Chapter Two: Cochabamba and the Water Wars

Following Ermeglio’s instructions, I set out to learn Quechua, the language of the Inca Empire. Expanding out of Cusco, the Inca came to conquer the whole chain of the Andes, from current day Ecuador down to northern Chile, controlling this vast territory without using any of the things other empires consider essential, like money or wheels. They catch imagination of Indians and Europeans alike, portrayed by Voltaire as a harmonious socialist republic. Whilst academics commit to spearing belief on the lance of fact, we are nonetheless drawn delightedly into imagining the Inca world, and history as glimpsed through the Spanish chroniclers throws up enough real richness to amaze us. Contemporary Andean communities, where writing was until recently never used, have a famously ‘long memory’ that reaches into this past, recalling it through stories and day to day practices, a key to unlocking the colonial past.

As the importance of this past fades from the countryside, newly modernised sectors of the city cling to it all the more tightly, and it undergoes various changes. The native empires are especially relevant in a contemporary context where the west is seen as a colonial power taking Bolivian resources and choking out its culture. As Walter Benjamin says, the past is what appears to us at a moment of danger, stories surfacing from the tumult of time to shape our thoughts and actions in the here and now. The past mirroring the present, there is much focus on the Spanish or by extension all white outsiders as violent greedy colonisers, an element which must be purged from the country. By contrast the native is idealised as standing for honesty, equality and reciprocal exchange.

In the absence of money, exchange was indeed key to the running of the Inca Empire. Subjects contributed a labour tax to produce a surplus of staple foods and crafts for state functionaries and elites, as well as to feed commoners in any area where crops had failed. While the Empire aimed for sufficiency for everyone, it must be said that the aristocratic class in Cusco were maintained in luxury compared to the rest, at the expense of the hard work of the peasants. Without wheels, all journeys were made on foot, there being no beast of burden native to the Americas. Travellers were accommodated at inns every twenty miles along the road, and fed from the state stores free of charge.

Voltaire delights in these details in descriptions of the fabled land of Eldorado in his Candide, derived from Andean colonial myths of a ‘land of gold’ and depicted as a haven of learning, tolerance, and justice. Whilst the inn he envisions, serving three hundred hummingbirds in a bowl of rock crystal to the amazed Candide, was doubtless far more luxurious and varied in its fare than Inca taverns, the traveller was equally in fiction and fact never expected to pay. Candide and his companion have gathered gold from the ground and offer it in return for their meal, only to have the innkeeper and his wife split their sides laughing at them. Children toy with gold and jewels as pebbles on the ground in Eldorado, an idea which may have been based in the abundance of the metal used by the money-less Inca in sacred sites and as ornaments like jewellery and sequins.

The centre of the empire was the Coricancha in Cusco, called the Golden Place for the abundance of the metal used to adorn it, with temples to the sun, moon, thunder, rainbow, and serpent creator god Viracocha. The most important were those of the moon, a female form in silver within a silver shrine, and the sun, a male figure in gold, before which the Inca emperors were crowned. Irene Silverblatt explains that before the Spanish conquest women revered the moon and men the sun, parallel and equal cults. Cusco, the ‘bellybutton of the world’, was at the centre of a network of almost 25,000 miles of roads and ceque sight lines which radiated out of it like a sun, stretching along the spine of mountains almost from end to end of the continent.

Ceque sight lines connected sacred places in the landscape, and were fundamental to the organisation of the empire, weaving the shrines of each village into a web centred on Cusco. The Spanish conquest outlawed the worship of such shrines, or converted them to Christian ones. Thomas Abercrombie writes however that they are still remembered by contemporary communities, who when they drink pour chains of toasts to the local shrines which trace forgotten lines across the mountaintops. Abercrombie, like other contemporary Andean historians, concludes that the most ethical way of constructing the past is to give equal weight these Andean forms of remembering and European history, and his account flitters between mythical and historical past-making practices. In any attempt to reconstruct the past, we are peering through the keyholes of such insights, trying to discern the contours of a terraced, gold-gleaming garden at the end of the long, dark passage of time that lies between us.

