Latin America and the Ecosocialist Alternative
University of London Union, September 18 2010
Organised jointly by Socialist Resistance and Green Left.
The guest of honour at this conference was Hugo Blanco, who is a tireless campaigner for the rights of indigenous communities in Peru, where he led a peasant revolution in 1961. He has been imprisoned and at one point was facing the death penalty. He is the editor of Lucha Indigena, a journal about the struggle of the indigenous peoples of Latin America. (As far as I am aware, this journal is not yet available in English-language editions). His campaign is based on the concept of Ecosocialism, and we were very proud to have him among us as a guest speaker. (He spoke via an interpreter).
(The meeting then divided into various workshops.)
This was subtitled WATER POVERTY AND WATER THEFT IN LATIN AMERICA, and introduced a great deal of information about the use and exploitation of water resources in various Latin American countries.
The first topic to be introduced was the threat to the town of Espinar in Peru, 400 miles south of Lima, which will be left without water if the Majes-Sigur dam project goes ahead. More recently (subsequent to the conference) it has transpired that residents of the city of Cuzco have staged a strike in support of the residents of Espinar; during the previous protests in Espinar, at least one person was killed.
The next topic was the Cochabamba Water War in Bolivia.
This resulted from an attempt in 1999-2000 to privatise water, and to make it illegal for people to collect water in water butts, rain barrels, etc.
Then some statistics were discussed; apparently about 80 million people have no access to safe, clean water, and about 100 million have no access to sanitation of any kind. There are 260 million dependent on latrines and septic tanks; and only about 15% of sewage is treated. Poor people pay 150%-300% MORE for their water than the better-off. Access to water is a serious problem, especially for women: after the conference, I found this link, which elaborates upon why access to water is more of a problem for women. Water in Latin America: the importance of gender relations.
We were also given some information about Mexico City. In the barrios (shanty towns), there is no running water, or it is available for only one hour a week; the poor have to buy water. The water supply is polluted during the rainy season, and black water (untreated sewage) is used on crops as fertiliser; but untreated sewage is usually a health hazard. (In fact there are methods of treating sewage to render it harmless, but Mexico City doesn't have the infrastructure to do this). It has been found that 100% of the food sold at street stalls in the barrios is contaminated with fecal matter from the sanitation ditches in the barrios; when they dry, the wind blows the contents over the city.
Then we returned to discussion of Peru. It so happened that, a few days previous, there had been an article in The Guardian (click here to read it) about the threat to the Peruvian water supply by the cultivation of asparagus for the export market. It informs the reader that