Through a combination of research and analysis, training and support, and active campaigning, the Democracy Center works internationally to strengthen struggles for social, economic and environmental justice.
Fighting criminalization in Peru
In 2017-2018 the Democracy Center worked in a closely coordinated campaign with Peruvian groups, Derechos Humanos y Medio Ambiente (DHUMA) in Puno and the Institute for Andean Cultural Studies (IDECA) as well as with long-time international allies, the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC and Mining Watch Canada, to help prevent two dangerous legal precedents from being established against social movements in Peru.
The “Aymarazo” case sought to bulldoze over the rights of indigenous Aymara communities and their spokespersons in order to protect the interests of Canada’s Bear Creek Mining Corporation. The campaign helped ensure that convictions against the Aymaran community were overturned in Peru’s highest courts. Bear Creek’s mining concessions in the region are now “extinguished” and the area has been declared inadmissible for any mining permits for at least the next five years.
Fighting criminalization in Colombia
As the issue has grown in urgency across Latin America and elsewhere, since 2017 we have focused campaigning efforts on challenging attempts by extractive industries to criminalize those standing against them.
In collaboration with the Association of those affected by Quimbo Hydroelectric Project (ASOQUIMBO) and allied organizations, the Democracy Center successfully forced Italian energy giant, Enel, to drop criminal charges it had lodged against environmental defenders resisting its El Quimbo megadam project in Colombia. Criminalization of protest is one of many tactics that multinational corporations and co-opted governments use to repress the defence of life in the face of destructive megaprojects. As such, it represents an important thread in the Democracy Center’s work in solidarity with communities in Latin America resisting extractivism and corporate capture.
Climate: causes and consequences
Our reporting and analytical work on climate in Latin America and globally looks both at the structural drivers of the crisis, especially in relation to how corporate power operates, and the complex ways in which its impacts play out on the ground. What is the difference between what corporations say and do when it comes to climate change? What does climate resilience mean in the Bolivian context? How do existing social structures interact with climate impacts? The story of what these drivers and impacts mean for women in particular becomes a key aspect of our work on climate.
The Center in the climate movement
Our efforts to support climate-related activism include a wide range of articles and other resources, many with a specific focus on successful strategy-building. We have been a present but critical voice at Rio+20, COP20 in Lima and COP21 in Paris. We continue to highlight effective campaigning efforts and work directly with groups through workshops and other training methods.
As our external focus shifts more towards climate as a key issue the organization also consolidates internally, establishing a more permanent team of people coming from Bolivia, Europe and the US. Over the coming years, and continuing to this day, our engagement with the complex social politics of climate change, decolonization, environmental impacts and activism leads to the development of internal reflections around the functions of power and privilege within the organization itself, and the establishment of new ways of working.
Around this time the Democracy Center also shifts its focus away from specifically Bolivian issues to take in a more regional focus on the key social and environmental justice issues of our era.
Network for Justice in Global Investment
Partnering with the Institute for Policy Studies, we launch the Network for Justice in Global Investment (NJGI), making the dangers of corporate power and global investment rules a core focus of our work. In the following years we publish two extensive reports as well as numerous articles, a news bulletin and more. We engage in the struggles against major trade agreements such as TTIP and TPP. From 2015 onwards, the NJGI project is only minimally maintained.
Climate change on the agenda
With the publication of Stories from Khapi, a video exploring the impacts of glacial melt in Bolivia, in the lead-up to the infamous COP15 in Copenhagen, we begin a major effort to document the impacts of climate change. In the following years we delve into the issues of lithium, REDD, water, the role of youth, and others and we report from the 2010 People's Climate Summit in Tiquipaya and Rio+20 in 2012.
Book: Dignity & Defiance
As a result of several years of research, field work and writing by a diverse team of interns and staff, the Center publishes Dignity & Defiance with University of California Press. The book presents a set of Stories from Bolivia’s Challenge to Globalization. In 2009, we take the book on tour in 14 cities across the US.
Blog from Bolivia
The Blog from Bolivia is launched late in the year. Charting change in the shifting political landscape of Bolivia in the 2000s, the blog gains a wide readership and becomes a primary reference point for reporters and journalists worldwide. It runs until 2010.
Book: The Democracy Owner's Manual
The Center publishes The Democracy Owners Manual, a Practical Guide to Changing the World and goes on a book tour in the US.
Campaign against Bechtel
The Bechtel Corporation files a $50 million legal case against the people of Cochabamba as retaliation for the Water Revolt and the Center helps launch a global campaign to force the company to drop the case. In 2005, Bechtel ultimately drops its Bolivia case in response to global citizen pressure.
The Water War
The Center plays a major role in the Cochabamba Water Revolt, helping to turn it into an international story and uncovering the link to the US Bechtel Corporation behind the water privatization. Later, the Center receives the Project Census award for the reporting.
- Reporting: Dispatches from the Streets of Cochabamba (Feb-Apr 2000)
- Book chapter: The Cochabamba Water Revolt and its Aftermath (from Dignity & Defiance, 2008)
- Article: Bolivia, 15 Years on from the Water War (Apr 23, 2015)
- Article: 15 Years After the Cochabamba Water Revolt, Echoes in New Cases of Corporate Abuse (Apr 28, 2015)
Move to Bolivia
Democracy Center founder and executive director Jim Shultz returns to Cochabamba, Bolivia with his family and begins activity there - eventually, they end up staying for two decades.
Launch of newsletter
The first issue of our newsletter, Democracy Center Online, hits the inboxes of about 200 readers. Eventually, our readership grows to over 6000.
California Budget Project
The Democracy Center founds the California Budget Project following a year of taking leadership on California budget issues with the publication of State of Deadlock, a major report on the state of budget politics and a roadmap for a progressive way forward.
Working with immigrant communities
We orient our work toward supporting immigrant communities under political attack in California, by helping immigrants with advocacy workshops and taking a leadership role in efforts to stop the passage of California’s Proposition 187 anti-immigrant initiative.
The foundation of the Democracy Center
The Democracy Center is founded as Advocacy Institute West and opens its first office in San Francisco.