to fight for this murderer to return to Bolivia to be held accountable and to go to jail along with the generals that led the massacre in 2003.  We ask ourselves why the government of the United States protects them.  We want them to be extradited and we are going to carry on insisting until the last days of our lives.”

Rogelio Mayta, lawyer for the families in the Bolivian criminal case.

“10 years have gone by, and 10 years we have been here.  We are still here at the frontline, we haven’t taken one step back.  We are going to continue demanding that Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada comes here to take responsibility for what he did.”

“10 years later, the case on the massacre of September and October 2003 continues.  This in itself is a great achievement because in our history we have seen cases of human rights violations, massacres, and they’ve never come to anything.  For that reason we call attention to the fact that the process continues, and that this process has enabled us to achieve some results.  At times  this process has come under attack  and  faced extreme adversity, but it has allowed those who wanted to avoid  justice to finally face  a sentence by exiling themselves, breaking away from their roots in order to escape Bolivian justice.  For us, the only thing that remains is the firm and absolute conviction to continue with this legal process, the request for extradition under the principle of justice.  Our absolute, firm conviction is that even if we can’t send them to trial, we will never stop pursuing  them.”

“If anyone asks us about our family members, perhaps we will cry because we have memories, but we will lift our heads high like we have done all these years.  I don’t see some poor little victims, I see victims that have stood up, that have walked forwards, that have made demands, that have learnt to organize themselves and talk in the trial, that have overcome their fears and weaknesses, and that have defended their dignity.  The trial has ended as it had to end, with us fighting.”

Juana Valencia, widow of Marcelino Carbajal, and her youngest daughter, Rosa Carbajal.
Juana Valencia (right), widow of Marcelino Carbajal, and her youngest daughter, Rosa Carbajal.

Juana Valencia, is 69 and lost her husband Marcelino Carbajal in the Gas War.

“We the widows have had to be mothers and fathers for our children.  I am older now, and it hasn’t been easy to get work to support my children, but we continue to fight for the guilty to return and take responsibility for what they have done.  We have now achieved something, after 8 years of struggle we have achieved a sentence for some of the guilty, but there’s more to do and we won’t be satisfied until all the guilty are here.”

Rosa Carbajal Valencia, is the youngest daughter of Marcelino Carbajal, she is 29 and has 5 older brothers and sisters.

“We are proud because our family members managed to stop the gas from being taken out of Bolivia, but unfortunately life cannot be paid back.  Despite the fact that 10 years have gone by, we still remember our family members with great sadness because we remember how our parents died.  It is very painful.  But still, we continue and we will continue to fight for the guilty to be extradited.  When they are paying for their offenses, at least then we will be at peace, knowing that the murderers of our parents are paying for what they did.”

Eloy Rojas Mamani
Eloy Rojas Mamani

Eloy Rojas Mamani, father of Marlene Nacy Rojas Ramos. He lives in El Alto but returns to Warisata on the weekends.  He works in construction and other areas.  Eloy Rojas is 39 and his wife is 37.  They have five daughters.  In December 2008, Eloy and his wife Etelvina were sat opposite Sanchez de Lozada and Sanchez Berzaín in a court in Miami, when the ex-president and his ex-minister were sat in the defendants’ seat in a civil legal process for the first time.

“The most important thing for us is not to forget the massacre that happened or that there are people who must be held accountable.  We remain strong, as we were when we faced the generals in the trial.  They thought that we the family members wouldn’t have the strength to withstand the trial, but we did it.  We’re not leaving things there, we are watchful to make sure that those sentenced fulfil their sentences and that the fugitives return to Bolivia.”

“They sought political asylum in the United States, arguing that this was all about political persecution, but as a father I can say that neither myself nor my daughter were involved in politics or had any political affiliation, and that was the message that we gave as the bereaved families when we were sat opposite them in the United States.”

“I saw their faces in the United States, but they were too cynical and cowardly.  They didn’t even dare to look at us.”

“I am married to my wife Etelvina Ramos and we have five daughters.  My oldest daughter is 20 now and she is at university studying Education Sciences.  Marlene was my second oldest daughter, this year she would have been finishing high school, but unfortunately she is not here, although she remains  in our hearts.”

James Cavallaro, former representative of the families in the legal actions underway in the United States.

