"I've decided that the term ‘tear-gas' doesn't quite capture the real experience involved. Even from close to a block away the white smoke pouring from the canister causes severe burning to your eyes and throat and immediately empties your nose of whatever snot you've accumulated for months. At ground zero the gas makes you vomit and nearly lose consciousness. Sometimes the canister projectiles hit people and split their heads open. Fortunately, this morning I found myself suffering from just the burning eyes and running nose class of symptoms. This morning tear-gas was the Bolivian government's official response to a huge popular revolt here, over something very basic: water."
- Jim Shultz,
February 4, 2000
THE ABOVE QUOTE is an eyewitness account of an inspiring rebellion against corporate domination. No, it was not from Quebec City, and nor was it from Seattle. The rebellion occurred last year in Bolivia, South America.
In late 1999, under direct pressure from the World Bank, the Bolivian government privatized the city of Cochabamba's public water system, selling it off to an American multinational corporation. The result: price hikes for water users, more than doubling for many families. But instead of passively accepting this injustice, only one of many caused by ‘structural adjustment policies' of the past decades, the people of Cochabamba rose up and organized a general strike, shutting down the city for four days. Roads were blockaded, and a large peaceful march was planned.
In response, the government brought in more than a thousand police and soldiers, who took control of the city centre and attacked the protesters with tear-gas and rubber bullets. One hundred seventy-five protesters were injured. Two students were blinded. And, after the government declared martial law, one 17-year-old boy was shot in the face and killed, followed by five more deaths.
Eventually, however, the government of Bolivia and Bechtel Corporation were forced to back down in the face of the widespread citizens' uprising, and the people of Cochabamba took control of their water system. It was a victory that has inspired activists around the world.