THIRST IN THE GARDEN CITY:
THE RIGHT TO WATER IN COCHABAMBA, BOLIVIA
A THESIS SUBMITTED TO
THE FACULTY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF ANTHROPOLOGY
IN CANDIDACY FOR
HONORS IN ANTHROPOLOGY
DEPARTMENT OF ANTHROPOLOGY
HAYDEN SCOTT HIGGINS
DAVIDSON, NORTH CAROLINA
“Artículo 20. I. Toda persona tiene derecho al acceso universal y equitativo a los servicios básicos de agua potable, alcantarillado, electricidad, gas domiciliario, postal y telecomunicaciones.”
Constitution of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, 2009
“El derecho a agua no existe…es pura letra.”
Bolivian Citizen, 2012
TABLE OF CONTENTS
2. WATER MANAGEMENT AND DEVELOPMENT…………………...16
3. WINNING THE BATTLE, LOSING THE WAR?...................................24
4. VOICES FROM THE GARDEN CITY…………………………………53
5. RESULTS AND DISCUSSION: SUN AND SHADOW IN COCHABAMBA……………………………………………..………….96
1. Indices de Gestión, SEMAPA 2010…………………………………….121
2. Statement, Water Committee of San Miguel………………………...…124
This research was funded in part by grants from the John Montgomery Belk Scholarship, Dean Rusk International Studies Program, and the Abernethy Research Award.
Credit is due to faculty and staff at Davidson College, including Dr. Matt Samson, Dr. Eriberto Lozada, Dr. William Mahony, Dr. Abigail Schade, Dr. Scott Denham, Dr. Chris Alexander, and Dr. Verna Case. Drs. Daniel Goldstein and Pamela Calla provided wonderful guidance and support in their direction of the Rutgers in Bolivia program, and thanks go out to all those affiliated with that program, including Miguel Ricaldez, Mari Eugenia, Julio Weiss, Guerty Artega, Melina Ramirez, Fernando Herbas, and all my fellow students in the program.
Special thanks go to my Bolivian family abroad, who were amazingly hospitable and welcoming (Lucy Raquel Ortuño Castro and Adri). Thanks to Alexis Valauri-Orton for her support during the tough times abroad and for her editing help. Finally, thanks go to my family at home, who made all of this possible with their support over the years.
Chapter 1: Introduction
Encountering a New Kind of Right
Just minutes after I had arrived in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, I was walking around the airport when I saw an advertisement on television. The ad instantly struck me, despite my grogginess after the long flight. The ad depicts a young boy and girl who meet and quickly become infatuated with one another. They are separated, and pine for one another. But then, lo and behold, one of them receives a cell phone! Now they can talk to one another, and on their smiling faces is superimposed a message from the cell phone company: todos tienen el derecho a las telecomunicaciones (everyone has a right to telecommunications).
Up until that moment the advertisement had been in step with what I expected from television spots. But that one line stayed with me. Everyone has a right to telecommunications? It just didn’t sit right with me. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t ever actively prevent someone from the use of their phone, or computer, or television, but what did it mean to have a right to telecommunications? What exactly was defined as telecommunications? Did people have a right to just one kind of media—cell phone, internet, television—or to all kinds? Is there a right to cable television, and, if so, why didn’t I have it? Can the government really come up with a situation in which it is economically viable to provide everyone in the country with a cell phone? Did the telecommunications company come up with this right as a marketing ploy, or is it actually in the Bolivian constitution?
There is a concrete answer to one of these questions. The right to basic telecommunications services is stated in the 2009 Constitution of Bolivia, in Article 20, Section I, which reads in full: “Toda persona tiene derecho al acceso universal y equitativo a los servicios básicos de agua potable, alcantarillado, electricidad, gas domiciliario, postal y telecomunicaciones.”
This list stood out to my American eyes: these were concrete, material things being guaranteed as rights. They are not, like the rights in the American constitution, limits on the behavior of the government: the right to free speech, the right to assembly, the right to a fair trial, the right to vote, and so on, are all behaviors and not services. This departure suggested to me that there might be a fundamental difference between the kinds of rights Bolivians and Americans were concerned with.
This Article guarantees the right to telecommunications. It also, in the same fell swoop, promises universal access to potable water, also a service. This second right, the right to potable water, is the focus of my investigation.
Framing the Question
The central questions I address in this thesis are the following: What does the right to water mean for Bolivians? And what does the right to water mean to Bolivians? I mean for this distinction to indicate a difference between an etic perspective, which will largely draw upon discussions of political economy and quantitative analyses of water access, and an emic perspective, which will focus on the subjective experience of Bolivians. These subjective experiences will be narrated from the lived history of water access in the poor southern barrios of Cochabamba, Bolivia, specifically in San Miguel, Lomapampa, and Sivingani.
The inhabitants of these villages live in a persistent paradox. One side of this paradox is Article 20, which guarantees them the right to water. The other side is that of water poverty. The southern zone of Cochabamba is not connected to the municipal water system, and though many barrios own water distribution systems, they are unreliable, costly, and unsanitary. None of the water is actually potable.
The rights mentioned in Article 20 are new to Bolivians, having arrived in the tidal wave of reforms brought by populist-socialist President Evo Morales—the first indigenous president in Latin America in over a century—after twenty years of neoliberalism and an even longer history of exploitation and conflict. The departure from the past two decades cannot be more stark, as privatized industries like natural gas are being re-nationalized and indigenous persons can now aspire to an office as high as the Presidency. The Bolivian Constitution of 2009, and Article 20 in particular, are direct results of a movement in Bolivian politics that sprang up as a rejection of the neocolonialist norm of dictators and neoliberalism.
In the wake of a law privatizing the water of Cochabamba, a grassroots social movement successfully appealed to the government for its repeal. The Water War, as this movement was called, turned out to be an important proving ground for this movement. Indigenous groups took the lead, future president Evo Morales played a strong supporting role, water was legally established a right, and there was an emphasis on keeping foreign companies from extracting Bolivia’s considerable resource wealth. The public-participatory approach championed by members of the Coordinadora—the popular organizing authority in the protests—is now encouraged by government in resource management on various levels. For example, by demand of the Coordinadora, there are now by law popularly elected officials who oversee SEMAPA (the municipal water company), ostensibly for the public interest. The Water War can be seen as a success in that a statement of its protesters—that there is a universal right to water—is now enshrined in the country’s constitution. The Water War is depicted as a success in this vein in the popular documentary FLOW: For Love of Water, as a victory of the people against corporate-capitalist demons.
The reality I encountered was, however, not so cut-and-dried. The Water War was not simply about kicking out the privatization effort. It was the watershed moment for a popular movement with the larger goal of ensuring clean water access for all Cochabambinos. In this regard, evidence shows it has unequivocally failed. In 2005, 300,000 Cochabambinos were without water, and many of those who had it only had it for a fraction of the day. The popular sentiment is that the officials elected to oversee SEMAPA are themselves corrupt. From this vantage, it might seem that Cochabamba won the battle, but lost the war. It is this arc that prompted the New York Times to comment in 2005 that “while a potent leftist movement has won many battles in Latin America in recent years, it still struggles to come up with practical, realistic solutions to resolve the deep discontent that gave the movement force in the first place” (Forero 2005).
In this project I seek to dig deeper into what efforts exist amongst Bolivians to help them reconcile the contradictory claims presented to them. On the one hand the state guarantees them a right to water. On the other hand their own eyes communicate to them a stark reality characterized by indigent water poverty. As my title suggests, there is no question that there is thirst in the Garden City—but my rejoinder is, what do the inhabitants of Cochabamba make of this?
One might ask, why does it matter what the cochabambinos think? It matters because there are close to a billion people without access to potable water around the world, and three hundred thousand of them are in Cochabamba. Improving access to potable water is a clear goal of international development agencies, as evinced by the inclusion of water-related goals in the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Development programs have been criticized for failing to take into account local realities, both material and cultural, leading to vicious circles of failed projects (Ferguson 1990). Reporting these local realities can contribute to more effective development—development which may improve lives around the world.
Moreover, as the human right to water has recently become an object of global discussion and contention (Provost 2012), investigating the operationality of a right to water has taken on new urgency. This investigation takes place against the backdrop of increasing anthropological interest in the implementation of human rights abroad, for example by Messer (2003) and Merry (2006). While my ethnography is focused on a specific place, its lessons may be able to inform work elsewhere, as “local understandings are used to comprehend and reshape global discourse (Arce and Long 2000:19).
This work approaches a topic within political ecology via anthropological methods. On the other hand, political ecology is defined by Piers Blaikie and Harold Brookfield as “encompassing the constantly shifting dialectic between society and land-based resources, and also within classes and groups within society itself” (1987:17). Simply put, political ecology is the study of how politics inform the relationship between society and its physical environment. In this case, that relationship is the one between Cochabamba and its water resources. Following Lisa Gezon and Susan Paulson, this work is concerned with all four of the core concepts around which political ecology is organized: understanding the way local groups relate to their environments (ethnoecologies); how resource use is “organized and transmitted through social relations”; how global political economy influences and is influenced by local groups; and how land degradation can reinforce marginality (Paulson and Gezon 2004:2). This work uses the ethnographic method, which is the hallmark of anthropology, to study these questions.
Two Visits, One Purpose
The fieldwork portion of this project was completed in two segments. The first of these emphasized participant observation and service learning, while the second was geared more towards semi-structured interviewing.
The first visit lasted from June 30 to August 10 in 2011. During this time I participated in the Rutgers in Bolivia study abroad program in Cochabamba. The program consisted of two parts: an academic and a service aspect. The academics focused on issues of law, justice, and rights in Bolivia. The service included a small-group (about 5 students) service project and a whole-group (all 20 students) service project. My small-group service project was coordinated with the help of Fundación Abril and took place with the water committee in Villa San Miguel. I volunteered with another small-group service project in Sivingani. The whole group also worked in Lomapampa every Sunday. All of these places are communities in the southern zone of Cochabamba. These experiences are narrated at length in chapter three.
The second segment of my research was completed in a more independent fashion with funding from Abernethy and Dean Rusk awards from Davidson College. For eleven days in January 2012, I traveled to Cochabamba to conduct in-depth interviews with decision-makers, activists, and ordinary citizens. During this time, as in my first trip, I stayed in the home of Lucy Raquel Ortuño Castro, to whom I am incredibly indebted.
Participant Observation and Service Learning
The problem I am studying—that of the meaning of a right to water amidst widespread water poverty in a Latin American city of the Global South—is multidisciplinary. There are valuable contributions from anthropology, sociology, economics, political science, geography, and environmental sciences. Anthropology’s perspective remains valued and unique because of the natural emphasis it places on the importance of how people understand the world. In order to best understand how others understand the world, one engages in participant-observation, utilizing both emic and etic perspectives. In this regard I follow Clifford Geertz’s dichotomous formulation of symbolic culture as a model “of and for” human life (Geertz 1966). These two perspectives—existing in fruitful tension with one another—drive cultural anthropology and serve as the inspiration behind my two central questions: what does the right to water mean to Cochabambinos? This question is meant to invoke the subjective, emic perspective, which is investigated through participation and reported in the form of descriptions of another’s views of the world. And, what does the right to water mean for Cochabambinos? This question is meant to invoke the objective, etic perspective, investigated through observation and reported as analysis of how things are. These two perspectives distinguish between what people think about the right to water and how objective analysis shows it to operate in the world.
At the heart of this framework is an ability to balance the validity of another’s subjective views with the results of one’s own objective analysis. Reciprocity is part of this balance and has always been a central undercurrent for anthropologists doing fieldwork. What are the politics of participant-observation? Where is the line between being patronizing and being supportive? What is the role of mutual exchange in anthropologist’s work? Service learning presents a particular take on these questions.
I had never participated in ‘service learning before my trip to Bolivia. My first exposure to the concept was from the Rutgers International Service Learning website (2010):
Service Learning (SL) is an educational methodology combining the academic or classroom study of a particular problem or issue (e.g., social, educational, health, environmental), together with the practical experience of collaborating with a community seeking to resolve such problems or issues. It means, quite simply, that you take a course thematically connected with a targeted service agenda, and immerse yourself in problem-solving interaction with a coordinated community or group with whom service is welcome and negotiated, in its home location.
This methodology shaped my 2011 summer experience. The classroom study (focused on issues of justice in post-neoliberal Bolivia), practical experience (working with a water committee in San Miguel and Sivingani, teaching in Lomapampa), and immersion (living with a Bolivian family) combined to provide a unique spin on the participant-observation approach. The service learning approach positioned me for a particularly easy introduction to conversants and allowed me to observe water committees. As such, conversants had a practical interest in our exchange: my labor for their information. While this arrangement could arguably have been transactionary and hollow, it was in this instance imbued with genuine compassion and a desire on both sides to understand the other.
The attitude of reciprocity—giving back to the communities I was learning from—took more forms than simple labor. In one instance that illustrates honest curiosity on both sides, I ended up making a deal with one particularly important conversant: we would talk about my favorite topic, water, until lunch. Afterwards, we would talk about his favorite topic: religion. In the course of our conversation we both learned more than we might have in a more unilaterally-directed discussion.
Interviews were an important form of ethnographic interaction in this project. Whether I was working with the Rutgers program in the fields of Sivingani or drinking tea in a café downtown, I was always ready to talk to individuals about their experiences and opinions of water management in Cochabamba (especially during my second visit, when my aims had been considerably narrowed). In fact, several of my conversations were with taxi drivers who often resided in la zona sur and were happy to share their experiences with me as we drove across the city.
These interviews ranged from happenstance to pre-arranged. Generally, the spectrum included three different classes of interview:
· individuals I did not plan to interview, but ended up asking about water management
· individuals I identified on the street or in the barrio, whom I approached and conversed with, asked permission to interview, and asked a semi-structured set of questions
· individuals I corresponded with, obtained advance permission from, and arranged to interview formally
Interview subjects ranged widely. A taste of this diversity: I spoke with a Jewish-Bolivian documentary filmmaker; an upper-class municipal politician; barrio presidents; taxi drivers; street vendors; people who had immigrated to Spain or America or Argentina and back; professors; water management professionals; social activists; and more. In chapter five, where some results are presented, I will clearly indicate when I am referring to my interview subset of inhabitants of la zona sur. These interviews were conducted in a semi-structured style, with a few key points that had to be covered (e.g., “Was the water war a success?”) and allowance for elaboration at the conversant’s discretion. Names of conversants have been changed when appropriate; some, however, are public figures, and their names remain the same (e.g., Oscar Olivera).
Challenges & Limitations
The scope of this worked has been limited not only choice but also by necessity. As anthropologists, we study how humans exist in the world—if I might understate the case, a broad enough question that limitations are sometimes welcome. However, I would have removed a few roadblocks if it had been at all possible. The most prominent challenges include the following:
· Spanish Language: While I speak fairly advanced Spanish, I am not a native speaker, nor does my vocabulary approach that of a native speaker. One particular instance stands out. I was speaking with an older man and asked him what his profession was. He replied that he was a jubilador—a retiree or pensioner—but I did not know the word, causing quite a confusion in my mind. In general, I could always express myself, but I worried about understanding the nuances of some conversants’ speech.
· Indigenous Languages: Perhaps more importantly, I do not speak Quechua (21.2% of national total) or Aymara (14.6% of national total) (CIA 2012), both of which are spoken at a higher rate in the areas I studied most intensely. Had I spoken one of these languages, I would have had more direct access to inhabitants of la zona sur who speak indigenous languages exclusively or preferentially. However, Spanish is spoken as a second language by almost everyone, and lack of knowledge of indigenous languages should perhaps be seen more as a lack of a positive than an actual negative.
· Resources & Background: As an undergraduate student, I may not have been accorded the same amount of attention as a Ph.D. student or doctoral anthropologist—someone who might write a book about a community, as is demanded of Goldstein (2004:36), and thereby potentially raise its profile or status. I am also not an NGO, which many barrio residents “regard as their best hope for gaining needed special services” (Goldstein 2004:30).
· Summer Program Structure: The Rutgers summer program was in general a great advantage, placing me directly into a water committee and affording me access to social activists. However, the structure of the program, which made constant demands on my time, restricted the amount of time available for independent research outside the summer program’s curriculum.
· Length of Stay: Anthropological insight is based on long-term embedment, which fosters trusting participant-observation relationships and allows time for acclimation to a new culture. My visits lasted 7 weeks (July-August 2011 visit) and 11 days (January 2012 visit). Neither of these trips was as long as ideally possible; in each instance, I made a number of tantalizing discoveries on the eve of my departure, leaving me with a number of loose ends.
March 19, 2011
Dear Professor Goldstein,
I am a junior studying anthropology at Davidson College in North Carolina. I am planning to conduct research this summer towards an ethnographic account for my honors undergraduate thesis. I would like to be in the field for 8 weeks or so for this project, which right now would focus on the networks that environmental movements in Bolivia have crafted. I am interested in several issues as they relate to environmental issues, including civil society, social movements, voluntarism, memory and narrative. Cochabamba seems it would be a fertile site for the kind of study I would like to do…
As in many anthropological studies, this work is in many ways the product of chance. When I sent the above inquiry in the spring of 2011, I had no idea where my hopes would eventually take me. After Dr. Goldstein sent an encouraging response, I followed up by applying to the Rutgers in Bolivia program (titled ‘Law, Justice and Rights in Bolivia’). I was accepted and decided to go, setting the stage for this project.
As one can see, my focus adapted quite a bit over time, allowing for the resources and experiences that materialized once I arrived in Cochabamba. Sometimes this depended on randomness. One particularly decisive roll of the dice arrived the first Monday of our program. All the students were gathered in a conference room at the back of a small hotel when we were assigned our service learning groups. Along with four other students, I was assigned to work in Villa San Miguel for the local water committee. The choice to assign me to this water committee dictated one of my research sites, and therefore in part set the tone of this work. Over the course of my trip, many other such strokes of good or bad luck arrived. At the same time, this chance was directed within the confines set out by my methodology, its aims and its limitations. This work, then, is—like each of us—the product of a kind of bounded chaos.
On my way to Bolivia I read a set of primers to the issues one must be familiar with before embarking on the larger venture. In the same preparatory vein, I include in this paper two such brief introductions to two large areas of scholarship that require illumination before I move on to discussion of my own ethnographic work.
Chapter two addresses global issues of water poverty. I delineate the Earth’s water scarcity issues, their relevance to development, and the prevailing paradigms on how water should be managed. This includes a history of the changes in approaches to water management in development, as well as the trajectory of the human right to water. I conclude by situating the plight in Cochabamba within this global context, and suggesting how my micro-level work can add to the conversation at the macro-level about water in the twenty-first century.
