Bolivia declares emergency over water protests : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread



Bolivia declares emergency over protests

April 8, 2000 Web posted at: 6:53 p.m. EDT (2253 GMT)

LA PAZ, Bolivia (Reuters) -- Bolivia's government put the landlocked Andean nation of 8 million people under a state of emergency Saturday, after it was rocked for a week by protests over pending waterworks projects and legislation.

"We see it as our obligation, in the common best interest, to decree a state of emergency to protect law and order," President Hugo Banzer said in a message delivered by Information Minister Ronald MacLean at the government palace.

The state of emergency giving Banzer special powers to deploy police and the military will be in place for 90 days. It was announced Friday night to avoid damaging "the efforts for social dialogue" and assure "that the great effort towards economic reactivation is not set back further," MacLean read.

The move has to be ratified by Congress, in which the ruling party controls the majority.

Bolivia has been hit by protests in the central city of Cochabamba over a $200 million waterworks project that promises to hike drinking-water rates.

Meanwhile, roadblocks have been set up on several national highways by peasants pressuring the government to relent on a bill currently being debated in Congress that could force them to pay for water they currently obtain for free.

On top of the waterworks demonstrations, university students in the central city of Sucre -- home to the nation's Supreme Court -- have staged a hunger strike against a "persona non grata" from the southern Tarija province civic committee who was received by the president.

And in the capital city La Paz, various police units have set off a mutiny over low pay.

Mobilization of police and military began early Saturday with a raid on the headquarters of the Bolivian Workers' Central Union (COB). The wives of 13 police officers who were on a hunger strike in search of better wages for their husbands were hauled away.

Thousands of soldiers and police were mobilized to control public order after President Hugo Banzer declared a state of siege in Bolivia on Saturday And at least 10 civic leaders were arrested in Cochabamba, the scene of violent protests during the week against the new waterworks project, which could raise water rates by 35 percent.

MacLean confirmed that at least 20 people had been arrested. Government Minister Walter Guiteras told reporters those detained would be confined, although he did not mention where.

"The chaos has begun to spread ... just at the moment in which we are beginning an important economic reactivation plan," said the dictum from Banzer, the fourth consecutive democratically elected president to be forced into declaring a state of siege.

The government is refusing to climb down on the $200 million waterworks contract in Cochabamba with Aguas del Tunari -- a consortium led by London-based International Water Limited (IWL) -- saying it must guarantee the rights of foreign investors. IWL is jointly owned by Italian utility Edison and U.S. company Bechtel Enterprise Holdings.

Tear gas was fired Friday at thousands of demonstrators in downtown Cochabamba, and peasant leader Felipe Quispe promised the protests would intensify over the weekend.

A large military operation has been put into action to clear the highways in five of the nation's nine provinces.

The roads have been blocked for the last five days by peasants railing against the water bill they claim will bring large-scale private utility projects and put a price tag on their water.

Waldo Albarracin, the influential president of the local human-rights assembly, said he saw no justification for declaring a state of emergency.

"Now we wait and see if the situation does not deteriorate into human-rights abuses," Albarracin told reporters.

-- Martin Thompson (, April 08, 2000


WIRE:04/10/2000 16:32:00 ET Investors flee Bolivia after violent protests

LA PAZ, Bolivia, Apr 10 (Reuters) - An international consortium pulled out of a planned $200 million waterworks project after violent protests rocked Bolivia over the weekend killing five people and injuring at least 40, the government said on Monday. About 20 labour union and civic leaders were arrested in the nationwide protests, triggered by proposed legislation that threatened to hike water rates in Latin America's poorest nation.

Some of the most violent protests took place in the central city of Cochabamba, where a multi-million dollar electricity and drinking water network was scheduled to be built by Aguas de Tunari, a consortium led by London-based International Water Limited (IWL).

IWL is joint owned by Italian utility Edison (SIL.MI) and U.S. company Bechtel Enterprise Holdings. Other members of the consortium include Spanish engineering and construction firm Abengoa (ABG.MC) and Bolivian companies ICE Ingenieros and cement maker SOBOCE.

"The company has decided to pull out of the Misicuni project and the distribution of water in Cochabamba. It is official," Luis Uzin, superintendent of basic sanitation, told reporters after a meeting with Aguas del Tunari chief executive Geoffrey Thorpe.

While the waterworks network was projected to provide drinking water to all of Cochabamba's population, doubling the current coverage area, it also promised to hike drinking-water rates by 35 percent. Cochabamba is the third-largest city in the poor landlocked country of 8 million people.

Protest leaders are reportedly demanding written guarantees that Aguas de Tunari is retiring from the 40-year concession. In return they are offering to lift roadblocks on the streets and highways around Cochabamba.

Uzin said a study on damage compensation for Aguas del Tunari would be made immediately.

A 90-day state of siege clamped on Bolivia at the height of the protests is scheduled for congressional ratification on Thursday. It gives President Hugo Banzer extraordinary powers to deploy police and the military.

Soldiers and police have cleared nearly all of the roadblocks that cut off highways in five of the country's nine provinces for much of the past week.

Routes remained blocked around the town of Achacachi on Bolivia's high plateau, where a soldier was beaten to death by protesters Sunday and two civilians were shot and killed.

-- Martin Thompson (, April 10, 2000.

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