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Cochabamba protests of 2000

The Cochabamba protests of 2000 were a series of protests that took place in Cochabamba[?], Bolivia, between January and April 2000, because of the privatization of the municipal water supply. The latter was sold to a private company, International Waters Limited (IWL) of London (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Bechtel Corporation; it operated locally as Aguas de Tunari), at the insistence of the World Bank. In its June 1999 report on Bolivia, specifically called for the cessation of "public subsidies" to keep down water prices. According to local press reports, the foreign investors aquired in the city water system, in a sale in which they were the only bidder, for less than US$20,000 of up-front capital for a water system worth millions of dollars.

Demonstrations erupted when Aguas de Tunari imposed a large rate increase, reportedly to finance the Misicuni Dam project, a week after taking control of the Cochabamba water supply system. In a country where the minimum wage is less than US$100 per month, many dwellers were hit with monthly water bills of $20 or more.

In mid-January, Cochabamba residents shut down their city for four straight days with a general strike led by a new alliance of labor, human rights and community leaders. The government was forced to the negotiating table, agreeing to a price rollback and a two-week deadline to work out the details; the protests ended.

Pressing for a settlement, On February 4, thousands attempted to march peacefully in Cochabamba. But President Hugo Banzer -- who was Bolivia's Pinochet-style dictator for most of the '70s -- turned once again to the use of violent repression. He called out the police, who engulfed protesters in tear gas for two days, leaving 175 injured and two youths blinded.

The people of Cochabamba didn't back down. In a survey of more than 60,000 residents in March, 90 percent said that Aguas Del Tunari must leave and the water system returned to public control. Protesters poineded to the privatization of water in Buenos Aires, where 7,500 workers were fired and prices rose, as an example of why they felt privatization was bad. Residents closed down the city again starting on April 4.

Four days into the demonstrations, the Bolivian government declared martial law. Police arrested protest leaders, taking them from their beds in the middle of the night, shutting down radio stations in mid-broadcast. Soldiers took over control of the streets. On April 8, the Bolivian military shot 17-year-old Victor Hugo Daza in the face, killing him. IWL officials claimed that the protests were riots sponsored by cocaine producers against a crackdown on coca production.

However, on April 10, the Bolvian government finally conceded, signing an accord that agreed to every demand the protesters had made.

The Cochabamba protests were seen as the first manifestation of the growing rejection of the neo-liberal economic model promoted in the 1980s and 1990s by the US government in Latin America and other parts of the world.



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