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America is Crying – The Struggle for Water in Latin America

March 2018

The below excerpts are from a much larger article that originally appeared on the Landless Workers Movement (MST) website and was authored by Marcelo Aguilar of the Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB). The MST and MAB are both Grassroots International partners. On this World Water Day, we want to honor the movements in Latin America struggling for their human right to water.

The Americas have the largest percentage of freshwater reserves in the world, including a large number of flowing rivers and the largest aquifers in the world – the Guarani Aquifer (encompassing Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay) and the Alter do Chão Aquifer (Amazon). Whether it was during the privatization wave of the 1990s or through evictions caused by neo-development, big business always wanted to appropriate the territories and aquatic resources through privatization. However, there were also several resistance experiments in this period. Without claiming to cover all of them, we cite here some exemplary cases of struggle in defense of water and territories.


fighting corporate water consumption in Brazil

The conflict over water and land comes from afar in the western region of Bahia. During the military dictatorship (1964-1985), groups of gunmen (with the protection of the State and help of the police) operated in the region at the service of land grabbers that threatened and assaulted the population, in fact, that still occurs today. However, nowadays the water dispute has been increasing due to the level of consumption of the large transnational agribusiness companies operating in the region.

Data from the Brazilian Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) indicates that at least 17 streams of the Arrojado River are already totally dry. Companies like Sudotex, Celeiro, BrasilAgro and Igarashi, for example, with investments from other countries like New Zealand, the United States and Japan, are increasingly encroaching on the rivers. At the center of the struggle for water sits Igarashi, a Japanese-based multinational, now consumes an amount equivalent to one hundred times the city of Correntina. In November 2017, a group of peasants and workers from the region boycotted facilities of two international agribusiness farms accused of drying up rivers in the region. The group is being persecuted and criminalized, and the population has taken to the streets to defend water as a source of life and not profit for companies.

On November 11, 12,000 people out of a total population of 33,000 demonstrated with a march. At the Public Hearing held in Correntina, Andréia Neiva, of the Movement of Affected by Dams (MAB) [a Grassroots International partner], which organizes in the region, emphasized: “There is no thug here, no. Here there are workers who are defending their right to life. We are victims of a development process that does not consider us and does not respect us. If you treat us like thugs, like criminals, then prepare the jails, because there won’t be enough jails to arrest the whole population of Western Bahia.”

Activist assassinated for defending territory

Berta Cáceres was murdered for defending the rivers. Honduras is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for environmental activists. Berta, who was the founder and main leader of the Civic Council of Honduran Popular and Indigenous Organizations (COPINH) [a Grassroots International partner], was fighting against the installation of Agua Zarca Hydroelectric Dam on the Gualcarque River.

Berta’s death occurred in the midst of a strong struggle against the project, and COPINH blames the DESA Company, which had constantly threatened activists, and the Honduran state, which had failed to protect human rights defenders. An international report published in November 2017 shows that the crime was ordered by directors of DESA, in collaboration with state security forces.

During her speech at the Goldman Award Ceremony, Berta said some statements that will remain with us in the struggle, including:

The Lenca people are ancestral guardians of the rivers, in turn protected by the feminine spirit, who teach us that giving our lives in various ways for the protection of the rivers is giving our lives for the well-being of humanity and of this planet… Let us wake up! We’re out of time. WE must shake our conscience free of the rapacious capitalism, racism and patriarchy that will only assure our own self-destruction.

Our Mother Earth – militarized, fenced-in, poisoned, a place where basic rights are systematically violated – demands that we take action.


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