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Oct 27 2006
Supplied or written by Carlos Santos
The Challenges of “Blue October”
Carlos Santos*

Global actions will take place in October of 2006 to celebrate the right to water, marking the second anniversary of the water referendum that amended the Uruguayan constitution held on October 31st of 2004. The agenda of water movements coincides – in a time of advance against the commodification of this common resource – from the achievements reached at the World Social Forum in Caracas, Venezuela, and at the International Forum in Defense of Water held in Mexico, this year. The challenges seem to go beyond the consolidation of a common agenda of these movements at a global scale, from identifying and promoting an alternative, public and sustainable water management model.

Since early 2006, two important events took place which helped to consolidate a global movement in defense of water as a common good. First, within the 6th World Social Forum held in Caracas, as a result of the convergence of different activities, a common declaration was issued by European and Latin American organizations that promote public alternatives to water privatization. Then, the International Forum in Defense of Water took place in Mexico. There social movements proved to have gained enough legitimacy to replace the key role that had been played by transnational corporations and financial institutions, to even obtain the governments’ support.

The organizations arrived in Mexico after a process of convergence between organizations and movements from Latin America, North America and Europe, that had began at the (polycentric) World Social Forum held in Caracas. There, in the last week of January of 2006, a declaration was issued that included the different perspectives of water social movements and set the bases for building a common future agenda.

The declaration defines the key items of a common agenda of social movements: it demands excluding water from the World Trade Organization (WTO), Free Trade Agreements (FTA) and other international trade and investment treaties as well as the abolition of the World Bank’s International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).

At the same time, this common document provides that water management should be public, community-owned, participative and that for this purpose “a sustainable management of the ecosystems and the preservation of the water cycle is necessary by means of land ordering and the conservation of natural habitats, by establishing the river basins as basic units, where citizen’s participation is made possible in all the planning, management and control stages”.

Meanwhile, two major water-related international events took place in Mexico, from March 14 to 22. On the one hand, the 4th World Water Forum took place with the promotion of water corporations and international financial institutions, while on the other hand, the International Forum in Defense of Water took place in Mexico aswell, gathering social movements and organizations from around the world that fight for the public, participative and sustainable water management. It was the first time that social movements that promote water as a “common good” could coordinate an alternative forum to the World Water Forum.

The “Joint Declaration of Social Movements and Organizations on Water” issued in Caracas was one of the main inputs used to write a draft Declaration that led Minister of Water in Bolivia, Abel Mamani –former leader of FEJUVE, the Federation of Neighbor Boards from the city of El Alto -   to participate in the 4th World Water Forum.
The text included four important items: 1) the consolidation of water as a fundamental human right, 2) it set the bases of public and participative water management,  3) it provided the exclusion of water from trade agreements and  4) it made critical reference to the process that led to the World Water Forums (in the case of the Forum held in Mexico the participants had to pay an enrollment fee of nearly 120 dollars a day).

In the negotiation process that took place in Mexico, Bolivia’s position was discussed with official representatives from Venezuela, Cuba, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and some European countries. The representatives of social movements played a key role in this process. The declaration of this negotiation process was “supplementary” to the official declaration of the 4th World Water Forum that was signed only by the governments of Bolivia, Cuba, Uruguay and Venezuela.

The four main items of Bolivia’s declaration were kept in the alternative declaration, with a different approach on the water and free trade issue, that pointed out that the “deep concern over the possible negative impacts that an international instrument - such as a free trade agreement or a trade investment treaty- may have on water resources, and we affirm the sovereign right of every country to rule all water uses and utilities”.

The social movements and organizations that defend water as a common good face the challenge of “Blue October”. That is the name given to the group of global actions to be held to celebrate the human right to water, marking the Constitutional referendum held in Uruguay on October 31 of 2004, that consecrated water as a human right and set the basis for a public, participative and sustainable management of water.

“Blue October” will surely be a step forward in the consolidation of the global movement “in defense of water and life”, or at least in building a common agenda between different movements.

However, the greater challenges lie in the construction of a new model of water management that will necessarily have to be a public, participative and socially controlled. But above all, it should consider the territories that produce water as part of the management process.

For this purpose, this movement must have a greater influence in the decision-making spheres. International Financial Institutions are responsible for promoting a “privatizing” water model. The involvement of some governments in defense of big water corporations has also been clear.

The alternative declaration to the 4th World Water Forum, signed by Bolivia, Cuba, Uruguay and Venezuela is an important step forward in hegemonic positions that used to favor the water private sector. The task of social movements now has doubled. Besides the defensive task, there is an offensive task, of promoting a new model of public management of water, that solves the problems of ordinary people and raises awareness about the need to preserve water for the future generations.

When we think about this model, many of us think of the experience of Venezuela’s Water Technical Boards that have been working on this since 1993, some years before the Bolivarian process began. There is no doubt that the construction of this new model will be more local and undefined than we can imagine. It is necessary to experiment with creativity and imagination, with the idea that “another water management is possible”.

* Carlos Santos is a member of REDES – Friends of the Earth Uruguay.
This article was published in September in issue number 31 of the journal EcologĂ­a PolĂ­tica, of Icaria publisher, Barcelona.

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