In chapter three I give an introduction to the sociological and cultural background within which my work is situated. This includes a history of Bolivia, highlighting its difficult relationship with its neoliberalism. I discuss Cochabamba itself, including a review of the role marginalization and exclusion has played in the recent history of Cochabamba. I detail the 2000 Cochabamba Water War and its aftermath, including the rise of social control and the situation today.
Chapter four will include ethnography and personal observations, whereas Chapter five will include insights gleaned from these observations, which are then analyzed in the context of broader theoretical discussions. Chapter four includes discussion of three research sites in la zona sur: Sivingani, Lomapampa, and San Miguel. Each situation is unique. Chapter five consolidates data from interviews, participant-observation, and past research, and draws attention to the patterns that emerge, reporting my findings on what the right to water means to and for my case study populations.
Water Management and Development Paradigms
“To deny someone the right to water is tantamount to denying them the right to life, and to set a price on water is to set a price on life.”
Water Everywhere, But Not a Drop to Drink
How is it, on a blue planet, that water is scarce in much of the world?
Firstly, let us consider just how much water there is for human use on this planet. Eighty-five percent of the water used in the United States is fresh water (USGS). Less than three percent of the world’s water, however, is freshwater, and a majority of that is not immediately recoverable (locked in glaciers, for example). Less than one percent of the world’s water is in rivers, lakes, aquifers, and marshes. Freshwater is especially important because it is required for agriculture (70% of global freshwater consumption) and domestic use (8%). The other 22% of global freshwater consumption is by industry, which also consumes a limited amount of saltwater (Finnegan 2002).
Humans have a powerful ability to shape their ecosystems, affecting the quality and distribution of global water resources (Daily 1997). Inter-basin transfers, irrigation, pavement, and changes in human population density or practices can all influence local water resources. As global population increases, more and more water is needed to drink, to produce food and energy, and to manufacture goods. Human demand for water is expected to “exceed supply by 56%” by 2025 (Finnegan 2002).
Not only is demand rising, but supply is at risk of decreasing. Globally, water security is endangered by land-use trends and reliance on groundwater extraction, and in the long term will be threatened by “predictable developments” such as population growth, drought, climate change, urbanization, upstream pollution, over-allocation of water licenses, and depletion of groundwater sources (Bruin 2000:63). These threats are already realities in much of the world, combining to make “household water insecurity a pressing problem in developing countries” (ibid).
One common but approximate figure is that close to one billion people lack access to safe drinking water (Black 2004:28, Davis 2005:146, UNDP 2006b). Safe drinking water consists of 3 aspects: quality (is it potable?), quantity (at least 20 liters per day per person), and access (less than a kilometer away; WHO 2006). A person is said to be in a state of water poverty when these conditions are not met.
Water is unequally distributed about the world. Some countries, like Canada, are very water-rich, and possess vast reserves of freshwater in lakes, glaciers, rivers and aquifers, whereas others, like Saudi Arabia, are very water-poor. Water scarcity can be seen as having many sides, encompassing economic, security, legal, and environmental considerations (Dolatyar and Gray 2000:10-18). Mismanagement can be as damaging as a dry climate to a country’s ability to provide water. Poland’s environment, for example, is so polluted by industry that it has as much usable fresh water as Yemen (Finnegan 2002). Due to lack of physical resources, mismanagement, or some combination of the two, one-third of the world’s nations are already water-stressed (Ward 2002:6).
Water plays a startling role in the cycle of poverty. A lack of water leads to poor health which leads to poverty and back to a lack of water. Each year waterborne diseases like typhoid and cholera claim the lives of five million people (Finnegan 2002), including six thousand children a day (Ward 2002:12). Arun Elhance estimates that 80 percent of illnesses and 30 percent of deaths in developing countries can be traced to drinking unclean water (1999). For the 80 percent who become sick, some enter a devastating catch-22 of health care costs and lost work opportunities (Gleick 2004). Illness often results because the poor must resort to accessing water from the least reliable sources—open surface water, untreated well water, or water from vendors of unknown quality. Failure of the state to “extend public services to socio-economically marginal areas of” cities in developing countries is exceedingly common (Bakker 2003:338).
Paying for water at all is difficult for the 729 million who are waterless and live on less than $2 a day (UNDP 2006a). Insult is added to injury as the “cost per unit volume delivered” by non-public sources is usually “several multiples of that delivered via public water supply systems to the middle and upper classes (Bakker 2003:328). Wutich describes urban water supply as taking a center/periphery form, with less public involvement the further one moves from the center (2006:4). Scarcity is, then, constructed in social interaction, “as much a social as it is an ecological concept” and subject to the same power relations that govern other parts of social life (Ferguson and Derman 1999). For the poor occupying the periphery, procuring access to water is a constant task.
Tracing International Thought on Water Management
On January 31, 1992, the Dublin Statement on water management and development was released. The most prominently known of the Dublin Principles is that water is an economic good (Derman and Ferguson 2003:279). Eight years later, the water warriors in Cochabamba rejected that idea and initiated a serious discussion about the human right to water. In 2010, this discussion culminated in the passage of a UN decree guaranteeing the right to water. Twenty years down the road, however, the argument over the right to water versus water’s economic value is still not settled, and this was a central point of debate at the 2012 World Water Forum.
Neoliberalism and Water Management in the Late Twentieth Century
Water was administered through the public sector for most of the twentieth century because of its importance as a strategic asset and the high amounts of capital required to invest in infrastructure. It was also believed that private companies had a “tendency to fail to extend coverage to the poor” (Bakker 2003:329). By the end of the century, though, a sea change was underway. In just the period from 1987 to 2000, the number of water projects with private participation in developing countries went from 2 to 183 (329). By 2002, Vivendi and Suez, the two largest private water companies in the world, owned systems in 130 and 100 countries, respectively, and collectively comprised 70 percent of the water market (Bakker 2003:330; Finnegan 2002).
This shift was caused by an overwhelming ideological shift towards neo-liberalism, which stresses the ability of open markets, deregulation, small government, and privatization to facilitate economic growth. To advocates of neoliberalism, privatization of water supply allows private capital to enforce market discipline in a sector plagued by mismanagement (Finnegan 2002), while competition forces firms to be more efficient (Bakker 2003:330). Taken together and applied to water management, these principles form the ideology of managed liberalization, which emphasizes that water is scarce, should be managed through contracts, and is best administrated by private companies (Morgan 2011:33-39).
Figure 2.1: Chart of water service providers (Bakker 2003:337)
During the 1990s, deregulation led to private companies taking on increasing responsibility for setting prices for water (Dilworth 2007:49) Argentina, Bolivia, China, Chile, England, Indonesia, Morocco, the Philippines, Poland, South Africa, Spain, Thailand, Turkey, and more (Bakker 2003:329). This process was backed by the support of powerful international financial institutions like the World Bank. As of 2007, one-third of the projects the World Bank had approved since 1997 were water-related (World Bank 2007).
The Major Cities Water and Sewerage Rehabiltiation Project in Bolivia was one such project. This project led the Bank to recommend that Bolivia privatize the water supply of Cochabamba, Bolivia. However, privatization was met with fierce resistance, and a new model of water governance crystallized in the wake of the Cochabamba protests. The new model—and its tension with the neoliberal model—is the focus of the next section.
Pushing Back Against Neoliberalism
Privatization has failed to be the panacea some foresaw it to be. The UN Human Development Report on Water from 2006 highlights three critical shortfalls. First, private companies have struggled with financing the capital investment required for network expansion. Second, they have been unable to be accountable to tariffs laid out in contracts. Third, they have consistently made unsatisfactory progress in expanding network access to poor areas. Combined with spectacular collapses in Cochabamba, Buenos Aires, and West Manila, these problems gave rise to a number of vocal critics of water privatization (UNDP 2006a).
For these critics, who include Vandana Shiva and Maude Barlow, Dilworth says that corporations represent “an organizational structure that serves to alienate humankind from genuine human community” (2007:51). This position can be summed up with reference to Mario Soares’ World Water Contract declaration, which states that water “belongs to all of the inhabitants of the Earth in common” (ibid). On a more economic level, rent-seeking behaviors, which make profit by manipulating conditions rather than creating wealth, are observed in many privatized ventures when they fail to extend urban services to new settlements (Bakker 2003:332). On the ground, successful protests against privatized water services have occurred in Panama City, Tucumán, Lima, Rio, La Paz, India, Pakistan, South Africa, Poland, and Hungary (Finnegan 2002).
The public-participatory governance model these critics endorse highlights the importance of water to life, blames capitalistic greed for shortfalls in services, and calls for a human right to water (Morgan 2011:44). Such a right to water would “imply a basic volumetric allocation per person per day” (Bakker 2003:331; cf. Gleick 1998). Legal expert Salman Salman opines that a human right to water would include requirements that states respect (do not harm), protect (do not allow others to harm), and fulfill (actively seek to expand and improve) the citizenry’s water supply. This right could be infringed upon either by an act of commission or omission, meaning that a government could be held liable either for a malicious action or for the lack of a beneficial one (Salman 2004:65-70). Salman, for one, notes the legitimate concern that affordability is a part of the human right to water and cannot be guaranteed by private companies (71).
The work of these critics is reflected by changes in international institutions’ attitudes towards the human right to water. November of 2002 was a turning point. The UN Commission on Economic, Cultural, and Social Rights issued General Comment 15 stating that the right to water follows from the right to life. Thereafter, the human right to water became an issue of contention at the triennial World Water Forum, becoming a flashpoint at the 2009 Istanbul World Water Forum (WWF 2009:52-57). Momentum from this meeting carried over into 2010 when the United Nations adopted a formal resolution recognizing the right to water.
The resolution was passed 122 to none, but 41 countries abstained, including the United States, reflecting continued ambivalence about the meaning of a right to water. This ambivalence was on further display at the recent 2012 Marseilles World Water Forum, where the right to water became the subject of squabbling when it was not mentioned in the ministerial declaration (Provost 2012). The “ongoing resilience of this issue” is a testament to the scale of what is at stake (Morgan 2011:11).
The place of Cochabamba as a turning point in the story of modern water governance does not just spring from its status as crucible of inspiration for anti-neoliberalism. Cochabamba after the Water War provides us with a glimpse into what the human right to water means in a world that is increasingly stressed for water. Cochamba presents a salient microcosm of an issue with global implications.
Winning the Battle, Losing the War?
“Cochabamba—it means ‘Valley of Lakes’ in Quechua.”
“Agua no existe aqui.” (Interviews)
Bolivia is known in the U.S. for a few small things. It is named after the South American independence leader Simón Bolívar. Another revolutionary, Ché Guevara, died in a gunfight, and it is where Hollywood heroes Butchy Cassidy and the Sundance Kid perished in a fictional gunfight. It is also known for having a socialist president, Evo Morales, who has a prickly relationship with the United States. Each of these is true, but lesser-known facts are more relevant to this thesis: Bolivia is the poorest country in South America. It is geographically and culturally diverse, with the highest percentage of indigenous population in the hemisphere. It has considerable water resources in the Andes Mountains, but, despite these nearby resources, half of the people of the city of Cochabamba are without access to water.
In this chapter, I trace the historically relevant factors that have contributed to water insecurity in la zona sur of Cochabamba. I start by describing the history and basic human geography of Bolivia. Next, I discuss the influence of the neoliberal ideology on the process of development in Bolivia, before focusing in on the local level to describe the city of Cochabamba. The flashpoint events surrounding the Cochabamba Water Wars of 1999-2000 are examined closely. I explain the facts of the War and delineate some potential reasons for its occurrence and its effect on the local, national, and international scale. Finally, I conclude by describing the aftermath of the Water War, the current water situation in Cochabamba, and present strategies of water management.
Bolivia is a landlocked South American country, wedged between Peru, Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, and Chile. Its primary geographic features are the Andes Mountains and the altiplano (high plains) that run along the western length of the country, and the Amazon Rainforest, which intrudes into Bolivia from the northeast. The capital, La Paz, is the largest urban area in Bolivia, and is located high in the mountains at 12,000 feet; Santa Cruz de la Sierra is the second largest urban area in Bolivia, and it is located in the humid lowlands. Cochabamba exists in between these extremes, at about 8,000 feet above sea level in a valley known for its moderate and enjoyable climate.
Figure 3.1—Map of Bolivia (Lonely Planet)
Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in Latin America. Average income is US$4,800 per capita nationwide. Bolivia is home to 10,290,000 people (2012 estimate), about a tenth of whom live in the Cochabamba Valley. The population is roughly 30 percent mestizo (mixed European and Amerindian ancestry), 30 percent Quechua, 25 percent Aymara, and 15 percent European ethnic groups. Spanish is the official language and the primary spoken language for 60.7 percent of the population; the rest speak native languages, particularly Quechua and Aymara (CIA 2012). For all of these people, though, from the snowy tops of the Andes to the coca-growing Chapare, one thing has been constant: conflict.
The Spanish set a fierce example of exploitation: the coffers of the monarchy in Madrid were filled with Bolivian silver, extracted by virtual slaves working in the mines of Potosí (Kohl and Farthing 2006:35). That example of exploitation persists into the present, with the Spanish legacy of domination continued by other means. Since Bolivia’s independence from Spain, its history has been marred by “nearly 200 coups and countercoups” (CIA 2012).
Neoliberalism in Bolivia
Most of the people of Bolivia have nothing to show for the government’s strict adherence to neoliberal policies, which is not unusual for Latin America, where the poverty rate is higher than it was in 1980. After a full generation of nominal democracy and ever-increasing free trade, Bolivia remains the poorest country in Latin America (Finnegan 2002).
Development, as James Ferguson has pointed out, has referred to two separate processes: the transformation towards a capitalist, industrial economy and a reduction in poverty accompanied by an increase in material living standards (1990:15). Neoliberalism as an ideology of development conflates these two processes, and its advocates believe that the former is a prerequisite for the latter. As the above quote demonstrates, however, Bolivia—which underwent some of the most extreme neoliberal reforms in the world after its 1985 inflation crisis (Kohl and Farthing 2006:81)—did not see poverty reduction follow from neoliberalism.
Neoliberalism gained a foothold in Bolivia when American economist Jeffrey Sachs—fresh from success in handling similar crises in Eastern Europe—designed an intervention that would go far beyond stabilizing the country’s macroeconomic indicators (Sachs 1987:281). This intervention embraced several of the principles that would later be enshrined in the “Washington Consensus,” (Williamson 1990), leading to enactment of policies that immediately included selling unprofitable state enterprises, subjecting the others to strict market logic, firing 35,000 state workers, and cutting the salaries of more (Kohl and Farthing 2006:69).
While these policies did stabilize the economy’s runaway inflation, they did not come without a cost. Large state mines were closed, and 23,000 of 30,000 miners were suddenly out of a job (Crabtree et al. 1987), and, in many cases, displaced. Other sectors were not safe: “the tiny industrial sector…went into severe crisis and over 120 factories collapsed” (Kohl and Farthing 2006:71). The real problem, though, is that the decentralization envisioned by the new economic plan relied upon a robust national business sector that, in reality, did not exist (Carreón and Pinto de Loza 1997).
The combination of these factors led to a Bolivia that, at the time of the Water War, saw GDP growth of 2 percent—but in tandem with 1.9 percent population growth (Barr 2005:71). The country today ranks behind only Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Haiti with the fifth-lowest Human Development Index in Latin America (UNDP 2011). The full desperation of the people is echoed in Marcela Olivera’s statement, “We are owners of nothing” (Troster 2005:7).
Economic success isn’t the only thing ordinary Bolivians haven’t had access to—many sectors of the population were effectively excluded from participation in government. This was partially because, in the wake of neoliberal reforms, unions and other social organizations lost their political influence—in spite of having been key players in the political scene since the Revolution of 1952 (Barr 2005:71). McNeish observes that since the structural adjustment of the late eighties,
a rising gap between rich and poor and an increasing number of people and civil society organizations that are not only dissatisfied with their level of political representation but also lack the opportunity to take part in and directly influence key aspects of political and economic decision-making.
McNeish attributes these issues directly to structural incapacities and internal prejudices that keep the poor and civil society out of political decision-making processes (2006:220).
All of this exclusion has more intangible effects, as well. Calla and Rojas (1998) investigate how neoliberal policies, and mine closures in particular, alienated men from the Bolivian conception of masculinity. This masculinity emphasizes providing, producing, and protecting—responsibilities that many men found themselves unable to fulfill under the neoliberal state. The state no longer lived up to its paternal role; decentralization only worked if one looked out for oneself. Corruption—an endemic problem in Bolivia—was said by at least 81 percent of respondents to have increased “a lot” over the past 12 months for each of the years 1999-2001 (Barr 2005:75).
All in all, we have a picture of a state with policies dominated by neoliberal ideology—dictated by the Washington Consensus—rather than the interests of its common people, with increasing alienation from economic livelihood and political participation as the result. This is the state that Oscar Olivera calls “the state that only listens to itself” (2004).
Cochabamba and the Invisible Half
“The story of Cochabamba city in the second half of the twentieth century is very much the story of the competition to define and control the city itself, as the authorities struggled to manage or erase the unwanted migrant presence in the urban landscape, while at the same time these migrants fought for recognition, infrastructural improvements, and their rights of belonging in the city itself.” (Goldstein 2004:5)
Cochabamba means “valley of the lakes” in Quechua, the native language of its inhabitants before the Spanish arrived. Since then, its common nicknames have included “the Garden City” and “City of Eternal Spring,” both of which come from its mild climate. The valley’s fertile soil, combined with this mild climate, support an agrarian economy in the areas surrounding the city, leading to its position as a kind of breadbasket for the country. The city developed in the nineteenth century into an administrative and mercantile center for the agricultural and mining areas in the region (Goldstein 2004:60).
Figure 3.2—Cochabamba city street (Avenida Beijing)
Success in this area led to high aspirations for the city amongst Cochabamba’s upper classes in the early twentieth century: they saw in the city an opportunity to build a modernist, European city with sophisticated tastes, diversified businesses, and a progressive future. Reflecting these aspirations, measures were undertaken to give order to the city and rid it of perceived malaises: for example, chicha (an indigenous corn beer) was banned from the city center, with the notable side-effect of removing indigenous-owned business from the city center. Orderly, gridded streets were set up or expanded. In the 1940s, a team of architects was tasked by the government with designing a Plano Regulador (regulatory plan) for “directing the future growth and composition” of the city (Goldstein 2006:65).
