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Bolivia Water Crisis Correspondence

Response to Bechtel's Latest Communication

Dear Friends:

I am writing this to those who have been following the story over the water rate uprisings in Bolivia. Many of you received yet another e-mail this past week from our good friends at the Bechtel Corporation, accusing me once again with misrepresenting the facts about how high their price hikes actually were. Included in their e-mail was a chart asserting what Bechtel says the price hikes were. I found it interesting that Bechtel chose not to send this information to me directly.

Below is my response to Bechtel, which speaks for itself. Thank you for your ongoing interest on this. Iíll keep you posted if there are any new developments. Meanwhile, a complete set of all my articles and updates on the water uprising is now posted on The Democracy Center Web site (http://www.democracyctr.org).

All the best,

Jim Shultz The Democracy Center

RESPONSE LETTER TO BECHTEL

May 28, 2000

Mr. Didier Quint Mr. Riley Bechtel Managing Director Chairman and CEO International Water LLC Bechtel Enterprises (dplquint@iwltd.com) (rbechtel@bechtel.com)

(via e-mail)

Dear Mr. Quint and Mr. Bechtel:

I am in receipt of your May 25th public e-mail communication regarding the recent Bolivian uprisings against your increases in water rates. In your message you charge me, by name, with making assertions that "were false and misleading, including a statement that tariffs have gone up 100-300% for many people." You also claim to "set the record straight" by offering a chart which asserts that, for the majority of poor families here, you only raised water rates between 2.4% and 30%.

While, for some reason, you chose not to actually share this communication with me directly, several of the recipients have forwarded it to me. Please allow me to set the record straight for you.

Bechtel Corporation and International Waters Limited can create and distribute any chart or characterizations you like and it will not change the basic facts. I live here. I speak with poor families here everyday and ask them, "How much did your water rates go up in January?" The people who live here consistently tell me, in precise numbers, what your increases were and most all are double or more. I have yet to meet a single family who had an increase of just 10%, which you claim was the norm for poor families. Bolivian news investigations during the water conflicts also affirmed the severity of your increases. My familyís own invoices from your company directly contradict the information in your charts. When I share your claims with families here their responses are virtually always the same, "Thatís a lie."

In your own April 25th correspondence to me, you complain bitterly and at length about the government forcing your companies into "such a rapid increase", yet now you claim that your increases were actually quite tiny. Let me make my point more clear. Is it really your opinion that the people of Cochabamba shut down their city for a week (losing a weekís wages in the process), stood down government tear gas and bullets, gave their lives and endured serious injuries, all to protest a water rate increases of just 50 cents to $2 per month (as you assert in your chart)?

This, Mr. Bechtel and Mr. Quindt, is precisely the problem. You sit in your offices thousands of miles from here, look over some charts prepared by your subordinates and think you know the facts. It is abundantly clear from your ongoing correspondence that you have absolutely no grasp on the facts regarding the severity of your water price hikes. If you actually want to understand what your companies did here and why it provoked such a deep and broad public reaction then you should follow the advice of many who have written to you. Come to Cochabamba and talk with real people. Iím sure you would find it quite an education.

Few international managers have on their record the history of so mismanaging an enterprise that their customers rose up and kicked them out of the country. Bechtel and International Waters Limited now share that unfortunate distinction. Rather than trying to explain away that history with fiction, it seems to me you would be far better off actually trying to understand what really happened here and your role in it.

I will share this response with the many individuals and news organizations worldwide who are following this matter.

Sincerely,

Jim Shultz Executive Director The Democracy Center Cochabamba, Bolivia


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