Nineteen years after the Water War, SEMAPA bears the tagline “clear and transparent.” Public participation and social control are operationalized via bi-annual Audiencia publica de rendición de cuentas, a public accountability hearing. These meetings are structured as an hour-long presentation followed by a fifteen-minute question and answer period, organized by SEMAPA’s Transparency Unit. During one meeting, the room was half full: the majority in attendance were SEMAPA workers complying with their work obligations, and 14 members of the public, who were mostly community representatives. Available records from previous and subsequent meetings denote the same poor attendance rate. In later discussions with community leaders—dirigentes, heads of water committees and cooperatives in the Southern Zone—many were unaware of the meeting dates and had not received the letter of invitation. Instead, they lamented the lack of communication from SEMAPA.
Aside from the poor promotion of the meeting, the scheduling is problematic. Held mid-morning on a Wednesday, the busiest market day of the week after Saturday, the meeting time conflicts with most work schedules. Further, SEMAPA’s headquarters are located in uptown Cochabamba, which typically requires a one-hour commute from the Southern districts, depending on traffic. Location and timing present accessibility challenges. Additionally, public records of meeting minutes are not shared widely. The meeting itself consisted of an information session of mission statements, overviews of the year’s projects, and general financial information presented by various SEMAPA managers, who occasionally stopped to answer their cell phones. For the question and answer session, the attendees were not given the floor; rather, questions were submitted on paper to be read out by a SEMAPA representative. The different managers answered the questions, often deflecting problems, and quickly moved on to the next question without leaving time for deliberation or discussion. There were a total of eight questions that were answered within twelve minutes. This is the heft of the current mechanism for social control and public participation.
These meetings do not amount to the robust public engagement called for during the Water War of 2000. Far from observing meaningful exchange, the mechanisms in place today reflect nominal participation, promoted in rhetoric only. Here, decision-making is contained to exclusive circles, and participation is a display of public meetings whereby the water utility can claim they are fulfilling their obligation to public participation and social control. The following two sections will explore the power dynamics that prevented transformative participation from taking hold in SEMAPA, and SEMAPA’s institutional inertia as continued corruption and political influence plagued the company.
The final section demonstrates how nominal participation has become normalized in formal spaces of the Bolivian water sector at the municipal, departmental, and national levels. As the ‘party of social movements,’ MAS buttressed a discourse of participation and social control, signaling a shift towards transformative participation. However, the party’s actions have led to the fragmentation of social movements, the reproduction of clientelist relations and restricted access to higher-level decision-making spaces.
3.3.1. Defining the “New” SEMAPA: Early Divides
Directly following the Water War, SEMAPA reverted to an autonomous decentralized public utility. The conservative national government of Hugo Banzer was in power, but the task to rebuild SEMAPA occurred at the local level, with the New Republic Force (NFR) party in the mayor’s office [48
]. SEMAPA was headed by a Board of Directors that consisted of municipal officials. The population of Cochabamba was dissatisfied with this return to the former state model that had been riddled with problems. Moreover, they were distrustful of this Board because of their involvement in the utility’s privatization—they had not only endorsed the concession contract but also supported Aguas del Tunari
in claiming economic losses for the breach of contract and forceful exit from Bolivia [49
] (p. 34).
Eager to establish an alternative model of water management, La Coordinadora
remained active following the Water War, holding consultations and workshops to put together a proposal for SEMAPA’s restructuring. La Coordinadora
understood social control as a way to improve the public entity so it would not be a target for privatization [50
]. The push towards democratizing public services was important for all sectors of the population, even those not connected to the municipal network, because it is linked to struggles over natural resources [51
]. La Coordinadora
’s initial proposal called to dissolve state property and replace the utility structures as common property (La Coordinadora
proposal document). However, the idea of SEMAPA as common property was viewed as too radical and La Coordinadora
members preemptively modified the proposal to be more palatable. The second proposal was penned by the College of Professionals of Cochabamba, a group composed of professionals across 17 fields that had been involved in some way in the Water War. This group had strong ties to the mayor’s office and their proposal included input from SEMAPA workers [49
]. Finally, a third proposal was presented by a junta vecinal
, a neighborhood council that was also aligned with the municipality.
