The Bolivia Reader: History, Culture, Politics
Oscar Olivera (1955–) was a representative of the trade-union federation of factory workers in Cochabamba when the outbreak of the Water War in 2000 catapulted him into the leadership of the grassroots Coalition for the Defense of Water and Life. In the cycle of insurgencies from 2000 to 2005, he stood alongside Evo Morales and Felipe Quispe as the most visible leaders of the growing popular movement in the country.
In this text, Olivera criticizes the neoliberal drive to privatize common resources, from the perspective of the social movements and civil society in Cochabamba. Even the rain, Olivera points out, was considered a resource to be commodified by Law 2029, the neoliberal legislation on drinking water and sanitation. According to Olivera, powerful corporate interests, especially foreign ones, sought to appropriate public goods for private profit, and the Bolivian government answered to directives of the international financial institutions without regard for the intricate web of local and customary use-rights for water. Based on the coalition’s experience of public consultation and decision-making in 2000, Olivera advocated horizontal and direct modes of democratic participation in public affairs. The coalition’s struggle for local social control over resources and popular political sovereignty contributed to the growing demands for constitutional transformation at the national level.