I remember visiting the renowned historian Tristan Platt, mischievous, silver haired and erudite, at his sailing loft above the Firth of Forth, overlooking the still active harbour in Pittenweem. Sitting back in his chair, he fascinated us with the tale of the mythic retreat of the last Inca, called Tupac Amaru, the shining serpent. After the Spanish took the centre of the empire at Cusco, a second Inca state was set up at Vilcabamba. When it became clear this would at last fall the Inca descended with his retinue into the Amazon jungles. Contemporary Andean communities can recite the route the Inca took, and the villages where he stopped. He was eventually apprehended by the Spanish and put to death in Cusco. The myth runs however that one day the Inca will rise up again out of the jungle and take back the lost empire, and the Andes return to native and more just order.

The marriage between mythology and history is a jerky yet sometimes remarkably compatible one, the oral and written throwing up pasts that contrast and collide, challenging our idea of the real. Tristan went with a team to one of the villages where the Inca had supposedly passed through. The myths not holding the same weight these days, as Andean beliefs are challenged with western modernity, the community revealed a secret they had kept for hundreds of years. There was a box, stored high in the eaves of a house, which the Inca had left in their keeping when he came through the village. It had been duly guarded for centuries against the hope of his eventual return, and never opened in living memory. With some persuasion, Tristan convinced the village that now was the time to look inside it. And within they found nine jaguar skins, interlayered with gold artefacts: hidden Inca treasure.

Tristan’s work, as Abercrombie’s, focuses on the contemporary Aymara- speaking communities of the Bolivian altiplano. Though the Inca conquered these Aymara chiefdoms they kept their own language, and occupied a special place in the empire’s workings: the Inca considered that their gods originally came out of the waters of Lake Titicaca, at the Islands of the Sun and Moon. Indeed, there was an earlier civilisation here, a city-state centred around the ceremonial complex of Tiwanaku, ‘The Stone in the Middle’, whose temples and pyramids can be seen on the lake shores. Historians widely accept that the Inca took a lot of their knowledge from this culture, which flourished from around 3oo-1150 AD. The peoples of Tiwanaku farmed the shores of Lake Titicaca, channelling glacial meltwaters into raised fields, where they fed potatoes and high altitude grains.

Tiwanaku complimented this diet with maize produced in the richer valleys: ethnic groups spread themselves out along a vertical access, trading, travelling and intermarrying between higher and lower settlements, allowing them access to the fruits of agriculture at different altitudes. Maize was especially valued as the source of chicha, fermented maize beer, and Tiwanaku as a ceremonial centre consumed vast quantities of the stuff. Hallucinogenic substances from the Amazon were dispensed from special stone monuments in which were engraved images of the plants they were derived from, and people blew them up one another’s noses, even took them as enemas. Like peoples across the world, they erected standing stones, favouring Green Andecite from a site 25 miles up the lake, and built an 18m pyramid called the Akhapana. The beautifully engraved Gate of the Sun is aligned with the summer solstice. Walls patterned in vibrant red, green and blue were set with the carven heads of semi-animal anthropomorphic deities, and metals that were cast to catch the sunlight. Interestingly there are no signs of there being a single important leader at Tiwanaku: it is thought that like today communities farmed and celebrated communally, the celebration and sharing connecting them as well as feeding the landscape spirits, renewing their contract to feed the villages.

