Once again the Blue October Campaign took place in Bolivia, a popular initiative to defend water with more than hundred social organizations, institutions, NGOs, and activists that promote public events to reflect on water rights. This mobilization is inspired by the historical Referendum in Uruguay that in 2004 included in their Constitution the concept of water as a human right, and the prohibition to transnationals to sue the state for sovereign decisions on public policy to ensure the human right to water. That change in Uruguay, inspired by the water mobilizations in Bolivia, Argentina and other countries between 2000 and 2003 during the first years of this century, was the first constitutional precedent in Latin America on the path to a strong social vision of water. Later, the constitutional changes of Bolivia and Ecuador made substantial progress on the way to building social governance of water emerging from below.
Certainly this is a time for celebration, but also a time for a balance, a necessary evaluation to look with some objectivity on the progress we have made in these years, and what we need to do to make our words and the triumphs attained not remain mere rhetoric. A lesson we have learned (not without suffering.)
Bolivian official reports are saying that our country is fulfilling one of the Millennium Development Goals related to water, reducing by more than a half the number of people without access to drinking water and sanitation. That is a great achievement the result of redistribution policies. Particularly given Bolivia is a country that promoted (coordinating with other states and social movements) an historical Resolution in the General Assembly of the United Nations in July 2010 declaring the human right to water and sanitation.
However, despite being a privileged country in terms of water resources, there are still alarming problems of water quality and a lack of access to clean water in poor sectors of the population. Access to water varies from region to region, our territory is characterized by an unequal distribution of water depending on the regions of our territory: there are very arid and vulnerable regions prone to droughts and water scarcity due climate change, meanwhile other regions are wet, with so many water resources these prone to flooding. This past month the Bolivian Civil Defense Department has reported that more than 300,000 families are severely affected by droughts in El Chaco where crops and livestock are killed by the alarming lack of water. We are victims of a climate change provoked by developed countries that reinforce the way of producing and consuming, unconscious that we are getting a path to suicide, unable to find an end to a model that of greed to permanent economic growth.
But climate change is not the only challenge we face. More and more, in our country there is clear evidence of over consumption and terrible pollution of water in mining centers. The rural communities that live in those territories are suffering more than we can imagine. The extractive industry operated by international corporations, which is increasingly taking shape in the country, is exploiting and polluting waters in the West and in the East, where mining and energy exploitation is greatly increased.
Also sugar, corn and soybean crops for export and the use of genetically modified seeds (GMOs) are beginning to grow exponentially in Bolivia -as all in over the world- with the consequent use of more and more land -with the government promising to legalize the extension of the agricultural frontier- and the consequent overuse of water and virtual exports that this kind of crops implies. More than the 90% of the soy produced in our country is now transgenic.
The discussion of a “new model” is unavoidable in our country and in the world. Extreme weather events, produced by the system underlying this development model (extractivism) and economic activities that are focusing in more and more profits, require major changes to avoid peril and death. We need not only to stop devastation, but also to maintain people’s hope in their conquests, in their quest for justice and fairness and care for the planet.
Activists and even some governors are talking a lot about “new development models” and about a “paradigm shift”. We even thought we had found the clues in a real progressive narrative for change the system, which is an important step forward, but experience shows the lack of any real intention of “doing”, instead realizing that this was “just saying”, insufficient to keep us on the right track.
The crisis of the Commons is driven by a cruel system of rules of the capital on the land, on water, seeds, labour, subjectivity… This creates a chain of alienating consequences difficult to change if we cannot get beyond simple rhetoric.
Perhaps, instead of keep talking about new “development models” we should seek for a “Restoration model”, looking for those places where life still exists to maintain it, to help Nature and Mankind to survive the devastating culture of capital and greed. Seeking the preservation of life and of environmental balance on the planet, but also the possibility of restoring Hope in the future.
Elizabeth Peredo Beltran, La Paz in October 2012.
Elizabeth Peredo Beltran is a social psychologist, researcher and activist, one of the promoters of Blue October campaign in Bolivia.