The differentiating factor between the three proposals is the amount and type of participation. La Coordinadora’s proposal exemplifies a model of water management, often referred to locally as ‘public-social,’ that would place decisions about the water utility directly in the citizen representatives’ control. With six social representatives, the ’public’ would hold majority vote holders in the Board of Directors that would be held accountable through public assemblies. The other two proposals conceived public participation quite differently, placing SEMAPA firmly under government control, with social representatives being a minority on the Board of Directors. This composition allowed for spaces of civil society input, but not the final decision. According to my earlier categorization of participation, these state-led spaces do not automatically preclude transformative participation, but in Cochabamba it is often tied to a paternalistic view of social control that persists today, as exemplified by this quote from a former manager at SEMAPA:
(Participation) is a way to administer the state that I do not agree with much (…) I consider this country one that has not reached maturity of First World countries of hundreds or thousands of years of democracy. Are you going to consult an immature [country], what decision will it take? One example, I have three children, who are now grown, but when they were younger [I’d ask] what would they like to eat today? One will say chicken, the other hamburgers, and the other will say ’I want ice cream.’ But ice cream is not nourishment. Second, I cannot cook three different things, and third, my budget does not allow it, I only have enough for eggs and rice. So why ask? (Former General Manager of SEMAPA, Interview, 2014).
In other words, technical experts are seen in this model to be better suited to address water issues than the average citizen. Here, the ’technical problem’ of water scarcity requires ‘technical solutions,’ where public input is not valued.
A new statute for SEMAPA was approved on 25 October 2001. In the end, the outcome of the citizens’ directory was a much less radical version than envisioned by La Coordinadora. The composition of the board was three citizen representatives from different districts of Cochabamba, two representatives from the municipal government, one from the College of Professionals, and one union representative. With a minority of citizen representatives serving on the Board of Directors, the participatory criteria of ’inclusion’ was fulfilled, but not that of ’control.’
Several factors contribute to the inability of the water movement to achieve its initial demands for transformative participation. By the time discussions around restructuring SEMAPA with social control were solidifying, a year after the Water War, La Coordinadora
had lost mobilization power [49
]. It had waned because actors were preoccupied with different regional and national movements. Several of the informal leaders of La Coordinadora
were beginning to shift their commitment away from water issues, in order position themselves politically to align with MAS (Anonymous Interlocutor, Interview, 2014). With decreased numbers, maintaining pressure on the municipality to achieve demands proved difficult [52
]. La Coordinadora
fostered unity during the Water War by identifying a common enemy, the privatization of water services, which allowed people to band together regardless of socio-economic standing. The distinct motivations people had for joining the Water War protests—protecting water sources, guarding autonomous water systems, and fighting against rising tariffs—did not translate to a consensus going forward in the restructuring of SEMAPA. La Coordinadora
’s initial ideas were viewed as too radical and were thus tempered in order to achieve a modicum of social control in the utility’s management [53
The challenges in rebuilding SEMAPA following the Water War reflect the elite resistance to restructuring and transformative participation, particularly by actors within the municipal government who wanted to preserve SEMAPA as a source of political capital [52
]. SEMAPA’s workers’ union formed an unlikely alliance with the local elite. The union’s leadership aligned itself with SEMAPA’s administration’s stance on maintaining the previous management model [47
]. The workers lobbied to preserve their role of relative power within SEMAPA and were in favor of limiting the number of citizen representatives on SEMAPA’s Board of Directors, and consequently, the extent to which the company’s restructuring could lead to significant and meaningful participation [48
Wainwright points out the importance of examining the organization of labor and human relations to see how the relationships can contribute to democratizing public institutions. She argues that relations between labor and management are “decisive to the flows of information, knowledge, and problem solving among staff and between staff and users,” and that the “combination is vital to achieving the goals, the measurements and the dynamics of a different kind of economic logic” [50
] (p. 88). Despite the terse history of cooperation between management, workers, and users, there have been instances of worker-led, management supported collaboration. However, in the crucial moments following the Water War, La Coordinadora
could not rely on the full support of SEMAPA workers, a considerable blow to the water movement.