Around 1100AD a period of climate change brought warmer weather and droughts, threatening Tiwanaku’s system of agriculture, and eventually the site was abandoned. In the same century the Inca state rose, taking advantage of the warmer temperatures to carry out terraced agriculture on higher mountain slopes, irrigating crops with glacial meltwaters. It is today popularly said that the Inca could make water flow uphill, thus increasing yields for the villages they conquered. Indeed, chronicler Garcilaso de la Vega records that a pipe ran under the Huatanay river and steeply uphill to the Temple of the Sun. The Inca were able to show villagers how to bring marginal steep and arid areas under cultivation, and work on these new sites often comprised the state’s labour tribute. Terraces were constructed, levelling steep slopes into a series of flat sites; the stone walls retain water as well as their heat, protecting the roots of plants through the cold high mountain nights. These terraces remain a central feature of mountain and valley landscapes, though nowadays the more difficult to access and work of them have been abandoned. Their shadows can still be seen on the hillsides, as indeed they can in many areas of the UK, a reminder of an age of self-sufficiency and non-mechanised agriculture.

A friend had recommended a Quechua teacher in Cochabamba, a city in the maize growing valleys. Its name means ‘Plain of Lakes’ in Quechua, and is an important agricultural area. In the times of the Spaniards, this fertile productivity meant that it was taken over and made into haciendas, where Indians worked under a colonial lord as peons, indentured workers, in a feudal system. At a mere 2800m above sea level, Cochabamba is warm and temperate, and I was able to spend all my first night there sitting round a fire in the little walled garden of a social centre, a free space established by young activists in the city. Sunflowers, now seeding, grew all around, and an emptied fig tree, the unripe figs having been ravaged by hungry hippies. In the morning the proprietor awoke, stacked up our fire and began toasting what remained of the sunflower heads for breakfast.

Seeing the city by daylight as the sun rose, I was taken aback and delighted by its lushness. I admired through the taxi windows the green mountains, soft as though drawn in chalks, through the invisible clouds of moisture that rose from them and caught the sun. Arriving in the city centre in the early morning, I went on impulse to the Plaza Colon, one of the loveliest of the many attractive squares. From a lady with a cloth covered wicker basket I brought two saltenas, chicken stew wrapped in sweet maize pastry. I ate them sitting under the canvas awning of an empty market stall, like an Arabian tent half hiding me from view, beside a bougainvillea become a huge tree, the vibrant, almost ludicrous array of purple blooms at its crown fading into paper coloured passed flowers and a haze of silver stems hanging at its feet. It was so enchanting that I decided to stay in a stained hotel with wide balconies in the colonial style at the corner of the square until I had recovered sufficiently to see my teacher.

It was evening by the time I went to Eleanor’s house, where I would spend the next couple of weeks. She lived in a new middle class area where her mother had had agricultural land a generation ago. Channels of dusty lorry-ravaged roads charge through this outer suburb, surrounded by concrete apartment blocks. The pavements are cracked and scattered with rubbish and rubble, and public spaces lacking or poorly maintained as people rush to construct houses for themselves on every available inch of space. It seemed to be considered essential to have an eight- foot high wall around one’s property, surmounted by barbed wire and broken glass, despite the relatively low crime rates in Bolivia. Inside our enclosure there was an oasis of fruit trees, unlike the surrounding unkempt public spaces.

It turned out to be good idea to have delayed in coming here. Very much of the upper middle classes of the city, it was impossible to Eleanor that white Europeans like myself should drink. Drinking was for dirty Indians, and abstaining from it was one of the things that constituted one as ‘white’. As a westerner, it seemed I was expected to be an extension and refinement of the ‘white’ Bolivian upper classes. Race here is less of an ever-fixed mark, defined by genetics, than a complex of social differences. Skin colour remains an element, but to the western eye there is no often ‘racial’ difference those who define themselves as white and Indian. Difference must constantly be maintained through social indicators like not drinking. Like many my Quechua teacher had permed her hair, making it less like the straight black South American hair that is so typically ‘Indian’.