Figure 3.3: Map of Cochabamba (Defense Mapping Agency)
This plan, however, left out a significant portion of the population of Cochabamba. In 1937, an Argentinean architect called the southern zone of Cochabamba, its poorest area, “a veritable gypsy camp.... [whose inhabitants know] no other example of how to live than degeneration and vice” (Solares Serrano 1990:360-361). In the years to come, the people living in this area were systematically marginalized, their very presence seen as polluting. The marginal barrios were excluded from being part of the city—none of the population living on the periphery of the city was ever counted from 1900 on, even when their settlements were permanent (Goldstein 2006:62). Even if that was a century ago, the areas southeast of the city—generally referred to as la zona sur, its inhabitants los periurbanos, its condition marginal—are still seen by those living in the central, more well-to-do areas of the city as “dirty and unhealthy places, dangerous, disorganized, and threatening to the established order of the greater urban areas” (12). This observation is confirmed in my own experience by the reactions of certain acquaintances, either cochabambino or Western volunteers, upon hearing where I was working. Racism has also played a definitive role in the lack of access to water for many poor, mostly indigenous Bolivians (Crespo 2009).
Figure 3.4: A view towards Cochabamba from southern zone
La zona sur has been organized into organizaciones territoriales de los bases (OTBs) since the Law of Popular Participation (LPP) was passed in 1994 by the administration of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (“Goni”), an intense acolyte of neoliberalism. The LPP was designed to decentralize political processes, devolving power and giving voice to local concerns. It also had the effect, as Foucault puts it, of “elaborating, rationalizing, and centralizing in the form of, or under auspices of, state institutions” (Foucault 1983:224) power relations within the city. For the barrios, being recognized as an OTB is then a two-edged sword. It may bring access to political power at higher levels of government, and may help bring resources (schools, for example) to the barrio. On the other hand, it also means being visible to the state in undesirable ways: OTBs are used to collect taxes, for example, and check on land-holding rights (many of which are highly irregular in the haphazardly-settled zona sur). They give form to discourse, but on the state’s terms. To that end, OTBs are sites of contention, between the gaze of the state and the manipulations of its inhabitants. Municipal officials said of the decentralization reforms, “we can no longer close our eyes to this reality [of la zona sur]. The Alcaldía must intervene in these barrios in order to regularize them” (my emphasis; Goldstein 2004:81; c.f. 53-89). From one perspective, this could mean the empowerment of communities. From another, it means the penetration of the state and an expansion of its gaze.
More recently, the southern zone has grown to accommodate a large influx of migrants, many of whom have lost jobs in rural areas due to mine closures or U.S. policies against the growing of coca, causing the population of the city to quadruple since 1976 (Finnegan 2002). In 2001, 14.6 percent of the population in Cochabamba had arrived within the last five years (Stewart 2006:33). This mirrors recent trends nationwide as the “urban share of Bolivia’s population has doubled since the 1970s, creating a challenge to provide adequate services” (Pitman and Ringskog 2002:1). Such services have not been forthcoming, continuing the cycle of exclusion. The sum of the conditions above is a Human Development Index of 0.6 in District 14 (a poor southern district) versus 0.8 in the wealthier District 12 (a rich northern district; Stewart 2006:33).
Status Quo Ante Bellum: Water in Cochabamba, Before 1999
As might be expected, municipal water service was among the privileges not to be found in la zona sur. Clear divisions and different priorities existed between individuals living in the countryside, in the marginal periphery, and in the city center. Examination of water access strategies and pre-1999 conflicts over water management reveal tensions that would explode in the Water War and carry over into the present day.
Firstly, the city of Cochabamba was thirsty. Better water supply helps explain drops in infant mortality from 158 per 1,000 live births in 1977 to 66 in 1999, and from 180 to 96 for child mortality. As Cochabamba grew, more and more people were demanding access to clean water, which clearly raised life expectancy and quality of life for those who could afford it. However, from the period 1988 to 1999, coverage declined in Cochabamba from 70% to 60% (Pitman and Ringskog 2002:1). Most of the lack of coverage occurred in the poorest neighborhoods, where people paid far more for water of questionable quality, bought from trucks and handcarts, than the rest of the city paid for subsidized state water (Finnegan 2002).
This happened in spite of an ambitious World Bank project, the Major Cities Water and Sewerage Project, which was initiated in 1990 to much fanfare. In fact, the project was largely successful in La Paz/El Alto and especially in Santa Cruz (ibid). Ultimately, only 47,000 of 300,000 planned new connections were achieved, and water service remained unreliable at about four hours per day (Pitman and Ringskog 2002:3). The Project’s failure is traceable to contention in rural areas over planned new deep-drilled wells and to the financial undesirability of the Misicuni dam project.
The first preference of the Project implementation team was to drill new deep wells in neighboring rural areas. The number of wells drilled in the Valley is estimated by Assies to be between 5,000 and 7,000, in many cases drilled with support from NGOs or the Church. These wells mostly support a large network of rural farmers, known as regantes (irrigators), with 70% of agricultural land being irrigated (2003:19). These farmers were deeply averse to trusting authorities who planned to drill on their territory. During a drought in the first Banzer dictatorship (1976-77), SEMAPA drilled several wells in Quillacollo, promising that they would not affect water levels and availability for the regantes. Of course, they did, and the regantes lost their trust for future drilling projects. They enthusiastically opposed plans for such projects throughout the nineties, until in 1997 the army was called in to protect water authorities drilling new wells. However, these wells turned out to be much less fruitful than expected, with serious environmental consequences, and the engineers of Cochabamba—prior supporters of these plans—began to have public doubts about their efficacy (Assies 2003:20-21). Politics, revolving around rural disdain for well projects, made moving forward unviable (Pitman and Ringskog 2002:3). Support began to be thrown behind the ambitious Misicuni project instead.
Misicuni basin was at the center of an idea that first failed to be implemented during the Barrientos government (1966-1969). The plan was to dam the basin and pipe water (40 kilometers away) to Cochabamba. Laurie goes so far as to say that “the Myth of Misicuni had fuelled modernization dreams since the 1950s” (2005:534), with the project having a “magical aura” (Assies 2003:19) and being seen as a bridge to a bountiful future for Cochabamba. Engineers and bureaucrats have spent their entire careers working on this project, which has never been finished but is promised by politicians in every election. While it was considered for the Major Cities Water and Sewerage Project, Misicuni—which would have cost about $200 million and taken 5-7 years to complete—was rejected by the World Bank as too expensive (Laurie 2005:533; Pitman and Ringskog 2002:3).
By 1999, then, Cochabamba was left with subpar coverage: only 60 percent of the total population for water, and 53 percent for sewage (Pitman and Ringskog 2002:2). Leaking pipes (40 percent of water was lost to leakage; ibid), and declining options for viably procuring more water further plagued the city’s water management authorities. Moreover, tensions between rural agrarians and urban dwellers had already almost boiled over into armed conflict. At a political level, this contentiousness was embodied in a 1998 squabble over a draft law on water resources, quickly denounced by peasant and indigenous organizations who rejected the mercantilist slant taken by the draft law (Assies 2003:19). The city had on its hands a municipal water company ripe for privatization in the eyes of the World Bank (Finnegan 2002). More than this, though, the city had on its hands a city ripe for conflict, “overdetermined” for a water war (Assies 2003:17).
Winning a Battle
“There was a great deal more than local water rates riding on this strange, passionate clash in Bolivia.” (Finnegan 2002)
The story of the Water War has been told and retold countless times, in boardrooms, conferences, and classrooms across the world. It has been seen as a victory of the people against capitalism, against neoliberalism, against hegemony and oppression; it has been seen as a cautionary tale and as a speed bump. It has been analyzed from perspectives emphasizing class (Olivera 2004), new social movements (Albro 2005), gender and masculinities (Laurie 2005), and more. It was, to be sure, a complicated series of events. But there are some facts.
The World Bank asked Bolivia to privatize the water supply of Cochabamba in return for the renewal of a $25 million loan out to the Bolivian government (The Ecologist 2002). The government subsequently began looking for suitors; when none appeared, the terms of the contract were sweetened. A deal was announced after only one company came forward: the consortium Aguas del Tunari. Aguas del Tunari was composed of investors from Bolivia, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States—most notably, Bechtel, the San Francisco-based construction giant.
The contract included many protections for Aguas del Tunari, which combined with the backroom nature of the deliberations to create suspicion in the mind of the Bolivian public. For $2.5 billion dollars, Aguas del Tunari received a concession to manage the water supply of Cochabamba for the next 40 years, with a 15 percent guaranteed return to equity. Included in this contract, without precedent, was the exclusive right to all water resources within the concession area—which meant that autonomous water committees, who had built their own water systems without the help of the government, would now have to pay Aguas del Tunari to use their own wells (Assies 2003:17; Finnegan 2002). Willem Assies observes that the contract, and the law that legalized it, were based on conditions that “clearly favored the formation of large enterprises” that functioned according to market principles above all else (2003:17). The whole process was greased with support from the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, which provided funding and staff to the legislative unit drafting the new Law 2029 (Morgan 2011:93).
Law 2029, rushed through the legislature in November of 1999, made possible several of the clauses in the Aguas del Tunari contract. These were some of the most contentious clauses, including the one that gave Aguas del Tunari exclusive right to water resources in the concession area, superseding the rights of pre-established autonomous water committees. The threat of expropriation angered southern cochabambinos, who operated many such communal water systems (Morgan 2011:91). These systems operated in a de facto pluralist fashion, their authenticity stemming from traditional ‘usos y costumbres’ (uses and customs) respected by the government. The fact that the government had sold their hard work, without their input, greatly incensed southern cocabambinos, invoking a “sense of exclusion, an invasion of a collective sense of self” (ibid). In November came news that rate increases of 35 percent were projected. Even worse were the rumors—never realized—that the company would make peasants pay for collecting rainwater.
The people of Cochabamba were unwilling to find out whether that particular rumor was true. The vanguard was formed by FEDECOR (Federación Departamental Cochabambina de Regantes), a rural organization led by Omar Fernández, and the city unions, led by Oscar Olivera. Out of these groups came La Coordinadora, the Committee for the Defense of Water and Livelihood. La Coordinadora has been referred to in many ways. For some it is a “horizontal organization,” and “multiform torrent” (Olivera 2004:85; Spronk and Webber 2007:238) characterized as an organic social movement without formally elected leaders, with actions instead dictated by popular referendum (Albro 2005). It is significant for bringing together “rural farmers, industrial proletarians, disillusioned recent in-migrants, largely invisible members of a growing informal economy, environmentalists, retirees, left-leaning economists and technocrats, as well as sympathetic foreigners in provincial towns, peripheral shanty towns, and the urban streets” across traditional boundaries of class (McNeish 2006:232).
Among the first actions of La Coordinadora was to encourage nonpayment of bills. When the first Aguas del Tunari bills arrived in January, “stunned business owners and middle-class householders” found that their bill had in some cases doubled, reaching a portion as high as a quarter of their yearly income (Finnegan 2002). The average increase was to the authorized level of 35 percent (Pitman and Ringskog 2002:3). However, consumers were incensed, especially as their charge had gone up overnight, without any change in the quality of service; the national water bill was suddenly relevant to every family, and support for La Coordinadora swelled.
It is important to note that the reason an increase was requested was to collect capital with which to expand services and improve infrastructure, both of which Aguas del Tunari was required to do. As Dider Quint, executive at International Water, stated, “We had to reflect in the tariff increase all the increases that had never been implemented before… [in order to pay for] large-scale repair required by the deterioration of the existing system” (Finnegan 2002). Money was also needed to pay for the expensive Misicuni hydroelectric project, which Aguas del Tunari was required to complete (Pitman and Ringskog 2002:3). However, not much thought seems to have been put into the rate increases and how they would be perceived by the Bolivian public. Several cochabambinos I spoke with speculated that the water war would never have happened if the rate increases had been gradual, rather than sudden with no marketing effort made to explain the increases. Instead, executive Geoffrey Thorpe fanned the flames by suggesting anyone who did not pay would be disconnected from the network (Assies 2003:20).
From January to April, the protests grew in size as La Coordinadora notched victory after victory. Roads into and out of Cochabamba were shut down. The city was paralyzed, and unions around the country went on strike. Tear gas canisters were fired by police and tossed back by squadrons of street children who had fiercely adopted the Coordinadora cause. Reprisals by the government only backfired: arrests of Coordinadora officials led to riots elsewhere in the country, and sending the army in led to the death of Victor Hugo Danza, an innocent student-martyr shot on the way home from the store by a sniper. As Robert Barr notes of Bolivian politics, “The escalation of tactics increases the difficulty of managing the conflict” (2005:72), and the debates reached a flashpoint in April when the government declared a state of siege. In a final, climatic protest, the government told Aguas del Tunari executives their safety was no longer guaranteed. After achieving success at different levels—rate hike freezes, protections for water committees, and finally the dismissal of Aguas del Tunari and repeal of Law 2029—the Coordinadora presented one final vision: that of “social control.”
“Social control” became an oft-repeated slogan of the people, a mantra for a future of participatory management, with community ownership of public goods like water. Morgan sees in this vision a central example of the “public participatory model” that serves as the counterfoil to “managed liberalization” (2005:98). In the short term, social control meant that individuals elected to the board of SEMAPA would come directly from los bases (the grassroots, the people) rather than be appointed by the mayor. In the long term, the hope was that social control would increase accountability, equity and efficiency, representing a key step towards improving the water situation in Cochabamba.
Timeline of the Water War
Misicuni and SEMAPA package deal put on the market
No parties have put forth bids, so terms are sweetened—Aguas del Tunari consortium forms and comes forward
Aguas del Tunari signs contract with guaranteed return to equity of 15%
November 1, 1999
Geoffrey Thorpe and Aguas del Tunari take over SEMAPA; project rate increases of 35% in January
Law 2029 passed; Coordinadora forms
FEDECOR president Omar Fernández asserts price increases will put 15,000 farmers into bankruptcy
December 28, 1999
First Coordinadora march to Plaza 14 de Septiembre (main plaza)
Early January 2000
First water bills reach population; hundreds complain; Coordinadora encourages nonpayment
Thorpe issues statement that nonpayment results in disconnection; spontaneous mobilizations in periphery
January 13, 2000
Stones thrown in massive march at Plaza 14 de Septiembre; directors agree to let alone privately owned water systems in the concession area
February 4, 2000
Government offers a “final proposal” of 20% increase; massive protests, met with heavy street fighting; 172 arrested, 121 wounded in ongoing battle
February 5, 2000
Agreement to implement Misicuni immediately, freeze rates at October 1999 levels, pending review
March 24, 2000
Officials state Coordinadora is ‘radical and anarchic’
March 26, 2000
Public referendum rejects Aguas del Tunari
April 5, 2000
Roads are blocked; thousands of Cochabambinos go to Plaza and tell Aguas del Tunari to leave immediately—signs torn down, replaced with “Aguas del Pueblo”
April 6, 2000
Tear gas counterattack clears Plaza; Coordinadora leaders and sympathizers arrested all over country
April 7, 2000
With Coordinadora leaders in hiding, a crowd of unprecedented size gathers in Plaza, demanding break with Aguas del Tunari
April 8, 2000
Nationwide state of siege announced; Countrywide riots; street kids organize into warrior gangs; Hugo Danza killed
April 10, 2000
Victory for protesters—SEMAPA retakes control; social control of board announced; government to pay restitution
Source: Assies 2003:14-28
National and International Results of the Water War
“David has defeated Goliath, and thus set an example for the rest of the world.” (Oscar Olivera, 2000; quoted in Assies 2003:14)
The repercussions of the Cochabamba War certainly extended beyond the city’s boundaries. Nationally, success of a grassroots movement against the country’s fifteen-year history of structural adjustment changed the tone and course of Bolivian politics. Internationally, international financial institutions were served a rude reminder that privatization was not always best, and the anti-globalization movement gained a hero in Olivera and a cause in the human right to water.
The country has clearly come a long way since 2000, and Evo Morales has had much to do with these changes. Even the election of Morales, the first indigenous president in Latin America since the nineteenth century, would have seemed far-fetched before the Water Wars. However, as president of the cocaleros (coca farmers, who allied with the Coordinadora), he gained national prominence as an effective leader. More than that, the Water War was an inspiration for the Gas War of 2005, which cleared the way for Morales’ election and continued the trend of rejecting privatization. The Water War was also a credit to the power of the voice of the marginalized indigenous peoples, whose demands for recognition have found a defender in Morales; the indigenous wiphala flag now flies alongside the Bolivian flag in many state institutions. Legally, “usos y costumbres” now enjoy a formal, pluralistic framework, and a human right to water is promised by the state constitution.
Internationally the effect has been felt both by supporters of the Water War and by the international institutions who helped shape its conditions. The failure of the Cochabamba privatization project served as a shock to the system, a clarion call that privatization could not be the end-all, be-all in development. Pitman and Ringskog conclude in their evaluation of the Major Cities Water and Sewerage Project, for example, that the Cochabamba dispute demonstrates that “privatization is not a panacea” (2002:3). On a global scale, the discussion of a human right to water has come to the fore, after the Dublin Principle—which emphasized water as an economic good—ruled the nineties. Nonetheless, problems remain, as McNiesh demonstrates that the international system retains an attitude that “does not trust Latin Americans or ‘third world’ nations in general to make their own economic choices” (2006:229).
Lost the War: Cochabamba after the Water War
“The victory seemed to the water warriors too good to be true, and it was.” (Finnegan 2002)
In 2003, three years after the Water War, Assies wrote “It seems SEMAPA is doing reasonably well and enjoys the sympathy of much of the population” (2003:33). It’s possible that was true at the time. However, while the Water War staved off disaster, mounting evidence suggests that it did not have as great an impact as might have been hoped on the expansion of access to quality water services, leaving “more than 250 thousand inhabitants without water” (El Diario 2009).
Lack of coverage is probably the most glaring problem in Cochabamba. Those who are not connected to water services—either SEMAPA or autonomous—are forced to buy water “at abusive prices [and] of dubious quality” from cistern trucks (El Diario 2009; cf. Chavez 2011). Finnegan reported in 2002 these prices to be up to ten times as high as municipal prices, while Driessen states that over 60 percent of la zona sur remains unconnected (2008:5). Some 48 percent of the total population is unconnected to water, and 47 percent unconnected to sewage. Even if water arrives, it is usually only for 8 hours a day (Chavez 2011).
When water is present, it can be of low quality. Even in the richest parts of town potable water doesn’t flow through the pipes unless there is a filter purchased at cost to the homeowner. SEMAPA water runs in places through open channels, exposing it to all manner of potential problems. In the poor areas conditions are worse. There, C.A. Schafer has found evidence of microbiological contamination with negative health consequences because of the “addition of untreated well water, leakages within the distribution system, inadequate treatment of source water, long residence times, elevated water temperature, and low chlorine residual” (2010:69).
