CARTAGENA — The end of the film, “The Corporation,” portrays the massive protests that drove the multinational, Bechtel, to relinquish its control over the municipal water supply of the Bolivian city of Cochabamba as a dramatic victory of David over Goliath. This story captured the imagination of globalization’s opponents around the world, and has served as a parable for the power of people to triumph over the seemingly invincible forces of international capital. As The Democracy Center‘s Jim Schultz told Amy Goodman, “People like a good David-and-Goliath story, and the water revolt is David not just beating one Goliath, but three. We call them the three B’s: Bechtel, Banzer and the Bank.”
Another documentary, “Rios de Hombres,” screened this week at Cartagena’s International Film Festival, questions whether the 2000 water war was indeed proof that “the people united can never be defeated.” While the protests did lead to Bechtel losing its contract and started the social upheaval that forced President Hugo Banzer’s resignation, nothing has improved for the impoverished people of Cochabamba, and the water problem remains unsolved.
Director Tin Dirdamal took seven years to make the film, and that temporal distance from the events discussed permitted him to take a fresh look at the outcome. Dirdamal arrived in Cochabamba, he told Opinión, “thinking that the water war was a victory. And, as I mention in the film, I went to be a part of this triumph, I identified with it.”
Yet, Dirdamal reveals a rare intellectual integrity, in that he abandoned his assumptions when confronted with facts that contradicted his preconceptions. For example, he arrived with the intent to tell the story of an American company that had privatized the rain water — a detail in the story that invoked the ire of people around the globe — and raised prices to unaffordable levels for the city’s poor.
Dirdamal discovered, however, that the there was little truth in these reports. Charging for rain water would have been a logistical impossibility, the film convincingly argues, and the 300 percent price increases were actually only leveled on the highest consumers such as hotels, large farms and private estates with swimming pools.
In a heavy-handed visual metaphor Dirdamal compares the impoverished, largely homeless, people who actually fought the bloody battles with the police, to cattle being led to slaughter. They unknowingly did the bidding of these wealthy Bolivians, who were spared the higher rates with the expulsion of Bechtel, and the original water suppliers, who make large profits providing polluted water inefficiently. Read more »