Eleanor turned out to be from a hacienda-owning family. In her household they had been cared for as children by Indian peons sent to serve the master’s family as a feudal tithe. It is through this strange intimacy between the two classes that she learned as a child to understand Quechua, and now worked teaching it, largely to missionaries. She was, as many of her class, fiercely opposed to the current president, Evo Morales, who was considered by these ‘white’ families to be of an inferior ethnicity as well as class, more suited to being a peon than a political leader. He was derided in anecdotes as an idiotic yokel, there being clear underlying prejudices against this Indian who had dared to usurp the positions of the elite, and a conviction such commoners were simply unfit to take power.

Eleanor’s formal training in Quechua, she soon told me, had come from the patriarch of another Cochabamba hacienda-owning family, the Sanchez de Lozada. Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, known as Goni, her teacher’s son, was the last Bolivian president before Morales. For him she had nothing but admiration. Goni was educated in the USA, to the extent that he speaks Spanish with an American accent, and his wealthy family have houses across the Americas. His politics are neoliberal, and he was responsible for the tight economic measures that had stopped a period of runaway inflation in the nineties. He took the presidency with only 22% of a vote split almost evenly between three candidates, his popularity given a strategic last minute boost by U.S. polling and marketing consultants Greenville Carville and Shrum, the American firm responsible for ‘spinning’ Tony Blair and Clinton into power.

Goni continued to advance the neoliberal strategies that had characterised Bolivian politics for decades, overseeing a program of privatization, austerity, and deregulation at the behest of the US government and international financial institutions. His short presidency in 2000-2004 could only be described as an utter disaster, culminating in his being airlifted out of the presidential palace as crowds of angry protestors broke through the doors with every intention of lynching him if they got hold of him. Goni is now in Miami, refusing to return to Bolivia for trial. Thus momentously ended the long period of neoliberalism in Bolivia.

When I was an undergrad there was significant hope surrounding the Latin American countries from the ‘anti-globalisation’ movement, which delighted in these large-scale uprisings. Dick would take me to meetings in Cambridge pubs where we watched footage of protestors on the streets confronting police. Cochabamba was famous in these ambiences as the site of the 2001 ‘Water Wars’. When a ‘multinational’ took control of the city’s water supply and dramatically raised rates, they were evicted by months of rioting. Occurring at the same time as anti-World Bank and IMF protests in Washington, the Water War became swiftly recognised and championed in activist circles.

Cochabamba has a very inadequate water supply, correlating strongly with class, such that the poorest people are the most likely to be queuing at trucks where overpriced water is sold by the bucket, completely lacking a domestic supply, while the upper classes have water piped to their houses every day. The area around the City of Lakes is rich in water, but high migration especially in the later half of the twentieth century expanded its population rapidly, at the same time as deforestation was turning its green hills to dust.

Since its earliest days the Cochabamba water company, Semapa, was dogged with stories of corruption and self-enrichment, with such commonplace tactics as long lists of friends and relatives of directors added to its payroll, and subtle add-ons to any equipment purchases, suppliers overcharging the company and feeding backhanders to those who made the deal. A study in 1997 showed that 90% of households in the wealthier north of the city (about a quarter of its population) had water hook-ups and indoor plumbing, whilst of the poorer barrios in the south less than half had access[2]. Communities took matters into their own hands, and during the 1990s over a hundred dug their own wells and laid their own pipes. Villa Pagador, a community of ex-miners in the southeast of Cochabamba, dug a 393ft well and laid seven and a half miles of pipes, supplying 200 people[3].

In the mid-1990s it became clear that the hills and wells of Cochabamba could not provide adequate water for the population, and two schemes were considered to increment the supply. The cheaper and easier was a pipeline from Lake Corani, thirty one miles from the city, yet Semapa plumped for a $300 million dam to be build at Misicuni, with a twelve mile tunnel bringing the water to Cochabamba. The more money invested, seems to have been the logic of the engineers and politicians who signed the deal, the more to siphon off personally.