“With your struggle, with the trial and the  sentences, you have not only achieved a part of the justice that the victims deserve, but you have also changed the history of this country, and of Latin America.  There are no other cases of generals in jail for violating peoples’ human rights during public protests.  For me personally, it has been an honor to say that I have worked alongside the people of Bolivia who have fought to achieve justice as no one else has done, and that the sacrifice of these families has not been in vain.”

Beth Sthephens, current representative of the families in the legal actions underway in the United States. She is taking the place of James Cavallaro.

“It was a great achievement that some family members were able to sit in a court opposite Sanchez de Lozada and Sanchez Berzain, and to see the way in which they were troubled knowing that they had to respond to the families.”

“The process itself is an achievement, each day is an achievement, because every day they live in the knowledge  that we are after them and that we aren’t going to give up.”

Translated into English by Thomas McDonagh and Nicky Scordellis, from the Democracy Center.


MEDIA ADVISORY

16 October 2013

For immediate release

International civil society with Noam Chomsky call on US government to extradite Bolivian officials Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzain for their role in a massacre of 58 people ten years ago

On the ten year anniversary of what is known as ‘Black October’ in Bolivia, almost 40 organisations from 14 countries, including academics, lawyers, human rights, and community groups, have called on President Obama to agree to Bolivia’s requests for extradition of former President Sánchez de Lozada and former Defense Minister Sánchez Berzain so that they can be tried for their role in a massacre of 58 people ten years ago.

The statement was released on the eve of 17 October 2013, ten years to the day since Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzain fled to the US from Bolivia after overwhelming protests at the killings. The two Bolivian officials have been protected by the governments of Bush and Obama for facing trial for their role in the massacre for the last decade.

The statement was also signed by renowned academic Noam Chomsky, Q’orianka Kilcher, a Hollywood actress best known for her role as Pocahontas in The New World, and Father Roy Bourgeois, founder of School of Americas Watch that has led an international campaign to close a military training school implicated in countless human rights abuses in Latin America.

The statement notes that the killings of 58 people, including an eight-year old girl, and the injury of 400 others took place after Lozada and Berzain issued a decree calling on the Army to use ‘all means necessary’ to repress protests, deploying military sharpshooters armed with high powered rifles who shot into houses and chased and shot unarmed villagers as they fled through fields and into the mountains.  Many of the individuals killed and injured as a result of the plan were not involved in protests, or even near protests when they were shot.

The current Bolivian government requested the extradition of Sanchez de Lozada and Sanchez Berzain in 2008, after an arduous process of investigation and trials in Bolivia that were initially approved by two-thirds of Bolivia’s congress including many members of Sanchez de Lozada’s own political party. However the initial request for extradition was refused by the US State Department in 2012. A civil case is currently being pursued in a U.S. civil court using the Alien Tort Statute and the Torture Victim Protection Act.

It is believed that Lozada and Berzain’s strong political connections with members of Congress and US government officials have helped maintain their impunity from extradition and trial. The statement notes that the failure of the US government to extradite Lozada and Berzain looks “deeply hypocritical, when the US insists that other governments extradite individuals that have allegedly threatened US security interests such as Edward Snowden.”

Eloy Rojas Ramos, father of Marlene Nancy Rojas Ramos, the eight year old girl killed by the military in his village of Warisata said: “We lost everything when our daughter died. We could not even bear to live in our house or village where she died in our arms so we moved our whole family to El Alto. We have spent the last ten years in courts across Bolivia demanding justice, yet the US continues to protect Lozada and Berzain who ordered the killings.  It is deeply painful that any country’s government would protect these criminals from facing trial.”

Jason Gehrig, from Fort Worth in Texas and one of the coordinators of the declaration explained that he felt compelled to speak out after directly witnessing the massacre: “I was living as a Maryknoll Lay Missioner in El Alto, Bolivia in 2003 and witnessed first hand the bloody atrocities committed against the peaceful protestors under Sánchez de Lozada’s orders. Even our parish priest was shot as he stood up to defend the people. It’s a great source of shame for me to see my government go so far as to defy its treaty obligations to protect these brutal men.”

The call by a wide range of organisations worldwide shows that ten years after the massacre, the demand for justice by the families is one supported by thousands of people worldwide and will not be forgotten.

