Last week brought an end to one of the greatest water battles in history. The people of Bolivia have successfully reclaimed ownership of their water from the Bechtel Corporation. In 1999, Bechtel made an arrangement with the Bolivian government to take ownership of the water supply and charge citizens for its use. Within weeks of the takeover, Bechtel raised water rates by 50% and made it illegal to gather rainwater without a permit. The ensuing citizen revolt forced Bechtel out of the country. Bechtel then sued Bolivia for $50 million for "profit losses." But last week, after four years of legal disputes and public pressure, the case was dropped. "This is the first time that a major corporation like Bechtel has had to back down from a major trade case as the result of global citizen pressure," said Jim Shultz, executive director of The Democracy Center in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Bechtel's surrender coincides with the election of indigenous populist farm leader, Evo Morales, who has long been a sharp critic of Bechtel and other transnational corporations operating in Bolivia.
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