In the 1990s the World Bank and IMF were urging the privatisation of water, stipulating it as a condition of their loans to developing countries including Bolivia. Privatisation would they argued bring strong management and expertise. They claimed – quite rightly in Bolivia’s case – that public management of water in developing countries was inefficient and could not be guaranteed to supply the poor. In the late nineties privatisation of Cochabamba’s water service was made a precondition for further World Bank loans to the country, and in 1999 the city’s water system was put up for public bid. Only one company, Aguas de Tunari, offered to purchase the inefficient, corrupt system. Aguas de Tunari was a subsidiary of Bechtel, one of the biggest companies in the world, representing its entry into the expanding ‘water game’ springing up amongst international capital as privatisation opened a new field for enrichment[4]. Offering only a million dollars upfront, the company was granted control of Cochabamba’s water supply for forty years, and guaranteed Bechtel and the other component companies a profit increase of 16% per year.

At the same time as this deal was made, the Bolivian government approved a new law to control and tax the wells and canals that peasant communities had themselves constructed to supply their fields, causing a massive outcry. The peasant communities combined forces with the local leader of the Factory Workers Union, Oscar Olivera to form the Coalition for the Defence of Water and Life (Coordinadora). The Coordinadora set out across the city on a campaign of mass education about water rights. When in January Aguas de Tunari issued water bills with an average of 50% increases in cost of water, the population reacted furiously. The Coordinadora blocked roads on the 11th January, initiating months of protests demanding a reduction of rates and the repeal of the water law. The backbone of the protestors were rural irrigators, who we must remember were protesting against the government’s law rather than the corporate takeover. The government took a firm stand, sending in police from other cities and the army to quell the protests, and using ample tear gas. Hundreds were injured in the series of skirmishes that followed, and a teenage boy shot dead by an army officer. In February the Cochabamba residents were joined by cocaleros (coca-growers) led by Evo Morales, who was then their union leader. The streets were still in turmoil four months later in April, when the company’s representatives, who had been hiding out in a five star hotel outside Cochabamba, left the country, and the government, apparently taking this retreat as a sign of surrender, announced the cancellation of their contract. The news was greeted with massive pubic celebration.

The anti-IMF marches in Washington in April 2000 were the first major meeting of the anti-globalization movement since the landmark Seattle meetings at the WTO’s conference in 1999. Protesters from diverse sectors united against the globalization of capital’s effects on the poorest nations, damaging the environment and creating poverty as resources were extracted and workers underpaid. Unions bemoaned the effects of this ‘flight of capital’ on employment, and ‘multinational’ became a byword for suspicious activity among this movement. In the aftermath of the victory of the ordinary people of Cochabamba against just such a multinational company, Oscar Olivera was invited to fly to the USA to address the crowds. Hailed as a hero, he was treated to a three minute standing ovation. Renowned activist Vandana Shiva said that the Cochabamba events “provide an political education for every community struggling to reclaim their common and public spaces in this age of corporate globalization”.

The success and scale of the Cochabamba riots was inspirational to those, like the activists I had known in Cambridge, looking to take ‘direct action’ to stop capitalist abuses in neoliberal states, where sophisticated systems of surveillance and self policing make the idea of such riots incredible. As I was taught as an undergrad in anthropology at the time, under neoliberalism in countries like the UK we regulate our own behaviour in compliance with the state, taking the process of government into our own bodies. As third year undergraduates we were (eventually) allowed to study the twentieth century French philosopher Foucault, who looks at the importance of subtle techniques of surveillance, as well as the disciplinary institutions like mental asylums and prisons, in creating a relatively self-policing and docile society of workers and consumers[5]. The Bolivians conducting the protests- the colonised, indigenous Other – become the idealised seat of opposition to an evil that commonly afflicts us, fiercely taking territory back from companies that are equally present in the west, but which we lack the tools, or perhaps just the balls, to so effectively challenge. Through smashing things on the streets, they can show the neoliberal body its own repression. In expecting the indigenous ‘other’ to play out a drama of opposition to neoliberalism for us however, we inevitably run into an idealised and convenient version of events that are an imposition of our own significant narratives. This is in its way a ‘colonisation’ of the actions of the other, and can lead to wildly romanticised expectations.