While La Coordinadora’s
initial ideas did not materialize they did manage to ensure some mechanisms of social control within SEMAPA. They pushed to include a “vigilance and social control unit” within the company, with the function of investigating instances of corruption, and to track inefficiencies. The unit was meant to be independent and consist of SEMAPA workers and civil society [48
] (p. 125). This unit took years to approve, and was eventually established as the “Transparency Unit,” mandated by the Ministry of Transparency, to deal with the complaints that correspond to SEMAPA. La Coordinadora
was also able to secure the statute for citizen representatives to be approved by the Board of Directors [49
3.3.2. Institutional Inertia
The limited mechanisms for social control of citizen representatives faced problems from the first elections of a new SEMAPA Board of Directors. These were held in April 2002, the same year as the national general elections. People were not as motivated about water issues as they had been two years previous, however, and more importantly, most were preoccupied with the larger elections. With minimal publicity, the mayor sent last minute notice of the SEMAPA representatives’ elections, to be held before the Departmental electoral court [36
]. Moreover, voters were identified through a database of ELFEC users (the electric utility Empresa de Luz y Fuerza
), limiting the vote to one per family (the person whose name appears on the bill), thereby circumventing the participation of tenants who do not pay the bill directly [36
]. Even with this low voter turnout (3.6% of eligible voters) the elections were contested due to the disorganized voting stations, and accounts abound of people being told where to mark the ballot by SEMAPA workers and those administering the vote. Recall elections were held, but subsequent elections have remained problematic [36
] (p. 48).
Once holding positions, the citizen representatives received little to no training on how to communicate with the public, or methods to evaluate SEMAPA’s plans and operations. Graver still was the ability of other members of the Board of Directors to politically influence the citizen representatives. Due to their marginalized position of minority vote, citizen representatives often limited themselves to petitioning for improvements in their sector of the city alone. Other times, they would vote in favor of the Board in exchange for positions at SEMAPA for friends and family [36
]. At worst, citizen representatives were directly offered financial compensation in exchange for their vote, or silence regarding corruption (Former citizen representative, Interview, 2014).
By 2010, the positions of citizen representatives of the Board of Directors quietly dissolved. SEMAPA was no longer holding elections for these posts and no one protested (Anonymous Interlocutor, Interview, 2014). People lost faith in the ability of citizen representatives to change the internal dynamics of SEMAPA. In short, it was a failed experiment because it did not provide a strong voice for the public, as decision-making power was not transferred to the citizens of Cochabamba. The momentum of the water movement had weakened, and with diminished social pressure, SEMAPA returned to the status quo prior to privatization, a vehicle for corruption and political gain, ultimately having adverse effects on network improvements and expansions. Institutional instability was linked to the high turnover rate of General Managers in SEMAPA. Appointed by the mayor, General Managers typically serve one to two years heading the company, though some periods have seen up to five changes in General Manager in one year (Former citizen representative, Interview, 2014).
The ’overstaffing’ of SEMAPA is a point of contention among most people interviewed that work in the water sector (outside of the company) and citizens of Cochabamba. Accounts of corruption included inflating the quantity of materials necessary for a particular project and writing off equipment and supplies that never arrived. These repeated scandals diminished SEMAPA’s chances for securing funding from international financial institutions that were already reluctant to invest in public companies [48
]. Once funds were invested, the instability of the company led to repeated cancellation of financing from the Inter-American Development Bank (Anonymous Interlocutor, Interview, 2014).
