Jim Jepps. The debate around the G8 should not just consist of rich Westerners talking to powerful Westerners about how to help the poor. So we spoke to Amancay Colque, an indigenous Bolivian activist, on her views about the G8.
JJ. With the G8 meeting next week what are Bolivia’s recent experiences of international institutions and their effects on the people of Bolivia?
AC. Well the Structural Adjustment (SAPs) which were imposed by the IMF upon the Bolivian Government, had tragic consequences for the population. The conditions seemed reasonable at the start: transparency, fight against corruption. Excellent we all agree with that, but the most important bit is to comply with the IMF programs (SAP’s) which have caused so much harm to the Bolivian economy.
The immediate effect was the
privatisation of estate companies including water. The Cochabamba water company
was privatised by Bechtel, whose primary goal was to accumulate capital to
obtain loans and with that capital improve infrastructure, but accumulating capital
from the poorest people of the world meant increasing the water bills
from 30 per cent to 200 per cent.
JJ. What was the response of the Bolivian people?
AC. The almost natural response from the people was not only to resist the water rates increase by refusing to pay the bills but also to demand the rupture of the contract and to reject the new legislation approved by congress allowing water to be treated as a commodity. As the government took the side of the multinationals ordinary citizens were forced to create an umbrella organisation under which various social groups (trade unions, peasants, cocaleros, street vendors, neighbourhood associations, etc.) came together in order to recover the water company. That struggle took almost 5 months, and one life (Hugo Daza, 17 year old, shot by an army officer), and due to the level of struggle it is now known as the Water War.
JJ. There has been a debate in this country about how effective aid and debt relief are for the poorest nations in the world. What is your perspective on this?
AC. The biggest problem in Bolivia is unemployment, or sub-employment, the very few jobs available have become casual and low paid. This is why we see that industrialisation of the natural resources such as oil and gas as the first step that could help create proper jobs, and this in turn help to fund basic services such as health care and education. It is difficult to walk in the streets in El Alto in Bolivia without avoiding small children and elderly people, who are hungry. Children are begging for food, are crying of hunger, this in the same country where transnationals demand to keep their low taxes intact, where transnationals are self regulated. The contrast between the poor and the rich is shocking, the areas where the rich live are absolutely beautiful and enjoy every comfort available in developed countries, while in poor neighbourhoods, basic facilities such as water and sewage are missing.
JJ. Do you think the G8 leaders are likely to improve Bolivian conditions?
AC. The leaders of the G8 are not going to change or scrape SAPs which are currently the cause of the economic crisis in Bolivia. People in Bolivia consider that the external debt including interests has already being paid. Between 1971 and 2000, more than 6.64 billion dollars has been paid from Bolivia to the international organizations which in effect it means that almost 900 million dollars was paid in interests, bringing the external debt to zero.
JJ. Would Bolivia benefit from G8 debt relief?
Bolivia is not a debtor country, but a creditor one. Bolivia even before its formal creation, up to this day, it has sent its natural resources in large quantities to Europe, from silver, to nitrate and tin. The natural resources that have helped to create the developed world, were extracted by my ancestors at the cost of millions of lives. It is time to pay back.
We demand that all transnational corporations leave the country, and return the money stolen from us. The transnationals looting Bolivia right now are the oil companies who refuse to acknowledge people's demands and that is Nationalisation.
We demand justice!
You can read the IMF’s document on what they thought was good for Bolivia here http://www.imf.org/external/NP/PFP/Bolivia/INDEX.HTM