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Two Dragons welcome the sunrise with an improvised dance atop the Andes. Photo by Ryan Gasper.

Meeting Oscar Oliviera

Last week we had the opportunity to meet one of the most well-known and respected persons in Cochabamba: Oscar Olivera.
Oscar Olivera was the spokesperson for the Coordinadora and leader as well as defining voice of the protest against water privatization in Bolivia in 2000.

We met Oscar at one of his new projects at a school outside of Cochabamba. The project builds a water basin to collect rainwater only by the help of the students’ parents. In contrast to Tiquipaya (where we live), which is privileged with a close by water resource from the mountains, water in Cochabamba is extremely rare and expensive. In some parts of Cochabamba people only have excess to water for a few hours a week. Therefore, they store water in huge tanks. Already by observing the landscape on our way to the meeting underlines the value and rarity of water: No green areas, only a few trees and everything is dry and dusty.

My first impression of Oscar was that he seemed like a very energetic person, always on the run, doing stuff. In fact, have we been very lucky to meet him. Because of his projects he does not have a lot of time. Since Sandy knew him very well, he agreed to meet us. Only under the condition that he would not give a regular Charla (a Talk we have twice a week) at the Program house, rather a working Charla.

After we visited the Project we sat in a circle. Oscar told us about the water war and the fight against it by the people of Cochabamba:
Bolivia has a different relationship to their nature. In Bolivia people live with everything – Patcha Mama, animals, plants – water is not only for humans, it is a common good, which should not belong to anybody. When the government of Bolivia privatized the Water in 1999 the cost of water rose by multiple times and people could not afford it anymore or were prohibited to use self-built cistern’s or to collect rainwater.
Peoples only chance for water was through the Private company.
After a five-month long period of protests and barricades in which all the people participated – it was an everyday problem, everybody was effected by – the Bolivian government gave in and deprivatized the water.
The people of Cochabamba overcame their struggle through a spirit of solidarity. Oscar explained to us that the water war ended in favor of the people because of the power of the people to organize themselves.
The same is happening in the school we were sitting in. According to Oscar no political parties or cooperation can effect change for this school. Change has to come from the people and it can come from them, as the example of the hard working parents show.

As an act of solidarity and thanks for the meeting with Oscar did we spend the rest of the morning helping the parents.
My first impression was confirmed when Oscar was the first one of us starting to help. Even before we put our feet on the Construction zone, he had already mixed the first bag of cement.

After 1 h 30 min of working under the burning sun I could understand the Impact and Importance this project has for the school and students. Especially when the parents had 3 more months finishing the project under those conditions.

It was a great pleasure and honor to meet Oscar Oliviera.