The problems do not end there. SEMAPA has been painted into a corner by a combination of declining resources, corrupt management, and aged infrastructure. About $100 million is needed to replace the pipes in the historical center of Cochabamba, money that SEMAPA doesn’t have—in 2009, it was 23 million bolivianos (approximately $3.3 million) short of a working budget (Caero 2009). Water resources are tight, too. Money for the Misicuni project has come through piecemeal over the years from various governmental and international sources, but it will not be finished until 2013 at earliest (Chavez 2011). Quillacollo province has reclaimed possession of some the wells that SEMAPA used in the past. Wara Wara reservoir only filled to 40 percent of its usual capacity in 2009 (Caero 2009), and there are concerns that climate change will have a negative impact on availability of resources (Como El Agua). A fundamental carrying capacity problem is seen to persist: “demand has today tripled, with the same groundwater supply as before” (Leonardo Anaya, SEMAPA manager; quoted in Chavez 2011).
Its budget is especially sapped by corruption, the persistent bogeyman of Bolivian progress. SEMAPA has both Bs. 7.7 million and $6 million stuck in 31 trials that tell a tale of wasted and misused resources, in sharp contrast to optimistic projections of turning a profit (Assies 2003; Caero 2009). Driessen attributes this corruption to “clientalistic” relations in which political influence and electoral consideration determine who gets services and where new projects are initiated. Jobs are awarded without regard for merit, and a former manager estimates that “80 percent of SEMAPA management staff is not qualified to perform their responsibilities.” Between 2006-2008, two SEMAPA general managers were fired on corruption charges totaling over $1 million, making it hard for
Figure 3.5: Cochabamba street art
SEMAPA to pay back an Inter-American Development Bank Loan (Driessen 2008:4). Corruption, alongside wariness of social unrest like the Water War, has made securing foreign capital difficult for SEMAPA (Finnegan 2002). Corruption is not limited to SEMAPA. Claudia Vargas, lawyer for Bolivia’s utility-regulation body, reports, “In the name of usos y costumbres, a lot of terrible things are done,” including water-truck operators who “drill polluted water and sell it” (ibid). Moreover, executive Leonardo Anaya says SEMAPA is plagued by illegal taps on the water supply (Chavez 2011).
With these limitations well known around Cochabamba, many have turned to alternative strategies for obtaining water, primarily through autonomous water committees. Thirty percent of unconnected cochabambinos belongs to a water committee, adding up to 95,000 people, including 60,000 in 120 committees which are members of ASICA-Sur (Association of the Water Committtees of the South; Driessen 2008:4; El Diario 2009). ASICA-Sur presents itself as a non-state, totally autonomous, non-partisan, participatory and democratic organization. Carlos Oropeza, coordinator for ASICA-Sur, states that water committees help keep “megaenterprises” like SEMAPA under control (El Diario 2009). Water committees convene under ASICA-Sur’s auspices to exchange knowledge, obtain technical support, and present a united political front. Water committees see ASICA-Sur as a central part of social control, a way to confront SEMAPA’s inadequacies by taking on the job themselves.
Some investigators have found more structural reasons behind the failure to translate the momentum of the Water War into social control of water management in Cochabamba. Referendums to expand water services are ignored and power is never delegated to the elected officials on the board (Driessen 2008:5). Driessen attributes this failure to “elite resistance,” declaring that local elites have failed to follow through with social control-related demands because it entails a loss of power on their part. Morgan (2011:85-117) finds two contradictions, one between ‘water as service’ and ‘water as territory’ and another between managed liberalization and public participation (what the Bolivians call social control). The rural-urban coalition which came together in the Water War has largely fallen apart with the two sides emphasizing different aspects of water management. Morgan also finds that managed liberalization—which was rejected so thoroughly by the water warriors—persists quite strongly in Bolivian water management laws, leading to a “blurring of the two models” (2011:109). McNeish blames miscommunication between state technicians and local leaders, a disconnect between rhetoric and reality of participation, and lack of consideration for alternative models, ultimately traceable to “structural prejudices where the poor are neither trusted nor respected” (2006:227-228). Finally, Spronk suggests that the Coordinadora was an inherently tense organization, with significant limits to its ability to move beyond issue-based organizing (2006:239).
The common thread that runs through these criticisms, stated outright or not, is that the Water War protests did not do anything to structurally change power relations within a deeply unequal country. Social control cannot be realized without deeper changes being made, which may entail a loss of power by elites as marginalized populations participate more. As long as these power relations are not addressed at a fundamental level, water poverty will persist in la zona sur.
How Do Cochabambinos Today Get Their Water?
There are four different ways that Cochabambinos get their water. The choice of which strategy to choose is largely delineated by geography, relative affluence, and community bonds.
The most rudimentary method of procuring water is via rain collection. This is especially common in the peripheral barrios where people use this strategy as often as possible. The rainy season in Cochabamba lasts from November to February (roughly corresponding to the Bolivian summer). Rain is actually seen as cleaner than water that is bought from vendors, and Andean cultures have a history of collecting and sharing rainwater (Wutich 2006:100). The costs to this strategy are especially low and the payoff correspondingly high.
If water is not directly collected by the household, it must be somehow delivered. There are three different delivery systems in place in Cochabamba: public, private, and collective. The public water delivery system is SEMAPA. As noted, this is a municipal company that is owned by the government and exists as a public works project. SEMAPA owns a network of pipes that stretches throughout the city but connections are concentrated in the center of the city. As one might expect, real estate in the center of the city is more valuable, and there is a question about whether SEMAPA is in the center because the people are affluent or whether the people are affluent because SEMAPA is there.
This concern aside, SEMAPA’s water service reaches 47.97 percent of the official population of the city of Cochabamba via 66,094 household connections supplying water to 326,504 people. SEMAPA’s sewage service reaches slightly more people—53.16 percent of the population via 73,237 household connections reaching 361,791 people (SEMAPA 2010). SEMAPA claims service reached homes about 15.7 hours out of the day in its service area, and users are charged Bs. 3.72 per cubic meter used (ibid). This work is accomplished with about 4.26 employees per thousand connections.
Many in the southern zone have organized into autonomous water collectives, known as water committees. These committees have an average of about 200 families and cover about 30 percent of the homes that are not covered by SEMAPA (El Diario 2009). They may procure water through wells they own or by buying water from SEMAPA or another source. Water committees are self-governed and completely separate of the government, which makes them appealing to inhabitants of the southern zone whose voices have never been heard in government.
Private systems are relied upon when public or collective services are not adequate. The essential unit of private water enterprises in Cochabamba is the carro cisterno, the cistern truck. Aguateros (water vendors) travel throughout the city, selling water. The price of water from these trucks varies directly with the cost of fuel for the trucks, but it currently costs about 5 Bs. per barrel, several times the cost of water from SEMAPA (Finnegan  says up to ten times more). Moreover, the water can be of dubious quality: it may be pumped from privately-owned wells north of the city, or it might be SEMAPA water sold at several times the price, or worse. No guarantee is made as to its origin. About 70 percent of the households who do not have access to water buy their water from aguateros (El Diario 2009). Debra Israel (2007), who studied the effect of access on price in urban Bolivia, found that households buying their water from aguateros spend the highest portion of their income on water. It is expensive, but they have little choice.
Summary of Water Sources for Cochabambinos
Number of Inhabitants Using This Strategy
Medium; not potable, but usable for all other purposes
Variable; almost always worse than SEMAPA
Variable, more than SEMAPA but less than aguateros
Aguateros (private vendors)
Variable, but usually low
8.33 Bs./m3, 
Voices from the Garden City
Flying into Cochabamba for the first time, I had little idea what the place would look like, and no experience with the culture. I awoke from my slumber to see a sprawling city with little downtown discernible. To my great pleasure, though, I was surprised to find the city ringed with beautiful snow-tipped mountains. I felt that tingling of excitement that comes with not knowing what would come next. While I had ambitious hopes for my first visit to South America, I also knew that much would be out of my hands. I simply vowed to keep my eyes peeled and my mind open.
Within minutes, I knew I was in good hands when I was picked up by my host mother, Lucy, at the airport. I stayed at the home of Lucy Ortuño during both of my visits to Cochabamba. Lucy lives in a modest one-story home on a plot that she shares with her sister; there are plans to add a second-story to her home, where her brother’s family will live, but for now these are on hold. Located off the corner of busy cross-streets Villavicencia and Avenida D’Orbigni, the home is in a neighborhood just north of the city center—not a rich one compared to others nearby, but certainly upper-middle-class.
As a visiting foreigner, the water situation in Lucy’s home is one of my most immediate concerns. I must not drink the tap water, and I have to be careful not to swallow water from the shower. The water runs 24 hours a day, thanks to a storage tank kept full on top of the house. Moreover, there is always clean water for me to drink, from a special barrel of clean water bought from a private vendor. This barrel is refilled every week; if we run out before then, Lucy boils tap water. When I venture out of the house, buying bottled water
Figure 4.1: Water storage tank on roof at Ortuño residence
across the street at a small store comes at no great expense relative to my wealth. My
situation is obviously very different from that of most Cochabambinos.
In order to draw the starkest contrast with my own water situation living at the Ortuño residence, I will start by describing Sivingani, a barrio far south of the city center. I then examine the water committee in San Miguel at length before finishing with an investigation into the water situation in Lomapampa. In moving between sites, I will examine a diversity of approaches towards obtaining water and varied attitudes towards the human right to water. In combination with the Ortuño home, these three sites provide a fertile set of experiences for data and analysis. Commonalities observed and lessons learned will be reserved for the final chapter.
Sivingani: Rapping for Water
Sivingani is about as far from Villavicencia y D’Orbigni as possible without leaving the city. Sivingani is a rural community on the outskirts of Cochabamba city, less than ten years old and with most of its inhabitants migrants recently arrived from elsewhere. Despite its status as a ‘new’ community, water was bringing the people of Sivingani together as they collectively organized to improve a water network in the barrio. In the process, they engaged with popular discourse derived from the Water War ten years earlier, successfully mobilizing this language to help them solve the collective action problem and attract the attention of ASICA-Sur and other helpful authorities. I visited Sivingani several times in the summer of 2011 as a volunteer with Rutgers in Bolivia; our visits were coordinated in part by Fundación Abril, and coincided with a major project by the water committee in Sivingani.
After an hour’s trip outside the city, passing by unnamed neighborhoods and empty fields, we arrived at Sivingani. It was apparent we were on the very outskirts of the city. Amenities like tiendas, health clinics, or web cafés were mostly absent. The homes were much more dispersed, and dust hung lazily in the air.
When we arrived, we were thrust straight into action: a shovel in one hand and a bottle of sunscreen in the other, I trudged with the rest of the American volunteers up the hill to dig with the community members of Sivingani. I spent the morning, and several to come, side-by-side with a pickaxe-wielding woman, and we traded off breaking up the dirt and moving it aside to build a new trench that would house PVC pipe to carry water. We were only one pair of three dozen or so such pairs working along a three-hundred foot area on the side of the hill.
It was only when I returned to the place where we had parked our car when I learned more about our job and its larger purpose. First, I realized that the building we had parked at was actually an office for the water committee. Second, all the leaders were men. Third, I saw that there was much hustle and bustle at the office, with about eight men circled up talking to Pamela outside and another few men and women coming and going from the office. Any doubt about the community’s enthusiasm for the water committee was diminished as bullhorns on the office began to chant slogans and play music; cumbia switched off with “¡Agua para todos!” for a while. Very quickly we were on a tour of the barrio with two of the gregarious committee members.
Some members of the water committee already owned small tanks in their homes, which they fill with water bought from carros cisternos, private vendors in trucks who come every week, selling five or ten barrels to houses that buy once a week or once a month based on size. This is the only method for obtaining water for non-members.
We also learned that the reason we were digging was to connect two tanks.
All work for water access was being undertaken wholly by the community, without any assistance from the government. Left to fend for themselves, Sivingani and the rest of District 9 (an agricultural zone in the far south of the city) have opted to run their own water services. As the committee members, Don Orlando and Don Florencio, told the story, Sivingani (and the rest of District 9) had been left out of SEMAPA’s plans all along. “That’s how it’s been structured, and we’ve been left behind,” except as a dumping ground, something Don Orlando found bitterly ironic: “They refuse to give us waste services, but they dump their waste here.”
Figure 4.2: Don Florencio of Sivingani
(Como El Agua 2011)
Despite this oppressive situation, the members of the Sivingani water committee were optimistic. Don Florencio, the president, was especially so. Perpetually topped with a straw hat and speaking with a slight lisp, he was a born politician in the best sense, always ready to expound on his cause. He explicitly linked the situation in Sivingani to Bolivian citizenship, saying “In the political constitution of the state, water is life, it is a right; it is vital to the political life of the Bolivian state.” Don Florencio was incredibly proud of the federal powers in La Paz backing his efforts in modest Sivingani, but I would come to find that his enthusiasm for the force of legislation and its ability to improve life was the exception rather than the rule.
Don Orlando, another leader in the water committee, declaimed the merits of ASICA-Sur, the association of water committees, emphasizing that it allowed committee systems “the option to try to improve our service provision—each can try to finance a new tank or drill a new well with their help. They also help with workshops that allow communities to help one another with management, and other improvements.” Don Fabricio, the oldest of the leaders, continued in a low voice and steady cadence that signified confidence in their work: “ASICA-Sur was formed to help with water in the south. There is a directory where they call us from to help plan and carry out projects that are sent to La Paz for approval [for federal funding]. That’s their work.”
ASICA-Sur did not only provide technical support: they were a rallying ground for those sharing a common experience of water poverty. This experience was communicated through the language of exclusion. Don Florencio’s son Alvaro had been recruited to tape a rap song for ASICA-Sur. Rap music in Bolivia has been a successful medium for spreading messages of social justice, and groups like Wayna Rap take explicitly progressive political stances (Dangl 2007:171). Like Wayna Rap, Alvaro rapped in a mixture of Spanish and indigenous languages (Quechua or Aymara), heightening the sense that this music belonged to the indigenous-languages-speaking inhabitants of la zona sur, as did the common experience of exclusion from municipal water service.
In Sivingani, the state’s abandonment of its people was turned on its head and understood as an opportunity to demonstrate a capacity for self-reliance. Though the state did not respect the inhabitants of Sivingani, dumping waste while denying services, those same inhabitants were working together to take advantage of every opportunity, their aspirations expanding to fit the spacious promises made by the federal government in La Paz. As Alvaro rapped in person for us, freestyle: “They can take our water but they can’t take our self-respect/The future is ours to take.”
San Miguel: “We have raised our voices”
Villa San Miguel was a twenty-minute drive past Lago Alalay and into the southern district. There were four of us student-volunteers, joined by Maria Eugenia (Mauge) from Fundación Abril and by our professor, Pamela. The driver was a young man who would drive us twice weekly for the rest of our stay and never say more than two words at a time.
We got out and stretched our legs, wondered whether we needed to put on sunscreen, and followed Pamela up a hill. A small, bespectacled man descended with his arm outstretched. “Don Eufracio!” exclaimed Pamela, and soon we were seated in a semi-circle in Don Eufracio’s garage, two to a stool. There were a dozen-odd people in the open garage, with several older women seated outside as well. We students looked at one another nervously, unsure of what would be expected of us in this situation. Someone passed around plastic cups and a bottle of Coke. I tried to keep up with the Spanish flying around and felt better when I realized that my incomprehension was mostly due to the fact that many of the words were actually Quechua—not something I would have learned in the U.S.
Finally it was deemed an acceptable time to start the meeting. We were joined by several youth, seated to our left—“jovenes.” Directly across from us were four older women, each to be addressed with the honorific Doña signifying an older woman of status. Then to our right sat Don Eufracio, the president of the water committee, and two men who seemed to be his lieutenants. Dogs came and went.
The proceedings were opened by Pamela, who explained who we were and how glad we were to be there. After we briefly introduced ourselves, Pamela and Don Eufracio did the same. We learned about the history of the barrio and the water committee. The committee was founded in 1998 with an initial network of 200 connections; two years ago, another 688 connections were added, bringing the total of inhabitants covered by the committee to an estimated 3500. In that same year the committee was certified as a Potable Water vendor by EPSA and AAPS. Committee leadership is elected every two years, and we were told that decisions were made by consensus at monthly meetings of the 300 active members of the committee.
Then came the turn of one of Don Eufracio’s companions. He started by saying, “There is a right to water.” Then he sighed, looked down at his worn and creased shoes, and talked for the next ten minutes straight. “Water is a right,” he said, “but that does not mean we have it; the government promises it, but that does not mean it can provide it. All of this we have built ourselves: the barrio which we made the bricks for, the pipes we laid ourselves for the water network. We have raised our voices,” his tired voice proclaimed, “but still we are ignored.” He said this and more without raising his voice, speaking instead as if he were reading from a script.
The older women, however, were not so quiet. They spoke animatedly, more in Quechua than in Spanish, gesturing and speaking with real righteousness. Pamela whispered translations to us: “We are real people too. We have needs, and the government must recognize this! The middle classes, the working classes, they must have water.” It was rousing to hear their enthusiasm, and I felt good about our chances to be able to help out.
Afterwards we walked around the barrio, which is situated on the side of a hill. The climb was steep—on a later date Mauge would slide down an embankment trying to scale it. That day we were just taken to see the tanks at the top of the hill: big concrete cubes. There were two of them at the top of that hill, one 80 cubic meters, the other 50 cubic meters; when the new additions were made to the network, a new, 300-cubic-meter tank was built to accommodate them, on another ridge. Water, Don Eufracio explained, came to the tanks from a well, 100 meters deep, a kilometer away, owned by the committee. When the tanks periodically needed to be cleaned, members of the committee would assemble with buckets of bleach and flashlights and descend for a day of communal labor. Every bit of the water network had been built with their own labor and money, with some support from European NGOs and ASICA-Sur.
We then decided we had enough time to practice reading a meter to prepare for our work the next week. Collectively, we walked up to an unsuspecting resident’s house. Don Eufracio handily opened the meter box and pronounced how much water (reported in cubic meters) the family had used. One of the young men handed me a clipboard, and next thing I knew I was writing down numbers in a spreadsheet while standing over the PVC pipe that brought water to the household.
Our task was then laid out for us. As we strode through the streets back towards our waiting car, I learned why so many meters needed to be read. We passed a large, open pit, perhaps eight feet deep. I asked Mauge what it was. I didn’t know the word she responded with—“alcantarillado,” or sewer system—so Pamela explained it to me. “This is a sewer system that the city is trying to put in.” She exchanged some words in Spanish with Mauge, and translated for me: “The construction of the system has damaged the pipes of the water committee’s system, and for that reason they’ve shut down the water since last December.” Looking at Pamela’s concerned face, I did not think she had been aware of this difficulty.
