Social Control and Public Water in Cochabamba, Bolivia
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During the Water War in 2000, residents of Cochabamba, Bolivia, famously mobilized against water privatization, and gained back public control of the city’s water utility. Nearly two decades later, the water movement’s vision of democratic water provision remains largely unfulfilled. The city suffers from a prolonged water crisis of chronic water shortages and uneven distribution, with most of the peri-urban areas not connected to the municipal water operator. Drawing on 18 months of fieldwork, including participant observation and in-depth interviews with water users, community leaders, policymakers, water utility representatives, government officials, scholars, and activists, this thesis explores the daily struggles for better public water services in Cochabamba. As a starting point, I return to the Water War of 2000, where mobilized citizens demanded the democratization of governance structures through ‘social control,’ a local form of public participation. I argue that the inequitable water services in Cochabamba, stratified among classed, racial, and gendered lines, are linked to weak mechanisms of public participation, which can be traced to fundamental divides amongst actors over the meaning of participation. In order to analyze how participatory mechanisms have developed, I build a typology of different kinds of participation according to their conceptualizations, intended outcomes, tools, and practices. Applying this framework to the water and sanitation sector in Cochabamba uncovers whose interests are served, and which groups are included or excluded from access to water and decision-making. It further illustrates how, in their implementation, participatory practices are not linear and can be distorted or appropriated towards different ends. Competing perspectives of ‘social control’ and participation, weak participatory mechanisms, institutional inertia and persistent neoliberal logic have impeded transformative participation from taking hold within the municipal service provider in Cochabamba. Understanding what leads to mixed results of remunicipalization is crucial to strengthening public alternatives.
URI for this recordhttp://hdl.handle.net/1974/26347
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