In the construction of municipal water projects, the lack of strong participatory mechanisms in SEMAPA have been detrimental to increasing water provision in the city. One of the few successfully completed major infrastructure projects was the “Improvement of Potable Water System of Southeast Zone of Cochabamba City,” commonly known as the JICA project, as it was funded by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency which has worked in Bolivia for over three decades. The application for the project was first sent to JICA in 2004, and the project was completed in 2010. The goal was to provide water to 22 communities in the Southern Zone of Cochabamba, which would benefit an estimated 50,000 inhabitants, with the expansion of a water treatment facility, the construction of adduction and impulsion lines, the construction of a principle distribution network, and materials for secondary networks that would connect communities to the main network. SEMAPA carried out the project with financial support from JICA. Construction began without public engagement on the project and faced its first obstacle when the community surrounding the initially identified treatment facility blocked its expansion because they did not construction disruptions in neighborhood. SEMAPA thus shifted course to expand a different existing treatment facility, Aranjuez, situated this time in the North of the city. Once more, without employing participatory mechanisms, the project faced yet another obstacle. The water source for the Aranjuez facility is located in a nearby community that lies outside of SEMAPA’s jurisdiction; its inhabitants with usufruct rights did not permit the increased water use sought by SEMAPA.
This lack of public participation resulted in the current state of the project: newly built infrastructure, but without water. When Evo Morales arrived to inaugurate the project (in October 2011), he opened the tap and water did flow freely, but without a consistent water source the network is working at 10% capacity, accelerating pipe decay (SEMAPA worker, Interview, 2014). Rather than serving the neediest population of Cochabamba in the Southern Zone, the treatment facility improvements have however benefited the residents of the Aranjuez district, one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the city in the North Zone.
Certain measures of public participation in SEMAPA were introduced via the central government. As of 2011, SEMAPA has been required to comply with the nation-wide community development initiative known as DESCOM (Desarrollo Comunitario y Fortalecimiento Institutional—Community Development and Institutional Capacity Building), part of a requirement of most externally funded projects that need to meet the standards for the international Technical Economic Social and Environmental Assessment. In SEMAPA, DESCOM consists of hosting workshops with communities, water committees and cooperatives, on various water provision related topics, for example tariffs or network maintenance. Externally hired consultants typically run the workshops (SEMAPA worker, Interview, 2014). However, as one SEMAPA employee explained, in practice, little attention is paid to the social aspect of the assessment and projects. Often excluding community members from water projects, citizens do not learn how to use the service or receive training on network maintenance. Contracts for water provision between a community and SEMAPA often go unsigned, or SEMAPA would not receive payment for services, ultimately resulting in unused water systems. The national guides are based on previous DESCOM guides elaborated by the Inter-American Development Bank, which clearly state that the beneficiaries of the projects are co-responsible for the project planning, execution, and evaluation. It is, however, difficult to determine the success of DESCOM beyond these guidelines and whether it fosters participation deeper than a consultation process. SEMAPA workers noted that DESCOM is even more complicated in a dense urban setting:
We didn’t have a person to do this work (of DESCOM). So the engineers finally started the work and said “(the pipe) will pass here” and the people were opposed, there were blockades and strikes, they set fire to machinery, they sequestered the engineers for a full day. (…) Everything was paralyzed, and the work did not start again until they explained it was the only option, the only way. In the end, the only way was to enter by force, with the police, with the mayor, with public force (SEMAPA worker, Interview, 2014).
This conflict in the Southern Zone, which occurred in late 2013, is not uncommon when SEMAPA enters a neighborhood, with no prior warning or explanation, to install piping that would serve a different neighborhood. At other times, burst pipes or damaged sewage systems are left unattended for months. Across my interviews with members of water committees and cooperatives in the Southern Zone it was clear that collaboration and communication between the Cochabamba population and SEMAPA is badly wanting.
3.3.3. MAS and the Rhetoric of ‘Social Control’
Optimism and expectations for improvements in the water and sanitation sector rose dramatically after the election of Evo Morales and the MAS government in 2005. The new government championed social control and participation in official discourse and policy while formalizing it in the water sector. The language utilized throughout legal and policy documents upholds public participation in governance and can be interpreted on the surface as transformative, but as this section illustrates, public participation is contained in state sanctioned spaces with little facilitation of participation in higher-level decision-making. Only organizations and social movements that are not perceived as a threat to MAS are invited to take part, resulting in a more nominal form of participation.