The international lauding of the Cochabamba Water Wars was followed up by reams of international attention, assistance and academic interest. Twelve years after throwing out Bechtel and seven after the installation of Morales’ indigenous government however, the water supply situation in Cocha is still not much improved. We had mains water to our middle class house only two mornings a week. My teacher was, unlike many, wealthy enough to have a water tank, to which she was always cutting the power, pulling apart the wires in a highly life-threatening way to save electricity by stopping me using taps. One morning, as was common, the mains water didn’t arrive and we were forced to do without it altogether for days, along with all our neighbours. Our classes were conducted to the sound of rain thundering onto the concrete patio and down the gutters, yet we went unwashed. Eleanor told me told that the water that fell from the sky was dirty, and that was why no one collected it. I was astonished that there was no formal system of taking advantage of this seasonal resource in a water-starved city.

Whilst in 2004 a Water Law was passed, securing all uses of water by peasant communities as Usos y Costumbres (Traditional Use) and not subject to tax, little was done for the city, or for the majority of peasants who have no right to water[6]. The water company Semapa was put into the hands of Coodinadora activists, who were to run it along with the city government and the Semapa workers’ union. Union leaders were concerned to add their own friends and family to the payroll, continuing the tradition of the bad old days before privatisation. The Coordinadora tired of trying to run the company, and management was eventually given over to a technical committee. Sectors of the Coordinadora working for the Semapa interviewed communities about how the supply could be put into their hands, but – reports the Carmen Peredo of the Association of Irrigators – Semapa’s Director rejected them all, and the Coodinadora members didn’t fight for them. Elections were held to vote for Semapa’s new Board of Directors, but less than 4% of the populace turned out for them. Soon the new Semapa drew the same criticisms of inefficiency and corruption as the old one. A water expert cited by Jim Schultz says that the organisation is “totally dysfunctional. They don’t generate enough income to cover their costs” and that with the resources Semapa has been given “You ought to be able to generate water 24 hours a day, and the poor should actually pay less”. He also cites Luis Sanchez, a Coordinadora leader and later board member as saying that the water company is “still a space for robbing money”. Board members were revealed publicly to be paying themselves extravagant attendance bonuses for meetings that never took place[7]. Olivera has since admitted that the social movements weren’t ready to take control.

It is a strange but common occurrence that, armed with the position and resources of an overthrown elite, one emulates them in one’s behaviour, wasting one’s days engaging in petty power struggles, lunch, and siphoning off public resources. In starting a new world, we find we have ourselves to deal with, and often what we are fighting against is precisely that which is the most deeply engrained in ourselves, thrown onto the character of the Other. We imagine an evil capitalist in charge of resources, imposing neoliberalism onto the world, when in fact it is a system which we make up with our own actions, each time we buy food from a supermarket, or petrol.


I started spending more time at the social centre, making friends with Chico, himself veteran of the water wars, who ran it almost single-handedly. They had no water tank, but buckets and plastic containers of all kinds placed beneath gutters collected the abundant rainwater. There were parties when the terrace would fill up with young people and salsa music. One Sunday Chico offered me a revolutionary ‘guided tour’. By far the most appealing of the suggested destinations were the chicherias. Chicha is maize beer, and on Sundays large restaurants, set amongst gardens, open on the outskirts of the city, where families lunch and drink.

We travelled to Quillacollo, half an hour up the road from Cochabamba, famous for its large shoe making factory and chicha. The large covered hall in which we sat was situated within a small space of tropical trees and flowers, a welcome relief from the concrete suburbs. Around us families tucked into plates piled high with mountains of food. We sat among a table of shoe factory workers taking Sunday afternoon off, and took it in turns to drink chicha from a gourd or pumpkin shell dipped into a bucket, the standard purchasing unit. They were delighted that I would drink with them, a European woman not considering herself too good for such pursuits, and chattered happily away all afternoon, teaching me little bits of Quechua, which is apparently a far superior language for jokes. They told me of the abundance of fruits and vegetables that the climate allowed to them to keep on their little plots and gardens, and also of the massacre of Quillacollo, as it is known, when more than eighty protesting peasants were shot by the army on the main road rumbling by us.

