Tuesday, December 23, 2008 Leave a comment
Originally published November 20, 2008.
Despite the cost of seeing a movie on a weekend evening, I checked out Quantum of Solace last Saturday. The film takes the title of a Bond short story by Ian Fleming, but that’s the singular contribution of the text. If you’ve seen the movie, you probably already suspected that the plot was something Fleming never imagined.
Though scenes with various foreign ministers and agents illustrate the global concern over sources of oil, the audience learns that the real target of monopolization is another natural resource, the control of which will truly determine the balance of power in the world: water.
Perhaps the most disconcerting part of this Hollywood depiction of water privatization is that it’s actually happening.
The filmmakers were conscious enough of this to center their conflict in Bolivia, a real-life battleground for public water in cities like Cochabamba and El Alto. Instead of naming the mysterious group behind Dominic Greene “Quantum,” the writers should have just flat out said “the World Bank Group and the IMF.”
In 1998, the International Monetary Fund gave the green light on a $138 million loan to Bolivia to help manage the country’s inflation and economic growth issues. As part of the deal, Bolivia’s government agreed to sell off any public enterprises remaining in order to comply with reforms mandated by the IMF.
The following year, the World Bank issued the Bolivia Public Expenditure Review, which strongly suggested that water should not be subsidized in Cochabamba due to potential interference with funding efforts by the IMF and the World Bank.
By the end of 1999, Bolivia legalized water privatization and signed a 40-year, $2.5 billion contract with Aguas del Tunari, awarding them the rights to provide water and sanitation services to the residents of Cochabamba (which would potentially force them to pay for the full cost of the services).
By January of 2000, water prices had as much as tripled for people living in the city. Protests, then riots, took place over the next few months. In the ensuing violence, Aguas del Tunari was forced to withdraw from Bolivia and the control of water was signed over to a grassroots coalition.
Oh, as a quick side note: Aguas del Tunari is a subsidiary of Bechtel, an American corporation whose privatization efforts have been funded by the International Finance Corporation-a part of the World Bank Group. In fact, in 2004, World Bank was estimated to have loaned about $20 billion to water supply projects.
This was right on the heels of the release of a study by the International Consortium of Public Journalists in 2003 which concluded that in the five years prior, the majority of the World Bank’s loans regarding water required the conversion from public to private systems as a stipulation of the transaction.
Did I mention the goal of the World Bank is to “reduce poverty”?
Of course, Cochabamba isn’t the only example of large-scale water privatization. In 1997, El Alto’s municipal water system suffered the same fate, though protesting didn’t result in a break of contract with Suez, a French water corporation with World Bank connections, until January 2005.
While a James Bond movie is trivial, it’s getting at a much larger issue than many people realize. We aren’t dealing with a secret organization populated by international socioeconomic elite covering their wrongdoings with “philanthropic” efforts, making transactions at a trippy performance of Puccini’s Tosca. We’re dealing with international socioeconomic elite and their corporations making water privatizations efforts all over the world, including the United States and Europe.
Though Bolivia might sound like an extreme, Third-World instance, water is becoming a luxury item just as quickly in our own country as companies like Perrier greedily eye Great Lakes water, without regard to water restrictions and shortages across the nation. As late as 2003, Atlanta fought to end its own privatization contract with Suez, the same tentacle of the World Bank that privatized water in El Alto, Bolivia.
We’re not Daniel Craig in a handsome suit fighting for justice against a faceless global evil. We’re the everyday moviegoers who complain about how much it costs to go to the theater while a known enemy sits in our own backyard-World Bank’s headquarters are located in Washington.
It’s difficult not to leave a Bond movie imagining your own life being half as exciting, but be careful what you wish for. While we worry about oil resources, we’ve got our own “Quantum” looming over us, and we’re entirely unprepared.
Chelsea is a senior in English and creative writing and drinks over two liters of water a day. No, really.