The committee’s water supply had been broken for the last seven months of the year, and so no readings had been taken in a very long time. Readings had to be taken, and payments made, now that the well was producing water again (if weakly, as I would learn as time went on). We would be responsible for taking readings all over the barrio. I had no reason then to suspect the challenges that would face me and the other volunteers over the next six weeks; indeed, I had no idea of the difficulties that had already beset the water committee in San Miguel.
When we returned to San Miguel the next week, a plan seemed to be in place. Mike, Daysi, Elizabeth, Khrystle and I were to assist the committee by checking the meters of the entire barrio, some 888 in all. We pulled into Don Eufracio’s driveway once more and walked up to his family-owned store.
Soon Don Eufracio was showing us a map of the barrio, dividing us up into teams, and pointing to different manzanos (blocks) that each team would be responsible for visiting. Each team received a clipboard with a worksheet, showing the households whose meters we would check. As we watched Don Eufracio shuffle through his papers to try to figure out which meters had already been checked, it became painfully obvious that accounts were kept by hand, rather than computer. We waited around for some time for more people from the committee to show up, but it turned out that Don Roberto (one of Don Eufracio’s lieutenants) had forgotten and was caught up elsewhere. No one else came to help.
I went out with Mauge to read the meters the first time. We ambled from house to house, reading meters and talking with households about the importance of keeping the meter clean and knowing where one’s meter was located.
Reading a meter consists of three steps. First, one must locate the meter. This is often the most difficult step. Meters are always encased in a concrete box, through which the PVC pipe carrying water passes (in from the street towards the home). However, the concrete box (which has a door on top of it) is often covered with gravel or dirt and is sometimes buried underground. In one extreme instance, we found a meter that had been paved over.
Secondly, one must open the meter. This, too could be very challenging. In a perfect world, the door could be opened with a wrench, which unlocks it. However, dirt or weathering often made it impossible for the wrench to grab onto the door. Worse, the internal metal arm of the lock was sometimes found to have rusted—in that case the door was said to be stuck, trancado or atascado. In this case we would ask the household if it could fetch some oil; if they didn’t have oil, Coca Cola. This would be sprinkled on the stuck part of the door in the hopes that it would open. Most of the time we could eventually get the doors open, but in ten or twelve cases the door was completely stuck, and we had to leave it without writing down a reading.
Thirdly, one must read the meter and record the reading. One of us would bend down and wipe the dirt off the glass and read the number on the meter. The meters were cumulative, so that the current reading would be matched against the previous one to find out how much had been used since the last reading. In one instance, we found a meter that was so high that we had to conclude that there must be a leak somewhere, and advised the family to find it. Sometimes the meter would read zero, or almost zero, which meant the family had discontinued using the water committee water at all.
This process was repeated twice weekly, lasting for three hours at a time, for five more weeks. By and large the general process was rote and did not deviate often from the process I have described above. Though our visit to each home was for the same purpose, we learned different things on different visits. As time went on, I observed signs that the water committee in San Miguel was not as healthy as I believed during that first visit to the barrio. As I noted, a number of meters read zero: I was about to find out why.
Lost (Hidden?) Meters
Reading the meters would have been much faster process if a significant portion of them had not been buried, lost, grown over with weeds, or purposefully hidden. I would spend a quarter of an hour sometimes digging through earth with a pick-axe (picota) looking for a meter. This would happen even with the presence of a household resident, whose helpfulness ran the gamut from open disregard to complete befuddlement to a genuine desire to help. Once we had to move a pile of bricks that had been piled up on top of the meter by accident; we dug up countless meters from under dirt or overgrowth.
Many meters’ location, though, seemed to be no accident. When we saw a pile of rocks on the sidewalk, we looked there first, because more often than not the meter would be underneath the rocks. When I asked people about why meters seemed to be hidden, they responded that there were robbers who would take them. Don Eufracio and Mauge told me this had never happened in San Miguel, but they understood why people were worried, and accepted hidden meters as part of the job. The complicated situation certainly spoke to the atmosphere of distrust that pervades certain parts of the southern zone.
However, Don Eufracio did not excuse families who had lost their meters completely. I saw several families receive a scolding after being unable to locate their water meters. Don Eufracio and Mauge saw upkeep of the meter as a basic tenet of membership in the committee; as a meter reader, and therefore the one who had to deal with finding meters under dirt, cleaning dusty meters, or unlocking rusted doors, I understood why. This part of the scolding was usually followed with a reminder that the individual should be present at water committee meetings.
The implications of a lack of participation could be illustrated through an encounter I had with one man whose meter I had read. He asked what I was doing, and I explained that I was a volunteer with the water committee. He became very confused and said he had already paid his water bill, and insisted that we were mistaken to say that he had an outstanding water bill. Don Eufracio was passing through, and so I called to him for help. Don Eufracio asked the man to produce his receipt of payment, which he did after returning to his house. Don Eufracio put on his glasses and held the bill up to his face. “This isn’t a water bill!” he exclaimed, laughing. “This is for your waste! Don’t worry, though,” he added, “you have not used much water. Your bill will be very small for the water.”
The resident laughed weakly, apparently relieved that there was no real reason for conflict. He said he hadn’t been to meetings and had only recently moved to the area. I encountered another several individuals who were similarly unaware that the committee had meetings, and several who thought the water supply was permanently broken. These incidents reveal the lack of information that pervaded the barrio. For recent migrants to the city, who made up a significant portion of San Miguel’s residents, figuring out how to navigate the field of bills and responsibilities that came with urban living could be difficult, leading to misconceptions about the water committee’s function.
Even though there were several other elected offices within the water committee—vice president, recording secretary, treasury secretary, vocal—the only one to meet us every week was Don Eufracio, the president of the water committee. For the first few visits, we would arrive at Don Eufracio’s house and wait for fifteen or twenty minutes while Pamela and Mauge made phone calls. Towards the end, we gave up on looking for help, either from other elders in the neighborhood or from the youth who were reputedly going to help us around in the first place. When I questioned Don Eufracio about this in my interview, he admitted that attendance at water committee meetings had suffered badly as of late, mostly due to recent problems with the water supply that were out of his hands. He also noted his concern that he was the only one who knew the full extent of how the water committee worked knowledge that had gotten him reelected as president of the committee several times. However, he knew he was getting older and was hopeful someone younger would take over soon.
Why would someone quit using the water? As Don Eufracio mentioned during the first meeting, the water that came from the pipes was salty—so salty, in fact, that it often had a milky-white tinge when put into a container. It could hardly be used for washing clothes or dishes—they would be left caked with salt—though, left with no choice, people did sometimes do exactly that. This was the main complaint that people had about the water, though other important complaints will be noted later. When asked, Don Eufracio said that the water used to be better—agua dulce, potable water—which led me to believe that the aquifer the well drew from must be nearing depletion. (After speaking to others, I confirmed that this is a pervasive, significant threat facing water committees in the southern zone.)
This idea was reinforced by the fact that water flow is very low in San Miguel: the well produces an average of 0.43 liters per second. Peter Gleick (1996:91) has estimated that individuals need 50 liters per day minimum for basic domestic needs. By my calculations, the well that the water committee owns must produce 37,152 liters per day, enough to support 743 people by Gleick’s standards, far short of the 3,500 in all the households that were members of the committee.
This shortfall can be explained in three ways. First, as I learned while reading meters, many members of the committee did not use the committee as a primary strategy for procuring water—every fifth or sixth one seemed to read close to zero. Second, the committee was buying water in bulk (en bloque) from SEMAPA to make up for the lack of productivity by the well. Third, the people of San Miguel do not use as much water as is recommended by Gleick. When I asked people how they used water, they usually responded that they used it to clean. Fresh juice, chicha (corn beer), soft drinks, and beer are much more common drinks for mealtime—not water.
The low quantity of water being provided by the water committee’s well was certainly a source of consternation amongst committee members, and especially Don Eufracio, who saw their choice to build the well where they did (with expert input) as a grave mistake. In reality, it was a crapshoot. The inability of the committee to provide adequate water services, even if it wasn’t their fault, led to a corresponding loss of respect and trust in the committee amongst community members, manifested in a lack of participation in meetings and upkeep.
In one instance, we got to a house and found the kind of mark on the wall that usually signified that the water line went under that spot (meaning the meter should be a couple of feet beyond the wall perpendicular to that spot). But the entire area where the meter could have been was paved over with concrete. Mauge (my companion for the day) knocked on the door. A young woman with a baby in her arms opened the metal gate suspiciously. We asked her if she could show us where her water meter was.
“Meter? I don’t think we have one,” she responded. I showed her where the meter should have been. A look of understanding passed over her face, and she said, “We paved over it, that’s right. We didn’t get water any of last year, so we didn’t think it mattered.” Mauge and I looked at one another in disappointment. The committee’s temporary inability to provide water had led to the permanent loss of one of its members.
The committee did not have the capital to go out and invest in a new well anytime soon, and in the meantime it was apparent that the committee was losing respect and viability as an alternative to other water procurement strategies. I did not realize how much damage was done, affecting not just the comité but the well-being of the people, until my second-to-last day working with the committee, when the Rutgers students brought cameras to conduct video interviews with barrio residents.
On Camera—the Storekeeper and the Baby
While I had seen first-hand how a lack of good water was affecting San Miguel, I assumed people were coping one way or another. The barrio didn’t seem especially poor, and bottled water was available, if expensive (4 bolivianos or so for a bottle). But the visceral way that water insecurity affected San Migueleños hadn’t been put on full display quite yet.
Mike, one of the Rutgers students, was my companion for the day as we walked around looking for people to interview. A woman saw him with his camera and asked what we were doing; eventually she ended up agreeing to share her thoughts. Doña Catarina was a long-time resident of San Miguel (over twenty years), and this was her perspective on the water situation:
Well, I’ve lived here 20 years and we have always received water from cistern trucks. Over time they got the ability to pump groundwater, but I have never consumed from it because it was very salty and it wasn’t good for consumption, or even to wash clothes, and for that reason I rarely use that water…. If you want to wash the walls, it will ruin your walls. If you want to wash the street, maybe it’s good for that, but I don’t even use it for that. What am I going to waste it for? For the street I use what’s left over from washing clothes and other things… Yes, we get it from trucks. That water is usually fresh water that they bring from the Northern Zone. It’s water we can still drink. We also don’t know if it’s really clean water, but what else are we going to do? That’s the water we use. Each day, here in the house I use about three barrels, that’s about 15 bolivianos per day. It’s the most expensive water. Of course it strains the budget. But what else are we supposed to do? (Como El Agua 2011)
Doña Catarina’s budget was compromised due to the high price of water from the only
reliable source (private trucks). I couldn’t help but think of the anecdotes I’d heard from
the Water War, of families who had to ration their meals or stop children from going to school for fear of not having enough money to pay the water bill. In this case, the problem wasn’t severe enough to merit direct action, but it seemed to me almost as sinister in its relative dullness—the quotidian nature of the problem. While Doña Catarina didn’t provide any details, there is no question that savings that would come from using less expensive water would make a difference to her finances. The opportunity cost of buying water from trucks was high, but it was one families had to pay if they wanted to be able to drink.
Later that same, sunny afternoon, I was around the corner reading meters when Mike asked me to help him with an interview. Don Eufracio, my partner that day, had headed back to his house to fetch another alicate (pliers), so I agreed to help for a minute.
We walked together to the front of a typical Bolivian general store to find a middle-aged woman. Mike told me in English that she wanted to talk, and asked me to hold the camera while he spoke to her. He explained to her who we were and what we were doing, and then indicated to me to start taping.
At first she was shy, or vague, when responding to his questions. He asked her whether she was a water committee member. She said she was not. He asked why; she said the water was bad, shaking her head soberly as she answered. Mike pressed her—what did she mean that the water was bad?
“The water that comes from the faucet is a very poor quality. Even the water that the committee has bought from the trucks that deliver to the big tanks. All my children have been sick because of this water, especially that one,” she said, pointing to a boy perhaps three years old. “For a month he had rashes. All over his body. I had to take him to the doctor he was so sick. The doctor said it was from the water. That sickness, and who knows how many more the water might have caused.” Her sorrow turned to anger. “What do we do to deserve this, when even the water will poison you? The innocent children, too?”
I had no answer.
The Last Meeting; Alalay and the Country Club
Every time we drove south to San Miguel, we passed Laguna Alalay on our right side. The lake has several soccer fields on its eastern edge, and I was pleasantly surprised to see baseball fields to the south. The water was mostly a greenish color, thanks to the amount of growth all over the surface—Pamela told me it was because of nitrogen that had leached into the lake. Though the lake was a public park, we were always advised not to visit it, as it was known we would be targeted and mugged.
Just to the right other side of the road (El Circuito Bolivia), the Cochabamba Country Club’s fairways stretched out parallel to our route. From the car we could glimpse a well-manicured golf course, whose verdant expanse contrasted intensely with the brown hills and densely-packed concrete homes that made up the area south of the course. The Country Club web site shows pictures of an equestrian club, modern fitness facilities, fit golfers in the middle of their swings, and a swimming pool (Country Club Cochabamba).
The Country Club and Laguna Alalay together marked the transition to the southern zone of Cochabamba where SEMAPA had only barely made inroads. The contrast was jarringly ironic and troubling. Audubon International estimates the average American golf course uses 312,000 gallons (equivalent to 1,181 cubic meters) of water a day (Deford 2008). All this water so that a couple dozen people or so a day could play a game, when the people of the southern zone were going thirsty. It wasn’t just the quantity, but the quality as well. The water going to the golf course had to be of a higher quality than what San Migueleños were being offered; the beautiful flowerbeds would never grow if watered with such salty water. The juxtaposition of two very different water situations stuck with me throughout the ride, and beyond to this day.
We pulled into San Miguel one final time. Pamela, a native boliviana, had herself gotten sick that morning from eating vegetables washed with unclean water; nearly as soon as we had gotten out, she called a car to come get her to take her to the doctor. Don Eufracio, in his signature many-pocketed vest and blue hat, met us and escorted us into his home.
Today was the day of our despedida, our farewell. A despedida is a big thing in Bolivian culture: a time to celebrate, to say a goodbye, and formally recognize the reciprocal relations that have bound two groups. The other despedidias I’d been to had been big affairs, so I was surprised to find that our despedida was just going to be us and Don Eufracio. We ate dinner in a large meeting room, invited the driver in, and drank chicha. The size of the room, Don Eufracio’s physical smallness, and the absence of any of the peripheral characters in our story—the youths who were supposed to help us read meters, the old women who attended our first meeting, Mari Eugenia (Mauge) or Don José—combined to lend an air of sadness to the proceedings.
We knew that Don Eufracio was essentially alone in his job, and it seemed that he wasn’t up to the seemingly Sisyphean task. As he told me, he was too old for the job, but no one else wanted it. It wasn’t an easy position. The challenges facing the committee were great, and it seemed they couldn’t get a break. When the committee built a well, it turned out to be a poor investment, and only ten years after its construction was hardly producing any water, and even that was salty. When the committee bought water from SEMAPA to make up this shortfall, that water gave children rashes and drove away committee members. When the committee had built a new network, the pipes were damaged by the state’s construction of a sewer system. When we came to help, we were greeted with gratitude and commitment; but when we left, it was Don Eufracio only who said goodbye, and I feared the deck had been stacked against him all along.
Lomapampa: The first gringo to come by micro
Figure 4.4: Lomapampa
I had only been in Cochabamba for a couple hours when I arrived in Lomapampa, a dusty barrio situated in the hills on the outskirts of the city, for the first time. It was the first of July, and I would be joining the rest of my study-abroad program there to start our volunteer work in the barrio. I would find out later that I hadn’t been expected to come that day at all, as I was alone and very worn out from my travel from the United States, but on that first day I didn’t want to make a bad first impression of laziness on my professors or peers, and so I decided to go.
This was easier said than done. My host mother, being a sensible upper-middle class Cochabambina, never traveled to the southern zone, which has a reputation for violence and lawlessness. Hence, she did not know how to get me to Lomapampa. We took a taxi to a bus stop and she inquired around, ultimately pushing me onto a schoolbus-sized vehicle painted red, yellow, and blue (a micro). I asked the driver, with a bit of consternation, “A Lomapampa?” He nodded, took my two bolivianos, and kept driving.
Tired, I sat down in one of the bench seats. I had to turn sideways, because I was too tall and the benches too close together. I clutched my bag tight between my knees: all the travel books I’d read said buses were one of the most likely places for robberies. I was on my way, and I started observing earnestly. There was nothing that was not new: the sight of women dressed in traditional chola garb, the smell of the street, the many honking cars. I hung on to all of it. Nonetheless in the heat I began to drift off to sleep, the long hours of travel finally catching up to me. We spent what felt like an hour stuck in the central market of the city, La Cancha. I wove in and out of consciousness; I remember a man came on board to sell toothbrushes. When I finally awoke we were speeding down a kind of highway, and the euphoria of being in a new place returned. The refrain of the Bob Dylan song popped into my head: “A complete unknown/just like a rolling stone.”
Lomapampa was the last stop on the line. The bus jerked to a stop and I got out. I was the only one still on the bus. I was not sure if I was at all in the right place. I couldn’t see any gringos, that was for sure, and this barrio looked just like all the other ones I had passed. But then two faces emerged from behind a building on a hill, and, descending, I recognized Dr. Daniel Goldstein—who looked mostly relieved—and Dr. Pamela Calla—who was laughing.
“Hayden,” Pamela said, “I think you are the first gringo to ever come to Lomapampa by micro!” So began my first visit to Lomapampa. Two experiences in Lomapampa allegorized the water situation there, illustrating viscerally how central water can be in the struggle between life and death.
Every weekend, on Sunday afternoons, all the study-abroad participants would travel to Lomapampa to teach children. Some taught crafts, or dance; I was in the group teaching physical education. We often taught basketball, since the kids were better than
Figure 4.5: Teaching basketball in Lomapampa
we were at soccer anyways. For some strange reason there is a basketball hoop in every barrio in Cochabamba, even if almost no one knows how to play. As the sun beat down we would do dribbling drills, passing exercises, and the occasional scrimmage. Unaccustomed as we were to the high altitude, the four of us gringos teaching the class had to make sure we drank a lot of water. (We always made sure to bring bottled water for ourselves.) After the first time we scrimmaged, though, we saw the way the children watched us drink. We collectively realized the children had no water, and held out the bottle to one of them. They passed around the bottle until every drop was gone. From then on, we brought bottled water for them.
The quality of the little water available in Lomapampa is as much of a problem as its scarcity. The second experience began during a lunchtime in Lomapampa. I was eating and realized I had forgotten my water bottle. As is the case throughout Bolivia, Lomapampa had a small corner tienda where one could buy snacks, mobile phone credits, drinks, and other sundries. I went to the tienda in Lomapampa and asked for a water, as I had before. This time, thought, they said they had no bottles; a girl, maybe twelve, brought me a plastic pouch, straight from a refrigerator against the back wall. It only cost a boliviano or so, so I bought two.
