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(en) US, San Francisco, Anti-FTAA/Bechtel Action

From Jeffrey Juris <jeffjuris@earthlink.net>
Date Fri, 1 Nov 2002 05:10:35 -0500 (EST)


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      Lockdown at Bechtel, Let the Water Flow!

Pictures: http://www.indybay.org/news/2002/10/1539900.php

On October 28, at the beginning of a week in which
governments and corporate leaders from across the Americas
meet in Quito to negotiate the FTAA, a vocal opposition was
raised in the heart of San Francisco?s business district. A
handful of activists occupied the entrance to the world
headquarters of Bechtel Corporation, while scores of
supporters rallied outside with music, dance, protest chants,
and cheers of solidarity. Across the street from the Bechtel
building, which occupies most of a city block, a banner was
raised demanding that Bechtel drop their $25 million lawsuit
against the government of Bolivia.

                 The Action

The group of activists, men and women, young and old,
walked into Bechtel headquarters at 11:20 a.m. and
immediately chained themselves together around a turnstile in
the lobby of the building. For the lockdown they used lock
boxes made of lengths of pipe painted blue with slogans such
as ?Our world is not for sale?, and ?Water for Life, Not Profit.?
Their lockdown continued for over two hours, disrupting
business as dozens of police and firemen rushed to the scene
in response. As the chained-down activists struggled with
police and Bechtel officials inside the building, supporters
gathered outside with songs and chants.
The group ?Dancers Without Borders? performed a dance
piece entitled ?On Oppression?, a marching band known as
the Brass Liberation Orchestra played festive dissonance on
French Horn, Sax, Bass Drum, and Cymbals, and a dozen
others circled in front of the entrance of the building with
bluetinted cloth on stilts to create a ?river of life? flowing
merrily through San Francisco?s financial district. Marchers
circled the building shouting ?Bechtel wants millions/We say
No!/Don?t privatize the water/Let the water Flow!?
San Francisco Police arrived on the scene shortly after the rally
began, but did little to contain the crowd of protesters.Inside
Bechtel, the thirteen activists demanded that they be allowed
to speak to the highest Bechtel official in the building to
present their demands. After some time they were granted a
meeting with Bechtel?s Public Relations Officers, but the
dialogue reportedly went nowhere. Police offered the activists
a chance to unchain themselves in exchange for a simple
charge of trespassing, but the activists held out until they were
cut loose from their chains with a heavy circular saw. Between
1:30 and 2:00 the group of thirteen was brought out of the
building one by one to the cheers and good will of their rallying
comrades.

                The Demands

Bechtel, one of the world?s largest engineering firms, has
drawn heavy criticism from advocates for human rights,
environmental protection, fair trade, and ethical business
practices  for its record of putting vast profits over the health
and well-being of millions in its ventures to build everything
from water supply schemes to bridges to nuclear power plants.
Bechtel was targeted by the San Francisco activists because of
its strong support for the Free Trade Area of the Americas and
its frontline position in the rush to commodify and privatize the
world?s dwindling supply of fresh water.
The action was assembled and coordinated by the group
Action for Local/Global Justice to articulate three key
demands: that Bechtel drop its $25 million lawsuit against the
government of Bolivia, cease support of the FTAA, and stop
privatizing water at home and abroad. Bechtel has been the
object of letter-writing campaigns, public interest lobbying,
and other pressures to meet these demands, to no avail. As
one of the activists noted, ?because of the way corporations
like Bechtel work, people who choose to defend the public
interest are forced to do it by means of direct action and direct
democracy. Because corporate decisions are made behind
closed doors, beyond public scrutiny, direct action of this sort
is the only way to show disapproval of what these corporations
do.?
                 The FTAA

The FTAA, a pending trade agreement between every nation
in North and South America, barring Cuba, is known by critics
as ?NAFTA on steroids.? Initiated at meetings in Santiago,
Chile in 1998, and based on the model of NAFTA and the
WTO, the FTAA goes far beyond the trade liberalization
schemes brought about by those models, giving multinational
corporations sweeping authority over virtually every aspect of
life in the Americas. By
promoting IMF-style Structural Adjustment and other
economic austerity measures, the FTAA will bring about the
privatization and downsizing of services such as health care
and social programs and ensure that all public utilities  water,
power, and telecommunications  come under the control of
the private sector.
The recent history of Bechtel Corporation serves as a
cautionary tale of what the FTAA may bring. Bechtel, a
century-old Fortune 500 business, is best known for massive
infrastructure projects such as the Hong Kong airport, the
London Underground, and the Alaskan, trans-Arabian and
trans-Caspian Oil Pipelines. Bechtel is responsible for the
construction and co-management of the Nevada Nuclear test
site and the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage area, as
well as more than 150 nuclear power plants worldwide. The
attention that Bechtel is drawing in the current debate revolves
around its new position as one of the global giants in water
management. Among Bechtel?s recent contracts in the realm
of water are its buyout of the water supply system in Metro
Manila and its position as 50% owner of U.S. Water, a
subsidiary that is currently buying up public water services in
dozens of cities across the United States. Bechtel also operates
International Water Limited, whose best-known  legacy is the
struggle in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

             Water in Cochabamba

On Feburary 4, 2000, more than 1,000 police were called out
to crush demonstrations in Cochabamba, Bolivia, when
massive rate increases by Aguas de Tunari, Bechtel?s local
subsidiary, threatened the fresh water access of an estimated
500,000 people in the region. What followed was two days of
rioting that left two people blind, one dead, and hundreds
injured.
By early April, Bechtel terminated its contract and abandoned
the country. Local workers took control of Cochabamba?s
water supply, and remain in control to this day. The price
hikes that
instigated the rioting were driven by Bechtel?s need to pay off
$30 million owed by the previous public water company.
According to Jim Shultz of The Democracy Center in
Cochabamba, the rate increase amounted to as much as 300
percent over previous rates.
After leaving Bolivia, Bechtel instigated a case against the
impoverished nation to the tune of $25 million. Under a
bilateral investment treaty (BIT) a mechanism that is part of
NAFTA and similar to those that will be set in place by the
FTAA  Bechtel has the right to sue Bolivia for its lost profits.
Bechtel employees interviewed on the day of the San
Francisco protest claim that the government of Bolivia ?stole?
a water system that was designed and built by Bechtel. But
common sense dictates that Bechtel should never have taken
over the system with the intention of charging up to 300 %
more than the previous company had charged  up to a quarter
of residents? annual income in many cases. The suit, which is
being leveled against the national government of Bolivia, puts
tremendous pressure on the leaders of Cochabamba?s
citizens? movement and the workers who have kept water
flowing since April 2000. As far as the protesters are
concerned, the Cochabamba water takeover provides a model
of cooperatively run public utility  a model that should be
followed from Santiago to San Francisco. Hence the cries
rising from the streets of San Francisco as the thirteen activists
who occupied Bechtel headquarters were brought out of the
building by police: ?No F, no T, no double
A, from here to Cochabamba make Bechtel go away.?



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