In 1974, under neoliberal policies enforced by the dictator Banzer, who was carrying out to the letter the recommendations of Milton Friedman and the Chicago School of economists, ordinary Bolivians were getting poorer and poorer, despite the apparent boom in the country’s exports of cattle, coffee, soya and rainforest wood. Banzer announced in October 1973 the removal of state subsidies on a variety of foodstuffs, meaning oil, eggs, sugar, rice, wheat, meat, coffee and pasta went up 219% in price[8]. A complicated system of bonuses compensated the urban labour force by approximately half of this value, but there were fierce protests in Cochabamba, stemming from its effect on peasants. Many of the increases were on things they did not produce themselves, and they were simultaneously prohibited from increasing the market price of their produce. Protestors blocked roads and demanded dialogue with the government. The dictator responded by sending in troops and tanks, with a death toll between eighty and two hundred.

This massacre contributed to the rising indigenous social movements: the period saw the emergence of a movement called Mink’a, which became by 1975 the Movimento Indigena Revolucionario Tupac Katari (Tupac Katari Indigenous Revolutionary Movement, MIRTK), also known as the Kataristas. The Kataristas were to become a powerful neo-indigenista force with much ideological weight and influence to the present day. The government and capitalist policies in this period thus contributed to the polarisation of interests between agribusiness and peasants, which fed into an attempt to reclaim and champion indigeneity through social movements. Feeding the interests of a white elite, under the guidance of foreign advisers, while repressing campesinos, has deepened ethnic schisms in the country and contributed to the idea of white foreigners as voracious thieves which many Bolivians currently espouse, and which fuelled the public rage against the take-over of the water supply by an international company.

As it became evening, the venue started to close, and Chico said we should pile into one of the men’s cars to travel home. The man in question, though very amiable, seemed to me far too drunk for this to be an entirely good idea, yet I had to trust Chico, who in most matters had his head screwed on, and was in any case my appointed guide. Duly we all piled into an almost comically battered hulk of a car. Bolivians pay very little attention to the recommended carrying capacity of vehicles, such that we were merrily six on the backseat and three in the front. Predictably, it took several attempts to start, with all the passengers leaping out to push, and almost an eternity to navigate our drunken way out of the car park. Once on the road, we tottered precariously around the first corner, then took the second slightly too wide, toppling with terrible inevitability straight into a deep storm drain. We hastened to climb out of the upper door to see the car stuck in the ditch at a forty-five degree angle. Chico shook his head at me in disbelief. “He always does this”, he said, incredulously.

Returning home eventually, I engaged in a long debate with my Quechua teacher over the morals and ethics of drinking, explaining the long history of pubs in my country, shooting apart rather her idea of Europe as an extension of upper class Bolivia. Fortunately the next day the classes were up and I was able to leave.




[1] For this and much of the following section, I am indebted to Jim Schultz, the Cochabamba based journalist who brought the Water Wars to international attention, especially his chapter “The Cochabamba Water revolt and its Aftermath, in Dignity and Defiance:Stories fro Bolivia’s Challenge to Globalisation, edited by Ji Schultz and Melissa Crane Draper 9-42. Berkeley: University of California 2008.


[3] Schultz, ibid.

[4] Schultz, ibid.

[5] Foucault, Michel (1977) Discipline and Punish: the Birth of the Prison, New York: Random House

[6] Tom Pearrault, 2008. ‘Rural Water Governance and the Politics of Usos y Costumbres in Bolivia’s Irrigators’ Movement’. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 98:4, 834-854.

[7] Jim Schultz, ibid.

[8] Dunkerley, 1984