I was immediately suspicious, because I had never seen water sold this way before. But when I got back to lunch, my professors and our Bolivian guides found nothing objectionable about the bagged water. It was sealed and clean, so I drank it. This was on Sunday. I was okay until the next day, when I went home with what I believed to be heat exhaustion; I did not sleep Monday night, and was in the emergency room Wednesday. I was hospitalized Thursday. I was back home by Saturday night, but the fundamental lesson was simple: bad water can kill. It is likely that the water in the bag was merely well or SEMAPA water, unfiltered (and certainly unsafe for me) and simply put in a bag for retail (this is a common complaint against aguateros). There is an analogous situation in the United States, where bottled water—which costs much more than tap water—is often just tap water put into a bottle. The difference is that the tap water in most of the U.S. won’t make you sick.
Had I been unable to afford care, or been unable to access care, my situation may have been much worse. Though grown Bolivians might drink the bag-water without any problem, building up that resistance takes a toll, or, as is discussed in the San Miguel case, lead to illness. These two cases taken together were vivid, lived illustrations to me of the centrality of clean water to life in Lomapampa, despite its relative absence. One doctor estimated to me that eight percent of illnesses in Cochabamba were related to the lack of clean water.
When I returned to Cochabamba in January, one of my goals was to revisit Lomapampa and learn more about its water situation. I was able to do this primarily through the helpfulness of Don Álvaro, the president of Lomapampa, who I came to know throughout the Rutgers program. Don Álvaro had been a primary informant for Dr. Goldstein, who sought to return the favor by organizing a service-learning program that would work in Don Álvaro’s neighborhood (i.e., the program I attended).
Álvaro Murillo was Presidente of the OTB of Lomapampa and had a personality fit for his office. A short, squat man with a booming laugh, weathered face, and a gold tooth, Don Álvaro is spoken of admirably by his peers. He is well-respected for his leadership, loyalty, and faith, including his ability to defuse conflicts. I never asked his age, but he has several children and one granddaughter. He earns money working as a cab driver some days, and his wife is part of a small business cooperative. Like many of the inhabitants of Cochabamba, he was not born in the city, but rather hails from a rural area of Cochabamba Department.
While I visited with Don Álvaro, we would often spend the first half of our conversation on water-related topics, guided only by my curiosity. During the second half—over lunch, perhaps—the discussion would turn to religion. Don Álvaro would tell me, “Ask everything you want now. But I will ask questions later.” Don Álvaro told me he had been baptized several times, but finally found the true faith after reading the teachings of William Marrion Branham. Our relationship was founded on mutual curiosity about one another’s backgrounds and knowledge: I would draw him a map of the U.S., he would show me how he collected rainwater, and so on.
The first thing I asked Don Álvaro in a formal interview, in January, was fairly open-ended. We were sitting outside on his patio, a couple feet from his barrel of water. It was a sunny day, though clouds lingered in the distance, hiding the distant mountaintops from view. He had just finished handling some business with an elderly visitor, indecipherable to me because it was conducted in Quechua. “What is the water situation like in Lomapampa?” I queried.
He took a deep breath, and said conclusively, “No existe.”
Don Álvaro didn’t mean, of course, that there was literally no water consumed in Lomapampa. There was no central, organized water system—SEMAPA did not exist here, south of San Miguel, and neither did any water committee. How, then, did Lomapampeños get their water?
The next question I asked Don Álvaro was “Do you participate in the administration of your water?” My thought was that social control had been such a big emphasis during the Water War—had it become anything more than an idea here in Lomapampa?
“No, no. We can’t participate in the administration of our water because it’s not from the government!” he responded.
In the early days of the barrio, residents could get their water from a creek on a nearby ridge. Since 2000, though, getting water from the creek had ceased to be a viable strategy; like many such sources around the valley, it had dried up. Ten or so families owned their own small wells on this ridge, but this water was drying up, Don Álvaro believed. Today, a majority of the barrio uses a mixed rainwater/water truck strategy.
During the summertime, rain is the most important source of water for Lomapampeños, and is preferable to other sources of water. Lomapampeños are enthusiastic about rainwater not just because it is basically free—one must only buy a barrel to keep it in—but also because it is clean. One resident I asked told me enthusiastically that water bought from trucks would turn colors after two weeks, but that rain water, being clean, would not turn colors for six months after collection. Rainwater was collected during the summer months via basic catchment systems, and stored in barrels, as seen in Figure 4.6.
Figure 4.6: Don Álvaro showing off his rainwater collection system
The other strategy used by Lomapampeños was to buy water from carros cisternos, or water trucks. These trucks could be seen driving all over Cochabamba. They were owned by private vendors, whose operations were of varying size and quality. The price of a barrel was about five bolivianos, but varied slightly in proportion to the price of gasoline. Water from trucks was cheaper than government water. Families would buy more barrels each week, but could be at the mercy of the vendors. Sometimes a truck would not come in a given week; there was no contract requiring them to, in any case. The consumers were at the mercy of the vendors in another way, too: there were no promises as to the source of the water. As noted before, the water would turn colors after two weeks, suggesting that it wasn’t always of the highest quality, containing impurities or bacteria. One certainly couldn’t trust it to cook with or drink—whenever possible, the water was boiled before use, or even treated with cloro (chlorine). Then the water is used to drink, cook, garden, wash clothes, wash the house—anything.
Figure 4.7: A cistern truck in a neighborhood in central Cochabamba
I learned that Don Álvaro had solicited SEMAPA to extend its water network to Lomapampa. He had paid for architect’s plans and environmental reports with barrio money, and turned in a formal application to the government. Unfortunately, that was five years ago, and he has never received any kind of answer.
Therefore, Don Álvaro, like others, was skeptical that water would reach the southern zone any time soon. “Sinceremente, it does not seem to me that water will ever reach the periurban population, the poor and the middle classes. Even the center of the town—even there, only maybe,” he mused. There was a terrible tramite, he said, in terms of applications to get water, but that wasn’t all that there was.
It was more than that: it was a question of fundamental inequality. The rich families had bought the land in Cala Cala with water, but the south was desiccated. Don Álvaro saw this inequality erupting at the locus of human rights.
“Water is a human right, guaranteed to all human beings,” Don Álvaro proclaimed. “It is like the sun—it is a right that one can sit in the sun, no? It’s the same with water,” he said, “No one can have it all. People charging for water is like a rich neighbor making a building that blocks the sun, and then making you pay for the sunlight!” Doña Cenovia, his wife, chimed in that water is “Para todos. God made it, and we are all God’s children.”
Nonetheless, the idea of a right to water was more problematic than it initially appeared:
For politicians, rights apply in politics, but not in daily life. The middle classes, the lower classes, they don’t have rights in reality. The police here need money for you to do something. We could go through the courts, but judges prefer people with more money. (Don Álvaro chuckles heartily.) I’ve been to Argentina, Chile—there police protect and help citizens. Here it’s the opposite. How can we talk about a right to water when we don’t even have the most basic rights of protection against crime? A right? Pura letra. (It’s just words.) Here you have to have money if you want someone to do something. There’s no guarantee of anything.
Don Álvaro continued to tell the story of a drunk-driving policeman who ran into him on the road. The policeman turned out to have fake plates, and was ultimately protected from prosecution by his friends. Don Álvaro could not talk about the right to water, because even more basic protections were still not presented to him. How could he expect due process in water supply if he could not get it in other instances?
Given this impunity, I couldn’t help but think of the moment in Heart of Darkness when the Russian realizes of the Nietzschean Kurtz, “there was nothing on earth to prevent him killing whom he jolly well pleased” (Conrad 1990:51). As in the jungle, there seemed to be no protection against the unfettered rule of force. In this case, that force was the embodied in the long list of disadvantages owned by the marginalized inhabitants of la zona sur, including poverty, ethnic minority status, and a state that had consistently all but denied them citizenship or its benefits, including water (Goldstein 2004:5).
Taking It Into Your Own Hands
Don Álvaro saw that the state could not be counted on to provide for the people of Lomapampa. He did not plan on waiting around another five years for SEMAPA’s response if he could help it. Even if he did receive a response from SEMAPA, he and other community activists provided reasons why it would be better not to rely on the government for water.
First, the government water was expensive. SEMAPA water, as stated above, cost more than private water. This was partially because the SEMAPA water came through tubes mixed with air, and the system did not have a pump that could take the air out. This meant that consumers ended up paying for water and air that came through their pipes and meters. Second, the government water was not of an especially high quality, something that was attributed to the fact that the water came in open canals that could be polluted. Finally, and most importantly, the inhabitants of Lomapampa had learned not to “trust the administration” because it was “corrupt and unreliable.”
Don Álvaro had two ideas for progress on this front, but neither would likely come to fruition anytime soon. The first was a joint project with other leaders of the southern OTBs—a grand plan for connecting the whole zone to the water network. The plans for this, he told me, were ready to go, but there wasn’t enough money for the project. “Waiting on finances!” he exclaimed. “Always.” Similarly, there wasn’t enough money to start a water committee, because of the massive initial investment required to construct the concrete tanks.
His second plan was even more independent, but was more of a short term fix. He wanted to buy a carro cisterno for the barrio, build a tank at the top of the hill, and supply water this way for the community. Water would be bought in bulk from SEMAPA and sold at a price that would pay for the truck, gas, maintenance, and a driver. This way, he said, they would know where the water was coming from, and have a reliable supply. Alas, there was no money for this, either. He didn’t know how much the tanks would cost, but a new Volvo (carro cisterno) cost $30,000, far out of the community’s budget.
The last word I got Don Álvaro to give on this matter before we slipped into theology discussion was this: “These are three hundred fifty families, more than a thousand people, without water. Human beings. And there isn’t enough water. They want water for all, but it doesn’t exist. The rich have it all.”
Other Voices: Visiting Fundacion Abril and AAPS
I knew all along that my return to Cochabamba in January 2012 couldn’t possibly last as long as I wanted it to, but I wanted it to last as long as I needed it to, long enough to gather evidence from the sources that were crucial to answering my ethnographic questions. Ten days in Cochabamba was enough to begin to feel comfortable, but not long enough to relax.
The most important informants in the quest to understand water in the southern barrios of Cochabamba are, of course, the inhabitants of those barrios. Other players, however, possess the capacity for insight into this situation, by virtue of their own history of work trying to service or influence it. Such players might include government agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), private businesses, missionaries, academics, and so on. My personal wish list of ‘other voices’ to include in this project included, at the outset, ASICA-Sur, SEMAPA, and Fundación Abril.
On my last full day in Cochabamba—Friday—I set out to get in contact with as many of these ‘other voices’ as possible.
This wasn’t the first time I had gone on such a quest, however. I had spent the previous days trying to track down a professor named Carlos Crespo whose work I had read on the internet. I knew that Dr. Crespo worked at a special institute of the university, called the Centro de Estudios Superiores Universitarios (at Universidad-Mayor San Simon). All Wednesday afternoon I had walked around the campus asking students and faculty if they knew where I might find this institute and the professor’s office. I was led on a wild goose chase for an hour or so until I finally found out the offices were located almost a mile away, off campus. Thursday afternoon I made my way to the offices only to find out Dr. Crespo was not in, and was indeed on vacation (though I did obtain his email address). From all of this I learned that such journeys could be quite unpredictable.
Luckily, Thursday afternoon I had also been able to finally get in touch with an elusive old acquaintance, Mari Eugenia, the same woman I had worked with in Villa San Miguel. We made plans to meet Friday morning at the Fundación Abril headquarters, which I was surprised to find were located in a house within walking distance. I strolled there, watching the clouds gather over the mountains to the northeast. I walked over SEMAPA meters installed in the sidewalk, and realized the Fundación Abril house would have running municipal water, unlike so many of the houses they were trying to help.
I was received into the house, and found five or six individuals working on different projects in three different rooms. One bearded, Spanish-looking man typed away at a computer. Two women in their thirties, dressed in the local hippie style, were poring over a map spread out over a table in the center of the main room. I was told to wait for just a moment; Mauge (Mari Eugenia) would arrive in five or ten minutes.
I started to search through the bookshelf of volumes, trying to pick one to read to pass. Andean studies, water, cooperative resource use, and anti-globalization were common themes. Before I could choose just one, though, Mauge arrived, and we removed ourselves to a small side office for the interview. She greeted me with a surprised smile and exclaimed in Spanish, “A gringo who came back!”
We sat down and I reviewed with her what exactly it was I had come looking for. I had a series of questions ready, but of course these proved only to be guidelines.
The most interesting outcome of the interview was the revelation that the Dr. Crespo I had been searching for before was actually one of the directors of Fundación Abril—a natural outcome, given the papers I’d read in which he’d readily espoused the kinds of social action this NGO engages in. I also suddenly had a wealth of leads to follow. Mauge recommended a book to me, gave me the author’s number, and told me where I could buy it. She also gave me Dr. Crespo’s number. Finally, and most importantly, she gave me a phone number for someone who worked at CTRL, the licensing body, and told me how to get to the offices of ASICA-Sur.
The first lead turned out to be about as good as dead: when I called the number, a totally different person answered. The number had changed, a common occurrence in Bolivia. The university office where the book could be bought was on the outskirts of town, and closed early that day; if I made the trip, I might not make it before the office closed, and everything else would be closed when I got back. I headed home to lunch and recoup, turning my attentions towards finding ASICA-Sur.
After a hearty meal I walked to the main avenue and hailed a cab. The cabbie and I talked about the weather, and, then, about his former job as a policeman. I asked whether he had been here during the water war. No, he said, he had been in Santa Cruz, in training; but he had heard rumors about how things had gone, and, anyways, he had been at the Gas War in La Paz, and that had been much of the same. From his description, it sounded like the police hadn’t had much of an idea what was going on: he painted a picture of confusion and inexperience, saying that the police didn’t know why they were fighting against the protesters and in many cases hadn’t been trained how to use their weapons (specifically, tear gas grenades). They had been happy to ultimately take advantage of the situation by, in the grand Bolivian tradition, joining the strike and petitioning the government for better wages.
I said goodbye to the driver when we hit a traffic jam two blocks from my destination. As I strode to where I thought the offices were, I thought about the difficult position the police had been put in during the Water and Gas Wars. While the police are known for being overwhelmingly corrupt, many of them surely empathized with the protesters, and had friends or relatives in their ranks.
I knew I was in the right place: directly across from the old Catholic church. But I didn’t see any offices. I looked at all the street signs. Nothing. I went into a mall to look or ask someone. There wasn’t anyone on the bottom floor, so I walked up. I saw two women working in an office, filing papers, and started to ask them where ASICA-Sur was. That was when I noticed the poster on the wall behind them, advertising for a conference on water in Bolivia. I looked up at the sign over the door and saw that it read CTRL—Comité Técnico de Registros y Licencias. I turned to my right: there, another office, this one governmental—AAPS—and, across from it, ASICA-Sur.
ASICA-Sur consisted of a single office, perhaps twenty feet by thirty feet, but no one was there: they were away on vacation. In the AAPS office across from it, however, a case officer was hearing the pleas of two middle-aged men. AAPS, I saw, stood for Autoridad de Fiscalización y Control Social de Agua Potable y Saneamiento Básico. It seemed to be exactly the kind of place I could learn something from. I settled into a chair by the door, indicating that I would wait, and started looking around. Above the bureaucrat’s head was a portrait of Evo Morales, a Bolivian flag (the national one, not the Wiphala), and a map of Cochabamba. There were only two desks.
I looked closer at the map of Cochabamba. It looked a lot like the one I had received at the beginning of my stay in the city, a gift from my travel agency. The city I had become familiar with was outlined in black, with no indication of what lay beyond its borders. Tellingly, I thought, it looked as if the city had been shifted downwards in the poster, so that its southern reaches were cut off, framed so that the poor austral barrios were not even acknowledged as part of the municipality.
The men at the desk exchanged a significant glance, stood up, shook the bureaucrat’s hand, and left. I walked to the desk and sat down. The man fussed with some papers for a second, then turned to face me. I introduced myself: I am a student, from the U.S.A. “Yo soy Richard. Como mi presidente favorito, Richard Nixon,” he returned, laughing over his joke.
I told him how I had ended up at AAPS, and what kind of information I was looking for. He was happy to oblige and asked only that I sign in to an official notebook he kept on his desk.
Richard started by telling me it was unfortunate, but ASICA-Sur was out on vacation this week. Still, he felt he could help me, and he did. It turns out that AAPS is in some sense a consumer protection agency. AAPS hears complaints against domestic water service providers (known as EPSAs). If a consumer feels that an EPSA is not fulfilling its legal obligations, he or she can complain to the EPSA. If the EPSA does not resolve the problem within 15 days they can bring the complaint to AAPS.
These complaints, Richard said, run the gamut, but most have to do with people who think they are being charged too much (una factura elevada, an “elevated bill”). Most of the time, he said, it is an error on the part of the EPSA (which is often SEMAPA). I mentioned the rumor I’d heard about water being mixed with air in the tubes, causing people to be overcharged. He responded that they had heard this rumor, too, and so were conducting tests to figure out how to fix it. In fact, he said, they had just hired a team of scientists to survey the water quality all around the city, whose work would commence in March 2012.
Richard’s fundamental job was to protect consumers’ rights. He used this word before I prompted him, saying very explicitly, “¡los usuarios tienen derechos!” These rights were listed in a pamphlet he gave me and anyone else who visited the office (see Appendix). I asked him about the “social control” aspect of AAPS. He responded by telling me about CTRL, the office across the way, whose members were “elected from the bases” and which received applications for new water licenses. “We regulate everyone,” he said. “From the aguateros to SEMAPA.”
Richard’s general feeling on SEMAPA was that, for better or worse, they were a business. “SEMAPA is a business, and therefore it thinks only of income and expenses,” he said. And that’s why they have no interest in improving their services. “Projects for improvement, no, there aren’t any, really. ¡Mentira! They don’t want to improve, or invest in, the system,” he said with disdain. In this comment I began to detect a trace of the experiences and beliefs that might have led him to this office in the first place. I asked him whether he had participated in the Water War. He laughed, and said, “Of course. We all did.”
I followed up by asking about something I had been trying to figure out for a while. “For you,” I said, “what was the Water War all about?” What I was trying to get at was a distinction I had noticed forming. Some people said the Water War was just about the price of water—that it had been triggered by the price increase put in place by Aguas del Tunari. Others, though, believed it was set off by the notion that water was a commodity at all, something that could be bought by a multinational corporation. In large part, I felt as if my more well-off informants ascribed to the former theory, whereas the informants who worked in water advocacy or who were from the southern zone tended to ascribe to the latter.
