Mexico: protests at water forum

Some 15,000 people marched along Mexico City’s Reforma avenue on March 16 to protest water privatization plans as the representatives of 140 countries met nearby for the opening of the 4th World Water Forum. “Water isn’t for sale and won’t be sold,” the marchers chanted, denouncing all three major Mexican political parties for water policies that “degrade and profit from the suffering of the people.” In 1993 the then-ruling centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) awarded a 30-year water concession in Cancun, Quintana Roo, to the French multinational now known as SUEZ, while the Federal District, governed by the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), recently signed a contract with the Mexican water bottler Bonafont, owned by the French multinational Groupe Danone. Mexican president Vicente Fox Quesada, of the center- right National Action Party (PAN), is the former head of Coca- Cola Mexico, which sells Agua Ciel brand bottled water. (Adital, March 17; Minga Informativa de Movimientos Sociales, March 22)

Twenty-six people, allegedly part of an anarchist “black bloc,” were arrested during a confrontation with police. March organizers distanced themselves from the arrested protesters but charged that men in white shirts and green pants had infiltrated the protest and had provoked the demonstrators. Meanwhile, grassroots groups held a parallel event in Mexico City March 16-20: the International Forum for the Defense of Water. (Adital, March 20)

The World Water Forum ended on March 22–World Water Day–with a general declaration on “the need to include water and sanitation as priorities in national processes, particularly in national strategies for sustainable development and poverty reduction.” Non-governmental organizations, along with Bolivia, Cuba, Uruguay and Venezuela, had pushed unsuccessfully for a “human right to water,” which would probably create major legal problems for corporations involved in water privatization. The World Water Forum is held every three years; the next session will be in Istanbul, Turkey. (Minga, March 22)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 26

See our last reports on water privatization struggles in Chiapas, elsewhere in Mexico, Central America and Africa.

See our last post on Mexico.

  1. Against privatization
    Talli Nauman writes for El Universal March 26:

    Someone must assume the cost of protecting the water. That someone is everyone. It is not, as plenty of water forum participants proposed, the private water companies, telling private citizens how to do things. The folly of that approach was amply illustrated in Bolivia, when San Francisco-based Bechtel Corp. bought a regional public water supply in 2000 and used that as a means to order people around — leading to a revolt, martial law and an entirely new regime.

    In Mexico, it also was illustrated in Aguascalientes, Cancún and Saltillo, when French multinational Suez contracted the municipal water services and raised the prices with no commensurate improvement in supply but less public input in decisions.

    The tough topic at the water forums this month is the central challenge of assuring participation in decision making about water resources. In an attempt to play down that crucial need, water profiteers denigrate the advocacy of citizen involvement by calling it “politicizing the water debate.