The statement with all the signatures can be seen here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1q-GPbKcdKTv2bgDMuYvskzVW8fLpfrayaZXz8sZdcvQ/

For more information or for interviews with the families, their lawyer or contact:

Nick Buxton – nomoreimpunity@gmail.com; tel  +1 -530-9023772

Margaret Fogarty – nomoreimpunity@gmail.com; tel  +1 603-988-7115

 


Past coverage of Black October

Over the years, The Democracy Center has published extensively on issues related to Black October, including articles, guest-posts, and entries in the widely read Blog from Bolivia, which ran from 2004-2010. Below is an overview of our past coverage of the political and legal aftermath of The Gas War.

2005
Gas War Update – Blogpost (May 11, 2005)

Marking the two year anniversary of Black October
The President Who Killed And The Country That Keeps Him Safe – Blogpost (October 17, 2005)

2006
On the documentary “Our Brand is Crisis”
Watching Goni Run – Up-close – Blogpost (February 26, 2006)

Taking action on legal case against Sanchez de Lozada
Sign the letter to George Bush demanding Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozadas return to Bolivia – Blogpost (July 31st, 2006)

Marking the three year anniversary of Black October
A Day of International Solidarity with Bolivia October 17 – Blogpost (September 30, 2006)
The Exile in Maryland – Bolivia’s Deposed President Three Years Later – Article/Newsletter (October 15, 2006)
A Last Word on the Goni Case – From a Young Bolivian – Blogpost, DC staff (October 18, 2006)

2007
On the evolvement of the case against Sanchez de Lozada
Meanwhile, Back to Goni… – Blogpost (January 17, 2007)
US Calls Prosecution of Bolivia Ex-Presidents “Politically Motivated” – Blogpost (March 7, 2007)

Marking the four year anniversary of Black October
The Legal Case Against Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada Moves into High Gear – Blogpost, co-authored (October 7, 2007)
Octubre Negro – Four Years Later – Blogpost and article (October 17, 2007)

2009
The Trial of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada – Blogpost (May 19, 2009)

Climate Change is About…Water

Water, or the lack of it, is the most evident and terrifying impact of climate change right now, for communities all over the planet. Flooding, drought, sea rise, glacier loss and ice cap melt are all occurring at an increasing frequency that the scientists themselves did not predict. That elemental impact brings with it a host of other consequences: erosion, wildfires, agricultural losses, pests and diseases, loss of infrastructure. The list goes on. And the ones who are most exposed to both the primary and secondary (and tertiary) impacts are, as always, the poorest and most vulnerable, with children being particularly at risk.

So climate change is very much about water, and if we want to help people understand what climate change means – what it actually means for human communities at home and abroad – then starting with that elemental story can be a way to connect.

The Democracy Center’s microsite, Climate Change is About…Water, is designed to facilitate that connection and engagement. It tells the recent story of climate change and water in Bolivia (an acutely vulnerable nation) through three case studies of communities exposed to the impacts of drought, flooding and glacier loss respectively. The human stories of those impacts on rural and peri-urban populations brings to life the introductory analysis of Bolivia’s climate change vulnerability – geographic, economic and political – and what those mean for a community’s survival, especially in terms of migration. The stories and analysis are conveyed through text, photography and video and include interviews and testimony from impacted communities and Bolivian activists and policy-makers.

For educators, helping students understand these very real and tangible impacts of climate change enables them to bring the subject out of the realm of the abstract and make it a graspable reality. Asking them to think about the different ways in which communities and nations are vulnerable encourages reflection on issues of privilege and justice, and can spur global solidarity and citizenship. Classrooms are naturally democratic spaces in which students have what may, for some, be a rare opportunity to examine the implications of major public issues such as the climate crisis. Using that space to motivate young people to dedicate energy to addressing its root causes becomes more urgent with every passing day.

The Teaching and Activities Guide which accompanies the microsite is designed to aid exploration of the site material, join the dots on the global nature of climate change, and encourage responses on how to address it. The microsite and Guide are designed to be flexible and accessible for use with secondary-level students upwards, and can be adapted for self-led or teacher-led exploration in both formal and informal settings. The structure of the Guide mirrors that of the website and is full of questions to aid discussion and independent research, plus individual and group activities for learners to engage with, such as: preparing your own climate change action and adaptation plans; mapping vulnerability in your local area; creating audiovisual news reports on climate impacts; and debating the priorities for global climate change funding. The activities push learners to think critically about this global issue and taps into their creativity and energy in considering responses to it.