Morales ran on a platform of Indigenous rights, dignity, and sovereignty—a clear break from the colonial and racist regimes of the past [54
]. He also presented a shift from neoliberalism, predicated on the promise of nationalizing key industries and redistributing wealth through social programs for the most marginalized. A key principle of the MAS government is the Indigenous concept of vivir bien
, or ’good living’, defined as “encounter and progress through diversity and ’inter-culturality,’ harmony with nature, social and fraternal life, national sovereignty in all field[s] and internal accumulation with quality of life” [55
]. The concept is tied to Indigenous dignity and frames MAS’ Water for All plan wherein water, and access to water, is fundamental to life, based on integrated water resources management that is sustainable and participatory [55
MAS positioned themselves, and projected themselves internationally, as defenders of Pachamama
, Mother Earth. Morales’ successful lobbying efforts led to the ratification of United Nations Resolution (64/292) in July 2010 that expands the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights to recognize the Right to Water. The fundamental Right to Water was also an important part of the new Bolivian Constitution, putting the onus of guaranteeing access to water on the state, and shifting “ownership” of water sources to public (read state) property, granting the state “exclusive authority” over water resources [56
] (Article 298, II). At the same time, the formal recognition of traditional and customary uses of water under Bolivia law and the creation of official licenses or registries for small-scale water providers became a large focus of water sector reform. The new potable water law (no. 2066) now created licenses for large providers such as municipalities (e.g., SEMAPA) and water committees, whether Indigenous communities, peasant unions, or neighborhood associations, which would need to be registered as an EPSA (Entidad prestador de sanamiento y agua
—water and sanitation provider). The changes in legislation were significant as they signaled a shift in the dominant neoliberal model of water commercialization, and provided protection against the threat of privatization [57
Another of Morales’ first presidential acts was the creation of a national water authority. The Water Ministry encompassed vice-ministries responsible for policy, planning and projects in the areas potable water and basic sanitation, irrigation and water resources, environment and climate change (the current iteration is the Ministry of Mother Nature and Water, under which fall the Vice Ministry of Potable Water and Basic Sanitation, the Vice Ministry of Water resources and Irrigation, and the Vice Ministry of Environment, Biodiversity, Climate Change and Forest Management and Development). Notably, prominent figures in the anti-privatization water struggles were appointed as minister and vice-ministers, including Luis Sánchez Gómez, appointed as Vice-Minister of Basic Services in 2006, and Rene Orellana, appointed as Minister of Water in 2008. These types of appointments are how MAS projects its stance as a ’party of social movements’.
Under the umbrella of the Water Ministry, MAS established several corresponding agencies, including the Fiscal and Social Control Authority (AAPS). AAPS is the entity responsible for creating a registry of the EPSAs in order to regulate water services. The process involves providing a registry or license that provides legal recognition to the EPSAs, offering jurisdictional security to the water service provider by registering the water source. The purported goal is to provide the EPSA protection against expropriation and operational support to strengthen the systems. Ideally, registering water sources and their uses helps avoid conflicts between communities, and importantly, creates a database of the existing water systems (AAPS Director, Interview, 2014). For the smaller, community-run EPSAs, registration came with the expectation of some form of benefits from the government. Importantly, for many communities the EPSA title delivered a guarantee of their system’s autonomy, and thereby maintaining social control over their own water governance.
The fate of Cochabamba’s small-scale community-run systems, or EPSAs, present a point of contention in the discussion of the potential expansion of SEMAPA’s infrastructure [58
]. Particularly, the registration of EPSAs calls attention to questions of jurisdiction and zones of responsibility. The new legislation eliminated these zones, and through registries and licenses has granted small-scale systems jurisdiction over their water services, making them equal to SEMAPA before the law. This complicates planning and the expansion of SEMAPA into zones already serviced by smaller systems. Cases of parallel projects, competition and conflict between municipalities and communities over infrastructure and treatment facilities are common in the Department of Cochabamba.
