Uruguay says Yes to Water Sovereignty
Referendum result – 60% reject water privatization
On the historical day October 31 st , 62,75% of the Uruguayan people supported the Constitutional Reform in Defense of Water, adding water as a human right to the Constitution and setting the basis for its exclusive public, participative and sustainable management.
This referendum resource was promoted by the National Commission in Defense of Water and Life (CNDAV) . The commission was created in 2002 as an answer to the signing of a Letter of Intent between the Uruguayan government and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which committed to extend the privatization of potable water and sanitation services to the entire country.
Privatizations started in Maldonado department, firstly with the presence of French multinational company Suez Lyonnese Des Aux followed by Spanish company Aguas de Bilbao.
As in most of water privatizations performed last year, these processes have had negative consequences.
From the social point of view, wide sectors were prevented access to potable water for not being able to afford the cost of the service, which considerably decreased its quality with respect to the services granted by water state company OSE.
The conditions of the service were of such low quality that quality control bodies in that matter recommended not to consume water because it didn’t comply with minimum quality standards.
From an economic point of view, the “business” was really bad for the Uruguayan state. Not only did the companies failed to comply with the chronograms provided in the contracts, but they didn’t pay what was established as well. Having to file for contractual reconsiderations before the state, which assumed the losses caused in each of the cases.
From an environmental point of view, Aguas de la Costa company (subsidiary of Suez) was responsible for drying Blanca Lagoon, which used to be used as potablilization source. Precisely for this cause, neighbors of Maldonado department filed a law suit against the company for environmental damages.
Water against everything
The victory of the water plebiscite was actually a social one. CNDAV is a wide group of social and political organizations which oppose a merchandising conception of water.
Among their founders are neighbors’ organizations, FFOSE (water state company’s trade union) and REDES-FOE (Friends of the Earth Uruguay). After its foundation, the commission became greater, including the majority left wing political party (Frente Amplio, winner of October 31st elections) and one nationalist party’s sectors.
However, despite its political support, the water plebiscite was secondary within the politic and media agenda. In addition to this, privatizing companies, of water and other sectors (as bottling companies) as well as conservative business sectors (large estate owners, forestal and rice) carried out a strong politic and media lobby against the reform.
During the nine months previous to the campaign, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) started a public debate with the CNDAV, denying any imposition to the Uruguayan government and refusing the responsibility attributed to the content of 2002 Intentions Letter.
The work, which enabled the triumph of the Constitutional Reform , was based on the grassroots, which transmitted the spirit and content of the proposed articles.
The auspicious result of the plebiscite opens the doors for a water policy designed from a vision of this resource as a common good, to be publicly managed on social participation and sustainability criteria.