Global awareness and solidarity are essential to confronting the multiple problems that climate change brings in a just and sustainable way. Nurturing that solidarity begins in the classroom and can be much enhanced by digital connectivity. The Climate Classroom area of Climate Change is About…Water provides a space for students to share their work and responses to the material on the site and, we very much hope, create links with other students engaged with the issues it raises.

We hope you find this resource a useful addition. As always, feedback is very welcome!

NotiAlarmes

As part of a peer-to-peer project between groups of young people in Vietnam, Bolivia and the UK, this video shows the production of the Bolivian group.

They participated in a 2-day workshop in late April 2012 and with an extraordinarily enthusiastic and creative approach created this mock news bulletin to share their perspectives on climate change and sustainable development.

The project was organized by UNICEF Vietnam, UNICEF UK, and The Democracy Center, based in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

Launch of ‘Climate Change is About…Water’ microsite

Dear Readers:

Twelve years ago this month, in April 2000, Bolivia drew worldwide attention due to the Cochabamba Water Revolt – a battle over who would control water: the people or a giant global corporation. Today the people of Bolivia are again at the center of a struggle over water, this one with even deeper implications for the nation’s future. Today the struggle is not over who will control water but whether some areas will have any water at all. Global climate change threatens Bolivia’s natural water systems like no threat that has ever come before. Today with this newsletter the Democracy Center launches a major new project to help people around the world understand in a much more real and direct way the impact that climate change is having on water – and what that means for people: Climate Change is About…Water.

 

[Update: We are very happy to announce that the Spanish version of this new project is also now available!]

Far too often today, the crisis of global climate change is dismissed as something abstract, distant or off in the future. The people of Bolivia do not have that luxury. In Bolivia, as in many other “early impact” nations around the world, climate change is real, immediate and urgent. That urgency can be found most intensely in the crisis over water. Or three crises actually: droughts, floods and melting glaciers.

Think of it like this. For thousands of years the planet’s water system has been relatively stable and civilizations have settled themselves accordingly. We live in some places and not in others based on water. We build houses in certain ways, grow food in certain ways and organize our lives in certain ways all based on expectations about how the world’s natural water systems behave. Climate change is rearranging that whole system in radical ways – and over the quick course of a few generations, not millennia. In few places are the disastrous effects of this more on display than in Bolivia.

To capture this story in a powerful and visual way the Democracy Center team has created a new microsite, Climate Change is About…Water.  Here is some of what you’ll find there:

The Story of Drought:

Droughts are about far more than dry ground and hotweather. We visit the town of Pasorapa and document the ways in which climate change-driven drought can destroy a whole community.

The Story of Floods:

What happens when the rains don’t stop?  We visit the city of Quillacollo and see how chronic flooding brings sewage into some homes, destroys others, and wrecks the lives and dreams of those who live in the water’s relentless path.

The Death of Glaciers:

Bolivia’s Chacaltaya glacier was once the highest ski resort in the world. Now the glacier is melted and gone and never coming back. What happens to the villages beneath a glacier when it disappears – and what happens to the vast urban center that depends on threatened glaciers for their drinking water?

Climate Change is About…Water bring you images and interviews with the people living on the front lines of the climate and water crisis. If you are interested in deepening your own understanding of what climate change means, or if you are an educator looking for a way to help students understand this crisis in a clear and meaningful way, have a look. If you are an activist, journalist or a researcher looking for something in-depth, you can dig even deeper into a resource full of original research as well as links to further information.

This new multimedia site is the start of several new climate projects the Democracy Center will be rolling out over the coming months, looking both at what climate change means and also what we, as citizens, can actually do about it. Stay tuned to this newsletter for more in the months ahead and also to the Democracy Center’s main Climate and Democracy page.

Jim Shultz
The Democracy Center

What’s New in ‘Getting Action’?

What you might have missed recently on Getting Action, the Democracy Center’s global blog on citizen action and advocacy. Have a look here or via the article links below for the latest!

Interview with Emily James – Doing It Justice: In the first in our new ‘Campaigning Creatives’ series we interview the director of climate direct action documentary ‘Just Do It’

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