Water committees and cooperatives in Cochabamba have engaged in a series of “multi-scalar strategies” to preserve their own systems [59
], including registering as EPSAs, as noted above. Conversely, other water committees and cooperatives maintained that the registration process is a threat to their autonomy. This reluctance to register as EPSAs possibly stems from the distrust that state institutions are acting in communities’ interest. A viewpoint held by many within institutions is that the sources do not actually belong to the communities, that the state is the regulator of water resources and their exploitation. As a water activist explained, the new legislation for diminishing the power of communities is a process that favors the state: “those who seek access to water are increasingly forced to the state, the laws, the courts” (Anonymous Interlocutor, Interview, 2014). Where disputes were previously settled between communities through uses and customs, several state agencies are now set to intervene. Further, Seemann faults the legislation for idealizing community harmony [56
]. Echoing Perreault’s [60
] argument, Seemann acknowledges that inclusive water governance can be beneficial for communal water rights yet rather than leveling the playing field, participating in the liberal justice system excludes communities unable to record their water consumption through uses and customs: “formal recognition of local hydrosocial territories necessarily implies the non-recognition and illegalization of a variety of non-formalized hydrosocial territories” [61
] (p. 169). Seemann concludes that MAS’ approach forms a “disciplinary water governance” as the formalization of the water sector can obscure inequalities in access to resources [54
The potential for registries and licenses to heighten inequality must be evaluated against the material impact of EPSAs recognition. As of 2014, according to information provided by AAPS, 46 EPSAs had registered in Cochabamba. Many water committees expressed frustrations over the minimal assistance received—obtaining formal recognition had not changed much. Without regulation over drilling wells, or analysis of water samples, AAPS functions as an outlet for complaints or conflicts that are not resolved within communities, to the point above that the formalization of the water sector has created a certain dependence on the state. A change in interactions with the state is observed in the way social movements and communities increasingly place demands upon MAS rather than seek their own solutions or alternatives, as had been done previously. Returning to participation, the EPSA registration process demonstrates the limited space for citizen participation. In an institution that purports to practice social control, AAPS fails to implement mechanisms for transformative participation thereby excluding many communities’ interests. Whether simply lack of capacity or commitment to foster spaces of participation, the public’s demands are often overlooked. This has important consequences for sector funding, and detrimental impacts for services for groups not aligned with the government.
The policies and projects under the government’s “Water for All” campaign seek to prioritize districts that lack access to water with a heavy focus on rural areas and irrigation programs. The Vice Minister of Water (at the time) proclaimed universal access for 99% of Bolivians would be achieved by 2020 (Vice Minister of Water, Interview, 2014). However, the national figures are more modest, according to the 2012 census, 80.8% have water access nationally, and in Cochabamba the figures are 68.7% for water and 54% for basic sanitation [62
]. Of the basic sanitation number, 54.6% consists of piped sewage systems, while 45.4% consist of alternatives such as septic tanks and cesspits [62
]. Further, the national statistics can be misleading because they focus on infrastructure, ignoring other criteria of quality, quantity and continuity of services [63
]. The national government projects focused on water and sanitation have had mixed outcomes. In reference to one of the largest projects under the Water for All campaign is Mi Agua
, several reports outline subpar construction of these projects, hastily executed to demonstrate results in order to garner favor with voters or reward support (NGO worker, Interview, 2014).
This kind of exchange is not unique to the MAS government. Lazar depicts the historical norms of patronage politics in Bolivia; what is distinct in the MAS regime is the position the party takes as the voice social movements [46
]. The critique leveled from the left charges Morales of co-opting social movements. As Regalsky [64
] (p. 47) explains, the push for political reform and Indigenous recognition in fact “subordinated [groups] to the state,” reinforced the party system, thereby demobilizing the movements due to loss of leadership and neutralizing the critical lens (Anonymous Interlocutor, Interview, 2014). Hierarchical clientelist relations between the political party and voters are reproduced, yet more obscured under the MAS government. This limits social movements’ abilities to work beyond the frameworks proposed by MAS.
