Who Owns Your Drinking Water?
|October 1, 2005||Posted by Staff under Progress Report, The Progress Report|
Who Owns Your Drinking Water?
K’iché Successfully Protest Water, Public Service Privatization Laws
Natural resource values should benefit all persons, not just a tiny handful.
Here is an interesting report from Cultural Survival’s Weekly Indigenous News.
Protesters mobilize against privatization of natural resources
by Rachel Ballester
More than 15,000 protestors assembled along the Inter-American Highway in Totonicapán on September 6, demanding that the controversial Water and Concessions laws be permanently retired from parliamentary discussion.
Following the massive protests by members of the indigenous group Kiché, the Guatemalan Congress decided to suspend discussion of the laws.
“The majority of natural resources are in indigenous territories. We are asking that the government consult indigenous leaders about laws that affect our territory,” Juan Gabriel Ixcampanj Nolasco, Executive Director of the Pluricultural Center for Democracy, a non-governmental organization that works for the revitalization of Mayan culture and advocates for indigenous rights, said in a phone interview.
The Water Law accounts for the privatization of all potable water sources in Guatemala, which were previously unregulated, and the Concessions Law allows the privatization of public services, with the exception of education and health services.
National officials have touted the benefits of the Water Law, claiming that it will ensure access to water for all Guatemalans and that all companies involved in the privatization will be forced to pay high taxes.
The Guatemalan Environmental and Natural Resources Commission began designing both laws in preparation for the Fair Trade Agreement of the Americas Act (FTAA), which is still being negotiated by the United States and most Latin American countries, including Guatemala.
In early August, indigenous residents of Totonicapán and seven other municipalities submitted two proclamations to the Guatemalan Congress calling for the total rejection of both laws.
In the document concerning the Water Law, they describe that the law would restrict their right to use, enjoyment, and conservation of their means of self-sustenance; conflict with their traditional forms of organization and violate their patrimonial rights; violate their autonomy and right to self-determination; be inhumane; and, citing Ordinance 169 of the International Labor Organization, interfere with their right to natural resources existing on their lands.
Ixcampanj compared the Water Law to the Mining Law of 1997, which allowed for the exploitation of natural resources in indigenous territory. He stressed the importance of the government not committing the same errors again.
The Kiché held a protest in early September to demand a response to their proposals. Because they received no answer from the government, they staged a massive protest on September 6, blocking access to the Governmental Department of Totonicapán and to the Inter-American Highway.
According to Prensa Libre, an independent Guatemalan newspaper, the protest was organized by the mayors from surrounding communities. The newspaper also reported that community radios were broadcasting information about the development of the protest, in the Kiché language.
The protest continued late into the day until the governor, Juan Armando Chun Chanchavec, agreed to communicate with Congress.
Following the protest, the President of the Commission, Lucrecia Marroquín, decided to suspend further discussion of the laws. According to La Hora, she signaled that the Commission would need to seek consensus on the agreement before passing it, stating, “It will be [everybody] who decides whether the law passes or not … precisely because we have seen the serious problem of Totonicapán, we have decided to suspend the proceedings.”
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