Richard’s response was intriguing, and fell into the latter category. “I will tell you what the Water War was all about. Do you know that there is a Pepsi plant here, and it has fifteen or sixteen wells? They don’t pay for it. They aren’t accountable to anyone. All around the plant, the water is drying up, and neighborhood wells will not be good anymore. This is the same as the Water War. It’s ten years gone, but it’s still here.” The linkage of a multinational corporation, and the blind eye turned by the government towards its practices by virtue of its links abroad, was immediate. The Water War wasn’t over.
Richard identified the contamination of the environment and the depletion of groundwater as the most pressing large-scale issues facing water management in the Cochabamba Valley. He did, however, believe there was hope, starting with a new approach to water that would center around uso racional (rational use). His office was conducting workshops throughout the city (and the peri-urban areas) on the “rational use” of water with respect to the environment. He wanted these workshops to be a vehicle to spread a more rational way of thinking about water. “Rational use” entailed, as I understood it, a hierarchy of uses for water (with human use at the top, then agricultural use, then industrial use, in Richard’s opinion), contractual rights between providers and consumers, and large-scale, long-term management incorporating environmental approaches and coordination between all stakeholders. Moreover, he hoped that this concept would be embedded in the coming Ley de Agua Potable, currently being developed by the Morales administration. We exchanged emails, I thanked him, and I left. On the way out I visited the CTRL office, but it was getting late and they were too busy to help me, and so sent me away with some pamphlets and promises to answer any emails I sent.
Later that night I was out at a café in the middle of the city. I was poring over my notes, trying to make sense of all that had transpired during my nearly two-week visit in the middle of January 2012. Nursing a mate de coca, I spied a familiar vendor. This man wore what looked to me like a fishing vest, but it was filled with cigarette boxes and packs of gum. Like a waiter balancing a tray of food on one hand, he carried a platter of his most popular offerings on his right hand, wading through the crowd inquiring as to whether anyone wanted any of his goods. I recognized him because I had bought gum from him on another occasion. Seeing me, he smiled and asked, “Do you want more gum?” I decided I’d like to have some for the plane ride home the next day and passed over a couple bolivianos. We got to talking about my trip, and ultimately I asked him about the Water War and its aftermath. My notes from that night show his response when I asked him about the right to water:
Water, if it is a right, still has to be paid for, at least in this country. And most people—especially in la zona sur (stresses this many times)—don't have the money. It's true that many of the barrios have cooperatives, but even then, the water, it is not good. Sometimes it is--for example, Taquiña has great water. But usually, the quality is low. The water comes from wells, and of course wells take money, and in the southern zone they don't have a lot of money, so a lot of the time the wells are not made properly. They might have been drilled in a bad place, so that the people only receive a little bit of water. Or they might be damaged, so that there is contamination. For this reason the people really only drink water off of trucks, which are private enterprises. It's not cheap, no, not at all... (asked about the water war) The people are not proud of the water war, no. Nothing has gotten better. How could they be? Nothing much has happened since then.
This response painted a starkly different picture from what I’d seen in the movie F.L.O.W., which depicted Cochabamba’s victory against privatization as a total success. As I had seen, difficulties were present at every step of the road in the quest for social control of water. One could start one’s own water committee, but it would require weeks of manual labor, as in Sivingani. One could apply for a license, but there was no guarantee the government would respond, as in Lomapampa. Once one had a water committee, there was the perpetual danger that a well would break or some other infrastructural problem, with costs greater than the committee’s resources, would undermine the thin layer of trust that held the committee together, as in San Miguel. Even though the campaign for rational management was underway at AAPS, there were significant hurdles to realizing this vision, including environmental degradation already done to the water supply in the valley.
I learned an immense amount from my experiences, all the way from the fields of Sivingani to the offices of Universidad de San Simon. What I learned challenged me constantly, requiring a move from the simple view of Cochabamba’s Water War as a victory against privatization into a more complex understanding of the war as a battle in a historically ongoing struggle by excluded populations for full citizenship. In the next chapter I will summarize the results of my ethnography before making the step into analysis.
Results and Discussion: Sun and Shadow in Cochabamba
A giant statue of Christ stands over Cochabamba. The city’s people claim it is the tallest Christ in the world, taller than the one in Rio de Janeiro, though there are rumors the Polish have topped it. Some people I met would like this be what Cochabamba is known for: a tall Christ. But it is not so. Cochabamba is known as the site of a popular social movement that said “no” to powerful interests abroad, the place where the right to water was defined and defended. While these things may be true, the preceding chapters have shown that this is not the whole story, which is much more complex and less triumphant than it may have seemed to be in 2000 when the Water Warriors pushed back against the World Bank.
A Spectrum of Experiences
The ethnography I conducted illustrates a wide view of experiences within the confines of la zona sur. While the people of Sivingani were just starting their water committee, the committee at San Miguel had been around for more than ten years, and seemed nearly finished. The water situation in the southern zone exhibits a diversity of experiences not only between barrios but also within them. Some people in a barrio can be very involved in water management while others are content to pay for private water.
Situations and opinions within the entire city are even more widely divergent, traceable mainly along the lines of geography from the center of the city to its waterless south. A variety of understandings of the meaning of water—and of the human right to water—were demonstrated, incorporating global/ecological, local/sociocultural, and transnational/market considerations (Conca 2006:216).
The case studies in Sivingani, Lomapampa, and San Miguel demonstrate that even within the southern zone there are a variety of situations, united by the common experience of exclusion. Exclusion is a sociocultural consideration that looms large in the minds of all marginalized peoples. The long history of exclusion from political processes for the poor and indigenous in Bolivia, including the apportioning of natural resources like water, makes exclusion the dominant lens through which many of my conversants narrated their experiences with water management.
The following table is the result of the twenty semi-structured interviews I held with individuals who a) lived in the southern zone, and b) were not employed in water management (though they might have been members of a water committee). Interviews were conducted on buses, in taxis, in restaurants, and on the street.
Water War made things better
Water War did not make things better
Water situation is improving
Water situation is not improving
People in the southern zone were less than enthusiastic about the possibility that their water situation would improve. This is not a shock, given that things haven’t improved in the last ten years. Perhaps more surprisingly, many opined that the Water War did not make things better, instead emphasizing that it prevented the situation from getting worse. This shows that the story told by FLOW and other media is incomplete and even misleading.
Exclusion figured largely in my discussions. Several individuals related water to dignity, including one who noted that before she had water she could not keep her home clean, which she was ashamed of. Water was also linked to humanity, and it was stressed that to be human was to need water. The most salient instances of exclusion were exclusions from decision-making processes. Citizens in the southern zone were acutely aware of prior instances of exclusion, citing such instances as being excluded from SEMAPA, being excluded from the decision-making process before the Water War, and in the case of Sivingani, being excluded from the processes that led to waste being dumped in their barrio. These examples all happened since 1993, when fully 80 percent of the peri-urban areas of Cochabamba were classified as illegal and were therefore completely excluded from political processes (Goldstein 2006:79). Exclusion became a shaping force of the worldviews of many in the southern zone of Cochabamba.
During one conversation with an itinerant street vendor, I was told, “I am basically invisible to the government; they like to ignore people like me, so that they can pretend I am not a citizen.” When people spoke of citizenship, they did not mean formal citizenship, but rather what Holston (1999) has called “substantive citizenship” that includes the realization of civil and political rights and not just their promise—things they feel they sorely lack.
A pervasive theme was distrust of the government and its promises. The government has promised the people of Lomapampa several things over the years: the completion of Misicuni, fair consideration for addition to the network, and assistance in starting a water committee. None of these has been forthcoming. Neither do they receive adequate police services, health services, or sewage services. Distrust of the government springs from pervasive corruption. Corruption perpetuates exclusion, as “in this country you need money to have a voice.” Years of governmental incongruity between word and practice has taught a rough lesson to the people of la zona sur: if you want a job done, you must do it yourself.
Perhaps predictably, my interviews revealed several distinctive points of departure between the ways the well-to-do cochabambinos and marginalized inhabitants of the southern zone spoke about water. Significantly, many of the middle-to-upper class Bolivians I spoke to were emphatic in their claim that the Water War had been triggered by poor planning on Aguas del Tunari’s part. Specifically, they believed Aguas del Tunari had been thoughtless in their pricing scheme. If the consortium had not raised prices so suddenly, I was told, no one ever would have protested. Individuals from the southern zone, and especially those who belonged to water committees, emphasized not price but place in their comments. They saw it as a complete contradiction that a multinational company could own the wells of the barrios they had built with their own effort—and impossible that profits from selling the water fallen from the sky or pumped from the ground could go to the pockets of someone in another country.
This contradiction was ontological, in that the two groups categorized water’s existence in two separate ways. Bronwen Morgan’s description of rural conception of “water as territory” versus an urban conception of “water as service” is helpful here (2011:86). Because people use and access water in different ways, they relate to it in different ways. The first emphasizes participation and sovereignty over water and its many uses (including agricultural), whereas the second allows focuses on questions of affordability and access. In the periurban areas, I found the first to be more common, and the second more present in well-to-do central areas. Part of the success of the Water Warriors was in uniting urban and rural groups, but their union did not persist into the stage of actually managing Cochabamba’s water.
The Meaning of the Right to Water in Cochabamba
Perhaps because of the desire to end exclusion, social control and the notion of participation were much more salient to my interviewees than were human rights. Operationally, human rights have done little to nothing to actually expand access to potable water in Cochabamba; there are no stories of anyone using the Constitutional clause to petition for water successfully. When I asked about human rights, the responses were almost always negative:
· “Water, if it is a right, still has to be paid for, at least in this country.”
· “What’s a right? You can’t drink it. It’s a law. And in this country, that doesn’t mean much.”
· “The middle classes, the lower classes—they don’t have rights. Those are for the rich.”
Human rights are literally words on paper for marginalized Bolivians—pura letra, as Don Álvaro put it. Anything further than that is not guaranteed. It was only through various forms of social control that inhabitants of the southern zone could expect to receive what the Constitution promised. Human rights, then, are seen by citizens of the southern zone as earned (by the sweat of one’s brow in constructing a network for a neighborhood water committee), fought for (by protesting SEMAPA or the government), or bought (by the upper classes).
The second thing about the right to water—related to the above point about water as territory and water as service—is that it is seen as a natural right by periurban populations, while it is discussed as a legal right by many observers. Periurban individuals emphasized that the right to water exists outside the guarantee of any government. Conversants frequently compared water to air, and even once to the “shade of a tree” as something that should be enjoyed by all people as a function of their shared humanity. One conversant brushed aside my question about the establishment of a human right with the declaration, “That kind of right has always existed. It is part of the land.” From this perspective, talking about a right to water seems redundant to many periurban individuals—by their cultural calculus, everyone has the right to water, but this doesn’t guarantee access.
These points might be summarized by reference to a statement made to me by a Fundación Abril worker and water committee member: “Water committees are an exercise of the right to water,” she said. At first blush, this seems to run parallel to the actual letter of the law in the Constitution, which guarantees potable water to all. But the emphasis in practice is on direct participation in the administration of public water services. This practice is the focus of my next section.
The Practice of Social Control and the Discourse of Autonomy
In this section, I will propose that current practices and discourse in the southern zone compose a Janus-faced situation, with two sides that cannot be understood independently of one another. On the one hand, citizens of Cochabamba have empowered themselves by several tactics, referred to collectively as the practice of “social control,” to be their own advocates in a new, pluralistic system of water management. This perspective on the situation has received most of scholarly and popular media attention, especially in the U.S. On the other hand, the anthropological perspective requires a search for interconnections between what people do and the context they do it in (Bodley 2008:277). I propose several mechanisms by which the practice of social control and other seemingly innocuous factors might be interconnected with the continuance of water poverty in southern Cochabamba.
Light in the Dark
The success of the Water Warriors against fifteen years of neoliberal hegemony struck a chord at home in Bolivia as well as internationally. Oscar Olivera received a hero’s welcome as he flew from city to city decrying the greed of Aguas del Tunari, eventually receiving the prestigious Goldman Prize for his activism. The Water War became a crucial victory for the anti-/alter-globalization movement (Albro 2005). The rallying cry centered around the notion that cochabambinos had achieved a kind of “water democracy.” The term is defined by Stewart (2006:17) in her examination of the formation of a water committee in la zona sur as “the opportunity for all citizens in a nation to participate fully in the decision-making processes regarding their own water management.” In this fundamentally optimistic perspective, water democracy is an intrinsic good that is achieved through the deployment of various measures, known as “social control” in the local case.
There is no question that there are things to be optimistic about. At the macro-level, the Cochabamba Water War kick-started processes that led to significant legal reforms, including establishment of pluralistic regulation, elected spots on the board of SEMAPA, and a human right to water on the national and international scale. On an individual level, several conversants’ comments reveal the empowering nature of victory in the Water War and social control in its aftermath:
· “We triumphed. That cannot be taken away.”
· “There is always the memory that we achieved something.”
· “We would have control of everything, ourselves, our own destiny.”
The allure of social control, and self-determination in a seemingly deterministic environment, has been so strong that conversants from la zona sur stated to me their overwhelming preference for a water committee—with its higher degree of social control but higher variability in cost and quality—over SEMAPA. Marginalized citizens of the south reasoned that the government hadn’t ever listened to them—why would SEMAPA be any different? The most assured way of having social control was to be part of a water committee, which was autonomous and democratic. Control over a water committee was better and more direct, as expressed by one conversant, Alfredo. He commented, “It’s better to have your own source! More direct, more reliable. Because then you don’t have to trust the administrations, and deal with their corruption and poor management.”
In this sense, the act of taking social control by starting a water committee is analogous to the displays of spectacular violence investigated by Goldstein (2006). His book The Spectacular City discusses at length cases of lynching which take place in the southern zone of Cochabamba. Just as municipal water service is absent from the southern zone, so too is a functioning justice system; police hardly do rounds, and people who are already poor live in mortal fear of what would happen if their precious few belongings were to be stolen. When police do investigate, they are as likely to take a bribe from the criminal as they are to try to pursue them. In this environment of impunity, citizens of Villa San Pagador (the barrio discussed at most length in Spectacular City) take matters into their own hands, exacting justice on their own terms. Goldstein argues of these lynchings that they are calculated displays, wherein marginalized people are forced to administer justice themselves because it cannot be obtained from the government, which turns a willfully blind eye to crime. In the same way, starting a water committee is a potent display of communal dedication to filling a vacuum of power. In each instance, a community need (justice, water) is neglected by the government and then filled ad hoc by the people, who are empowered by the experience. Water committees, I was told several times, are the ultimate realizations of social control.
Instrument-Effects: Examining the Flip Side to Autonomy
“The prison, apparently “failing”, does not miss its target; on the contrary, it reaches it, in so far as it gives rise to one particular delinquency….so successful has the prison been that, after a century and a half of failures, the prison still exists, producing the same results, and there is the greatest reluctance to dispense with it.” (Foucault 1979:276-7)
“Autonomy” figures as a key concept in the discussion of the benefits of a water committee. Autonomy, as we have seen, ensures freedom from the corruption and mismanagement that plagues SEMAPA and other public ventures in Bolivia. It is in this regard seen as a positive thing by individuals in water committees in the southern zone. However, the rhetoric around autonomy may work in several ways to obfuscate the most important point, which is that large-scale improvement in the water situation in Cochabamba will not occur without large-scale changes in the power relations that ultimately lead to differential access to water.
First, a bottom line: autonomy may entail mediocrity. As shown in the San Miguel case, several challenges exist for every water committee (i.e. obtaining technical advice, procuring funding, maintaining community participation and morale), and overcoming them requires extreme coordination and effort that is not always present. Even when these factors are present they are time-consuming, and cannot address the full scope of problems faced by water committees. Mari Eugenia noted that even when committees organize successfully, only 20 percent of committees have their own well, because the best places to drill are too expensive or are already taken. The quality of the water is then unlikely to be as high as it could have been. The initial costs of capital investments, as well as continuing costs of maintenance, are not always affordable, and credit not always available (as it fortuitously happens to be in Stewart’s optimistic story). Furthermore, water committees are reliant upon the month-to-month payment of their members, who may be delinquent with their payments (c.f. Stewart 2006:64-65). All in all, I did not ever hear any evidence that water committees provided better services than SEMAPA, and they definitely required more work.
Figure 5.1: “Autonomy,” Cochabamba street art
Second, a reiteration of the above section: autonomy is not seen as entailing mediocrity. Instead, it is tied to social control, pluralism, and water democracy, all positives, in a way that elides the negatives.
Third, an observation I have yet to introduce: water poverty was depoliticized in the language of many of my conversants. Depoliticization refers to “the suspension of politics from even the most sensitive political operations” (Ferguson 1990:256). I observed two mechanisms of depoliticization of water poverty:
· The naturalization of corruption: Corruption was referred to constantly less as a choice or product of conditions but as a natural characteristic of Bolivians. “That’s how it is in Bolivia—it’s just how we are,” seemed to go the line. The reality is that corruption is a rent-seeking behavior with negative-feedback implications for social mobility—as a mechanism, it largely keeps the elite on top and the poor at the bottom. As such it is not natural but political and social.
· The naturalization of scarcity: Water scarcity was taken to be a natural phenomenon, with the desiccation of the valley only linked to human practices by Ricardo, the AAPS office worker. In this sense, management was a bureaucratic or technical question, and political aspects were ignored. Aside from Misicuni, no mention was made of the fact that Bolivia, as a country, does not lack freshwater resources, and the failure to facilitate transfers of water to Cochabamba might reflect governmental failure. I heard time and time again that there is “simply not enough water,” without any further reflection on why the water that did exist went to where it did. If there is only a limited amount of water, whi isn’t it spread around evenly?As such, scarcity, too, is political and social, not only natural.
These mechanisms of depoliticization, observed in both the center of the city and the periurban areas, may work in concert to obfuscate political implications of water management. They cast water poverty in la zona sur as a kind of accident of nature, and diminish the extent to which it is a purposeful way of perpetuating inequality between social groups in Cochabamba,
Fourth, it may be important to point out that just as one cannot drink rights, one also cannot drink participation. Social control does not entail better water, as evinced by statements from Oscar Olivera (Caero 2009). My own interviewees reiterated the fact that the water situation has not gotten better.
In his influential study of prisons Discipline and Punish, Michel Foucault states that, as a method of inquiry, one should “reverse the problem and ask oneself what is served by the failure of prisons,” answered via examination of “instrument-effects” (Foucault 1979:272). When an action has an overt, proclaimed goal, but its real importance and logic is not understood until a side effect is taken into account, that side effect is an “instrument-effect.” I suggest that the rhetoric of autonomy may have an instrument-effect: while the proclaimed goal is self-reliance, an important side-effect is that SEMAPA no longer has to worry about expanding its services. More generally, the result is that inequality is perpetuated.