In the water sector, this dynamic has led groups to align themselves with MAS’ position specifically to gain funding. The most notable example in the Cochabamba context is ASICA-SUDD-EPSAS’ wavering position regarding the autonomy of water committees. ASICA-SUDD-EPSAS is the umbrella organization representing many small-scale water systems of the Southern Zone. At its inception, in 2004, the organization’s stance was a defense of these water systems against dispossession by foreign capital. ASICA-SUDD-EPSAS was open to working jointly with SEMAPA on the administration of water and sanitation services, yet was steadfast about maintaining their autonomy [65
]. Influenced by the political climate, today the organization’s position has shifted to align with the conception of EPSAs existing within an overarching municipal system, viewing the small-scale systems as unsustainable. They no longer fully uphold the community management alternative (NGO worker, Interview, 2014). Being less critical of MAS was a tactic to gain technical or financial assistance to help maintain the systems, at the cost of the association’s ability to organize independently from the state. Paradoxically, any benefits received from aligning with MAS have not necessarily translated to advantages for the water committees of the Southern Zone. Instead, the organization is fragmented and no longer presents a strong unified front. ASICA-SUDD-EPSAS has weakened substantially, especially since the loss of funding from international donors.
Once numerous in the Cochabamba Valley, the presence of internationally-funded NGOs appears to be on the wane. Since the controversy surrounding TIPNIS (Territorio Indígena y Parque Nacional Isiboro Sécure
), there is an increasingly contentious relationship between MAS and NGOs critical of the government’s extractivist policies that contradict their position as champions for the environment, Indigenous populations [66
]. The Trans-Oceanic Highway, a joint infrastructure mega-project between Bolivia, Brazil, and Peru, consists of a large-scale highway across the Isiboro Sécure National Park TIPNIS affecting over sixty Indigenous communities. NGOs highly critical of the road for its environmental impact on the Amazonian rainforest and the displacement of Indigenous communities were reproached and threatened by MAS, and in one case expelled from the country (see McNeish [33
] and Achtenburg [62
] for further reading).
In May 2015, Morales issued Decree 2366, opening natural protected areas to mining and oil extraction. A month later, the President threatened to expel “imperialist” NGOs that challenge the decree [67
]. On the other hand, as Spronk points out, the basic funding structure for the water and sanitation sector in Bolivia is unchanged since the neoliberal era, reliant on external funding from international cooperation [68
]. The Minister of Finance reported 8.427 million bolivianos assigned to water and sanitation projects since 2006, when MAS took office nationally [69
]. However, this is not a sizable investment compared to the general upward trend of the GDP (USD 33.94 billion in 2016 at time of the Finance Minister’s statement) due to the rise in commodities exports [70
]. Public spending is devoted to more visible and popular construction projects, for example bridges, paving roads, plazas, and soccer fields. For many in Cochabamba, this means large water and sewage infrastructure projects remain dependent upon external donors, making local control over water services vulnerable to their conditionalities. But for the water committees and cooperatives in the Southern Zone facing financial constraints, there is less direct support from international cooperation and greater reliance on funding allocated through government institutions, while the crisis of unequal access to water persists.
Despite abolishing the private contract and the strong anti-privatization sentiment that followed the Water War, water commodification is still present in Bolivia today, further undermining the establishment of a strong public participatory alternative. In fact, while the Constitution outlines that the state is responsible for guaranteeing access to water, it does make reference to mixed water providers, which could include a private profit seeking component [68
]. Free market ideology is difficult to extinguish. The ongoing presence of the private sale of water in Cochabamba underscores the argument that the shift to “post-neoliberalism” is not categorical [71
]. Private water sales are a product of the weaknesses of Cochabamba’s public system, but they also provide a crutch for inaction on the part of government.