Cui bono, who benefits, when a new water committee is organized? The people of the neglected barrio certainly benefit in the short term. In the long term, however, the state (and, particularly, the elite in control of SEMAPA) is issued a free pass that allows it to continue to proclaim its fair-mindedness and dedication to pluralism while evading the difficult responsibilities that would come with expanding the water network and raising its quality. In these case studies, particularly the study of San Miguel, the difficulties of maintaining a water committee are starkly present.
San Miguel is not alone, though. The environmental problems that have led to the imminent demise of their well affect all of the city. Amber Yoder Wutich’s ethnography of reciprocity in periurban Villa Israel details that barrio’s failure to have success in starting a water committee, and she surmises that community-based systems are imperfect for a number of reasons: wells dry out seasonally or permanently; costs may be too high; committees can become politically dominated; and strains of urban life can lead to reciprocity problems (2006:92). Bronwen Morgan notes the general failure of community-based approaches to water management not just in Bolivia but around the world, locating their failure in a combination of factors that sound familiar in the Bolivian case, including a lack of legal and economic resources (2011:198). I argue that “water democracy” doesn’t really exist because it exists within such a constrained environment. If we return to the definition given earlier—“the opportunity for all citizens in a nation to participate fully in the decision-making processes regarding their own water management”—we might ask at what point this process is so limited by social, political, and economic marginalization that it ceases to be democratic.
In an ironic twist, just what neoliberalism aimed for—devolution of responsibility for the basic needs of citizens—has been achieved, not by neoliberalism but by its enemies. The naturalization of corruption and scarcity, both of which have political implications, has smoothed over this process of devolution, turning attention away from political economy and the roots of inequality. There is some semblance of an analogy in the old racist U.S. policy of “separate but equal.” As I scrawled in my notes,
Is the current setup going to solve the problem, long-term? Is it really just a way of keeping these barrios on the periphery, a half-assed solution that is good enough to keep them happy but not good enough to vault them into real health and competition with the elite, a way to pawn off responsibility and keep the status quo?
If this is so, then it is true that “the whole of society pays itself in the false coin of its dream” (Bourdieu 1977:190). Even as a population follows its aspirations to autonomy by forming a water committee, the evidence shows that there is a good chance that venture will end in mediocrity—that is, it will fail to contribute to development and equality in social relations. The marginalized people of the peri-urban barrios whose citizenship has historically been denied by the state have in some sense come to embrace that exclusion. The fact that privatization and water committees have an equivalent position to the elite-captured state—that is, they both decentralize its responsibilities—shows the logic of class in both cases. Acolytes of Antonio Gramsci will note that the possibility of a “false consciousness” in which the proletariat have taken on a worldview that ultimately reifies the existing class structure, to “a level which corresponds to the… interests of the ruling class,” in this case by leaving the peri-urban areas with substandard water services (2009:79).
Because such an assertion is almost impossible to prove, I have tried only to show that the conditions exist under which it could be true. Echoing Ferguson, I don’t mean to suggest that there is some magical process by which every action is bent to the hand of Capital (1990:13). Indeed, “it is necessary to demote intentionality” and instead see only retrospective coherence (1990:275). It may not be necessary to say whether or not this process is agentless, but it is relevant to say that agents are probably not aware of the full effects of their actions. Moreover, I stress that it is impossible at least by the bounds of this study to quantify the beneficial overt-effects of social control versus its potentially negative instrument-effects.
The anthropological perspective requires that the ethnographer give proper weight to the emic outlook of her or his conversants, while also reporting her or his own analysis. My feeling echoes Camus’s words, “There is no sun without shadow, and it is essential to know the night” (1955:122). It is essential to look closely and critically even at those bright spots, those lights in the dark.
From Here to Where?
Since I have returned from Bolivia, I have been frequently asked what I think should be done. This is a difficult and complicated question to address; as I have discussed above, I believe that even the most well-intentioned actions can have unseen consequences. However, a few things come to mind.
On the academic side, a continued ethnography of rights is needed, in order to understand whether rights are an appropriate framework for Latin America or for expanding access to water. In this instance, it seems that clearer definitions are needed for how a right is violated, and what the consequences of that violation should be.
On the political side, I emphasize that this is fundamentally a problem of political economy (Murray Li 2007:282). As Ellen Messer states, rights in Latin America will be meaningless unless “indigenous peoples [are] able to participate fully in the political process” (1995:19). Social control of water management is one step towards full participation, but it should not be taken for the whole. Attention need be paid to the underlying reasons for water poverty in the first place, and steps taken to alleviate it. It must become “living law” and not just words on a page (Morgan 2011:111).
Finally, I would like to add that a new chapter is likely to begin soon. Evo Morales’ Movimiento al Socialismo has been steadily rewriting every bill on the books and will reportedly reveal a new Water Law later this year. How this law addresses rural/urban contention will be of interest. Moreover, there are rumors that the government would like for the Organizaciones Territoriales de los Bases to take over the autonomous water committees, a step that would fit neatly into Foucault’s analysis of governance and Ferguson’s reports of “etatization,” the expansion of the state (1983:224, 1990:267-75). Lastly, work is underway once again on Misicuni. The pipe dream may become real as soon as 2014. How different interests (SEMAPA, los regantes and other rural interests, ASICA-Sur and the committees) will negotiate the question of divvying up Misicuni’s water remains unclear.
“Water is like a mirror,” Oscar Olivera said. “Like a river, you can see yourself in it” (Como El Agua 2011). By the same token, water management in Cochabamba, Bolivia reveals larger truths about division, exclusion and empowerment in development. For as far as social control has come, it is important to remember that the inequalities present today have come from somewhere, and will continue to persist unless something these root causes are addressed.
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Comisión Para La Gestión Integral Del Agua En Bolivia
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Water Committee Statement, Villa San Miguel
Transcribed from original document
Descripción de la asociación de agua potable: Villa San Miguel Alta Tensión
La ciudad de Cochabamba ha crecido de manera significativa, en los últimos 20 anos, la mancha urbana tiene otros limites, abarcando 4 distritos, entre ellos 7, 8, 9, y el 14, pues cada día mas la ciudad se va acercando a las poblaciones rurales de otras provincias en nuestro departamento. Este departamento ha tenido diferentes procesos de migración interna y externa, ya sea de la provincias del mismo o de otros departamentos. Todo este desplazamiento de lo rural a lo urbano se ha asentado principalmente en la zona Sur de Cochabamba, dándose de esta forma diferentes configuraciones territoriales y de organización. Muchos de los vecinos cuentan que cuando se asentaron no existían planes de asentamientos territoriales de parte de la alcaldía, es por eso que muchos de ellos se organizaron en grupos familiares que tenían un mismo parentesco cultural o sindical, es decir que varios de estos barrios construidos y levantados en esta zona tienen una misma pertenencia a comunidades rurales o sindicatos mineros.
1. Desde la organización comunal a la barrial
Todas estas descripciones de los asentamientos en esta zona son para comprender como las comunidades rurales se han ido desplazando hacia la ciudad, en la cual han ido recreando territorios barriales de manera autónoma, reproduciendo sus formas de organización, ya sean estas comunales o sindicales. De esta forma podemos describir que pues esta organización social de los barrios de la zona sur, si bien han recreado la urbanidad en esta zona desde sus formas tradicionales, no necesariamente estas son idénticas a las de sus comunidades o sindicatos mineros de donde provienen, muestra de ello, son las nuevas formas de organización de tipo económicas, culturales, y sociales, como es el caso de pequeños grupos de microempresas familiares que se dedican a la manufactura (pantaloneras, costureros de jeans y deportivos), como también la emergencia de grupos dedicados al abastecimiento de algunos productos básicos de la canasta familiar (lechero, panaderos) o el caso del surgimiento de organizaciones barriales que gestionan el agua potable, alcantarillado, el reciclado de basura, como también grupos organizados en torno a campeonatos de futbol inter-barriales y en el caso de las organizaciones culturales, es notable el surgimiento de grupos de música de bandas y las manifestaciones de distintos actividades culturales (patronos, fraternidades autóctonas), que ha caracterizado a esta zona.
2. Nombre, creación y ubicación de la Asociación de Agua
La asociación de agua potable villa san Miguel Alta Tensión, se encuentra en el distrito 8 de la zona sur de Cochabamba, fue creada en 1998 tiene 12 años de vida y dos redes de agua potable, la primera que fue creada en sus inicios, con 200 conexiones, hace dos años atrás fue creada la segunda red con 688 conexiones y la implementación de micro medidores, esta asociación abarca una población de 3500 habitantes promedio.
3. Estructura Orgánica
La Asociación de Agua Potable Villa San Miguel AT tiene una estructura basada en una directiva que se elige cada dos años, la elección de esta directiva es por aclamación en Asamblea general de socios, cada cartera de la Asociación es elegida a través de ternas, con los siguientes carteras: presidente, vicepresidente, secretario de actas, secretario de hacienda, vocal.
Actualmente cuenta con personería jurídical, tiene estatutos y reglamentos que Norman las actividades de la Asociación, como también desde el 2009 cuenta con la licencia de Agua Potable otorgada por la Autoridad de Agua Potable y Saneamiento del Ministerio de Agua.
Las asambleas de socios se reúnen una vez al mes, con preferencia el primer domingo del mes, la participación de cada asamblea es de 300 socios, la toma de decisiones se realiza a través por votación y cuando existe conflictos por consenso.
4. Administración y distribución de agua
La administración contable de la Asociación es realizada de manera manual, está en proceso de contra con un software computarizado para la administración del cobro del agua. Las rendiciones de cuentas se realizan cada semestre en las asambleas, dando un informe escrito y verbal a los vecinos socios de la Asociación. La distribución del agua se realiza por medio de zonas, existen 4 zonas de distribución en el barrio, que están relacionadas con el tendido de redes de agua, cada 12 días se distribuye el agua a cada zona.
5. Descripción del sistema de agua
La asociación cuenta con dos tanques de agua, la primera de 80m3 que se encuentra en la parte baja para el almacenamiento, la segunda se encuentra en la parte más alta del barrio que tiene una longitud de 50 m3, ambos tanque son de cemento. El sistema de agua cuenta con un pozo que tiene100 metros de profundidad y esta a 1km. de distancia del primer tanque de agua. El 2010 se construyó con el proyecto PASAS el tercer tanque de agua con una longitud de 300m3, por que los dos tanques no abastecen a todos los usuarios nuevos de la segunda red de agua potable del comité. Esta red de agua potable es de material PVC, con 688 conexiones domiciliares, todas cuentan con micro medidores. Temporalmente se cuenta con un operador y 4 lecturadores, pero por falta de recursos no se puede realizar el mantenimiento y manejo de la red.
Se ha realizado hace 6 meses atrás un análisis de agua que dio como resultado, agua salitrosa no apta para consumo humano, pero por la falta y necesidad de agua, la asociación ha decidido seguir adelante con la distribución de la misma. Uno de los mayores problemas que enfrenta esta Asociación, es el bajo caudal de agua del pozo 0.43 litros por Segundo. Es por eso que está viendo la urgente necesidad de abastecerse de agua de cisternas a través de la compra en bloque a la Empresa SEMAPA.
 Cf. Lee 2005
 “All people have a right to universal and equal access to the basic services of potable water, sewage, electricity, household gas, postal service, and telecommunications” (my translation).
 Social rights versus civil-political rights. C.f. Messer 1995
 This program was led by two anthropologists, Dr. Daniel Goldstein of Rutgers University and Dr. Pamela Calla of New York University and the Universidad de la Cordillera (in La Paz). Dr. Goldstein’s work has focused mainly on political and legal anthropology of security and human rights, using the southern zone of Cochabamba as a field site. Dr. Calla has been an eager participant in action against racism, helping launch the Observatorio del Racismo in La Paz. Both Dr. Goldstein and Dr. Calla guided my approach to Bolivia throughout these six weeks, and beyond.
 It allowed me a very particular perspective that was privileged as well as limited. I was privileged to have access to those within the committee and to hear their side of things. However, my formal association with the water committee and work on its behalf may have precluded others from speaking to me or discouraged them from sharing unfavorable opinions about the committee. In a very short-term project like mine the benefits outweigh the negatives.
 Saltwater is cheaper and, in port cities, far more abundant than freshwater. However, its uses are limited because saltwater can damage many types of equipment.
 Coronel-Molina (2002:184) actually states that it is qucha, “lake,” and pampa, “plain.”
 The Washington Consensus refers to the ten-point agenda of neoliberal development: avoidance of fiscal deficits; public spending on investment; tax reform; market-determined interest rates; competitive exchange rates; trade liberalization; increased foreign direct investment; privatization of state enterprises; deregulation; and increased security for property rights.
 I visited during both the rainy summer and the dry winter, but can’t recall a difference in temperature at all.
 In this paper, the terms “barrio” and “OTB” are interchangeable.
 Alcaldía is a Spanish term used to refer to the office of the mayor of a city.
 Human Development Index is a holistic measure of development compiled by the UNDP, incorporating measures of education, wealth, and health. A score of 0.8 is comparable to Chile or Argentina, ranking as a “Very High Human Development” country. A score of 0.6 is comparable to Tajikistan or Vietnam, ranking as a “Medium Human Development” country. Bolivia’s HDI for 2011 is 0.663.
 Cf. Molle and Berkoff 2006 for more examples of urban/rural conflict over water
 The exact order of who opposed Aguas del Tunari first is somewhat up in the air. Finnegan (2002) claims that professionals and environmentalists were against it first; Morgan (2011:93) seems to suggest they came later, with support from students, and Assies (2003:17) notes FEDECOR as the first organization to publicly dissent.
 A United Kingdom company and stakeholder in the Aguas del Tunari consortium.
 An apocryphal tale of Thorpe’s cluelessness is that he believed “La Coordinadora” was the name of a specific woman into 2000.
 The March 26 referendum asked: 1) Do you accept the rate increase? (99% no); 2) Should the contract with Aguas del Tunari be annulled (96% yes); and 3) Should water be privatized (97% no)—with participation 31%, equal to municipal elections (Assies 2003:27).
 Of course, this is an incredibly contentious move, questioned by many as divisive (dividing country into mestizo and indigenous) and even dismissive of other indigenous groups (the wiphala, like Morales, is Aymara).
 See chapter two.
 One interviewee within ASICA-Sur told me she believes the dam will be finished in 2014, but not filled until 2016.
 This is based on my own calculation. I know that barrels can be filled for 5 Bs. I estimated the volume of the barrel using a photograph.
 See AAPS section, p. 88
 Vocal means something like “non-officer member of the board.” (Samson, personal communication)
 San Miguel, like much of Cochabamba, is very dusty, especially in the winter months (June-August). Mopping the floor gets rid of this dust.
 I don’t mean to impute anything negative through the use of this word—the reader should remember that this suspicion is a natural reaction to the danger of crime in the area.
 Because we worked in the day, men were almost always away from home when we were checking the meters (usually from 1-4 p.m.).
 Footage for this incident was lost, unfortunately, and so is not featured in Como El Agua, the documentary that the Rutgers students made about their experience, but I was able to piece it together with help from Mike Molina.
 Micros are buses operated by independent owners but regulated by the city. They run on fixed routes, as do trufis (mini-buses), and with trufis are the main mode of transportation for most of Cochabamba.
 Water-borne illnesses often take two days to show symptoms. The doctor said this was in all likelihood what made me sick.
 See Goldstein 2012, forthcoming.
 Branham (1909-1965) was an American charismatic minister known for his predictions of the Second Coming, faith healings, and evangelism. He is seen as a prophet by his followers. As an ethnographer, these conversations were interesting and illuminating, allowing me to learn about evangelical Bolivian’s worldviews. As an individual, however, the views he presented struck me at times as off-base, misinformed, or frighteningly extreme. I felt obligated to listen to his opinions but worried about offending him, lest I lose an important informant. I did not want to present myself as a non-believer, lest Don Miguel spend the rest of our precious time trying to convert me. When he said things like, “Women can’t be priests,” or “Catholics killed all the dragons,” I focused my efforts on allowing him to explain these perspectives rather than challenging them, as I might have done in another context. I felt it important to learn more about his faith, as evangelism is a rising force in Bolivia and I needed to admit the possibility it might influence political attitudes relevant to my thesis.
 Cochabamba receives 19 inches of rainfall per year, more than Honolulu, HI (18.29) and less than San Francisco, CA (20.1) (Bolivia Weather; National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration 2007).
 I should note that so long as there was no water, there was no hope of a sewage system, either.
 A tramite is a procedure, but with the usual connotation that the wait is going to be filled with arduous and bureaucratic hurdles.
 EPSAs include many different kinds of water service providers.
 This number is also quoted at 20 days on the AAPS website.
 Literally “bases,” but with the connotation of “the common people.”
 An important question to ask oneself is whether, if this correlation does actually exist, it existed at the time of the Water War, or developed afterwards.
 The CIA World Factbook adds that “industrial pollution of water supplies used for drinking and agriculture” is a serious environmental problem in Bolivia (Central Intelligence Agency 2012).
 The prior relevant law was passed in 1906. The revamping of this law is part of MAS grand strategy to cycle through all laws on the books and refashion them in accordance with MAS ideology.
 Where I was attempting to interview Carlos Crespo, a Bolivian anthropologist and water management activist. He turned out to be on a family vacation in another part of the country.
 It is important to remember that in the longer history of Cochabamba’s water supply, rural/urban conflict is the norm, and the unity seen between the regantes and city engineers during the Water War quite an exception. In fact, Mari Eugenia of Fundación Abril told me that the rural/urban conflict over water sources was one of the biggest political fights currently brewing.
 Negative influence could be traced to the fact that the “rights” many inhabitants of the southern zone are most familiar with are those accorded to criminals, and are suspected in criminal cases to be fronts that the police use to hide their corruption-driven collaborations with criminals, who are sometimes let off due to their “rights” (Goldstein 2006:187).
 My results both confirm and add nuance to the 2002 report in which the majority of Latin Americans indicated that the rich are the only ones who can exercise their rights. It remains true that cochabambinos see wealth as an avenue to rights, but with the addition that rights can be earned or fought for by non-elites (UNDP 2004).
 Cf. Morgan 2011:102-110
 I am aware of some concern that I may be projecting certain assumptions about the role of the state that reflect my own culture or political beliefs. However, I believe these concerns are at least partially mitigated by the fact that good SEMAPA service is of better quality and cheaper than good water committee service. I also see that there is danger that my tone might patronizingly be suggesting that I know better than the people living there what is best for them. I can answer only that I do not claim to know these processes are taking place, only that I have observed conditions that might allow them to.