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corporate dominance | environment

Cochabamba: Water as a Human Right

The economy should be part of life, not a steamroller crushing self-determination and creativity. The TTIP, TPP and TISA trade agreements create a parallel private arbitration system where corporations can sue states, states cannot sue corporations and decisions are irrevocable. Labor and environmental protections could be called trade barriers. Privatization could threaten public sector workers and fear of lawsuits could nip public interest regulations in the bud.

By Roberto De La Puenta

[This article published on September 14, 2015 is translated from the German on the Internet,  http://ad-sinistram.blogspot.de.]

Whether the free trade agreement with the United States allows the privatization of drinking water is not clarified. The TTIP is not known for modesty but aims at the deliberate economization of all areas of life. Why should the agreement stop at water\? Water is degraded to a commercial good even without the initiative of European conservatives. TTIP only allows one interpretation: everything is negotiable. Everything is a commodity. Nothing is inviolable, not social standards, not water and not human dignity. Pay attention, Sigmar Gabriel! Co-cha-bam-ba. Have you ever heard that\?

Cochabamba is a city in the heart of Bolivia, not a South American dance. The water war, the Guerra de Agua, was waged there in 2000. The International Monetary Fund forced the privatization of the water supply in Bolivia. A consortium of businesses, Bechtel, Edison and Abengoa named Aquas de Tunari tripled the price of water. Many poor families could not afford water any more, thirsted for the precious liquid and cooked with collected rainwater. Collecting rainwater was criminalized since society regarded the three businesses as owners of the groundwater. That was a theft of the resources to be profitably exploited, a robbery of a foundation. Mass protests occurred. Bechtel, Edison and Abengoa engaged the state police and enforced their right to profit. Seven persons died in the disturbances. Hundreds were injured. The government could not hold out and withdrew the privatization. When markets collapsed and businesses closed, the IMF protested.

Sigmar Gabriel is not a European conservative... But is he really so na´ve to believe Cochabamba could be frustrated or suppressed in a capsized Europe\? How could that happen\? Every protective measure that national governments draft can be dragged before an arbitration court. Businesses in the TTIP zone can prate about competition distortion and call their lawyers if the coalition says games cannot be played with water and pass a law about this. Then Cochabamba is suddenly European reality, not a history from South America any more. Then water would still flow down the Rhine, only more expensively.

Whoever thinks such scenarios can be suppressed is mildly na´ve or slightly dumb... Mr. Gabriel, the greatest of all TTIP activists of all time, don't be foolish! Water should be a public good and not in the hands of businesses. The water supply must be reasonably priced as a basic right. Whoever puts the water supply at risk puts the social peace at risk and all ideas of participation and pleads for domestic war.

The basic theme of this free trade agreement does not allow an inviolable water supply. Inviolable water is diametrically opposed to the agreement. TTIP does not recognize any autonomous system. Consequently Cochabamba will be our daily routine in Europe. Why should Sigmar Gabriel worry about water when he can drink wine\? Or do you prefer drinking beer, Mr. Gabriel\?


"Water War in Cochabamba" on Democracy Now, April 19, 2010


By Stefan Sauer

[This article published in September 2015 is translated abridged from the German on the Internet,  http://www.fr.online.de. The photograph in the original German article is from a protest against Chevron's environmental pollution.]

US firms can sue for investment protection without the free trade agreement TTIP. An agreement with another country makes this possible.

Ecuador's Supreme Court ordered the US oil multinational Chevron to pay compensation of $9.5 billion in November 2013 because of immense environmental damage in the headwaters of the Amazon. For nearly 30 years, the Texaco Corporation, taken over by Chevron in 2001, drilled oil in the largest old growth forest of the earth and contaminated soil and water with 30 billion liters of highly toxic sediment. However instead of paying, Chevron appealed to a 1997 free trade agreement between the US and Ecuador and its investment protection regulations.

On this basis, the corporation sued the South American state - and was vindicated in October 2014. Ecuador was ordered to pay $77 million to Chevron by an arbitration court. The government in Quito still waits for a settlement of environmental damages today.

Such cases make the resistance against the planned trade agreement between the EU and the US understandable. The "Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership" (TTIP) includes investment protection clauses that enable multinational firms to sue against whole countries when their investments are impaired by state actions.

Meanwhile the German government that supports the TTIP on principle criticizes the conventional understanding of investment protection procedures. Economic minister Sigmar Gabriel (SPD) urged replacing the private parallel arbitration courts with regular international commercial courts. At the end of August 2015 in Jena, Gabriel made this promise during a citizens' dialogue on the TTIP: "Private arbitration courts will not exist any more."

Is that really true\? An analysis of the US consumer organization Public Citizen suggests something else. Most US corporations do not even need the TTIP agreement to make investment protection claims against EU states before non-governmental courts. 82\% of the 51,495 US firms active in the EU could use the European-Canadian trade agreement CETA for that purpose. These businesses have subsidiaries in Canada.


An example from North America shows how the roundabou8t way over non-member countries functions. The Canadian energy company Lone Pine has sued Canada since 2012 on the basis of the free trade agreement with the US for compensation of 168 million euros because the province of Quebec put the fracking borings of Lone Pine on ice...

Klaus Ernst, spokesperson of the Die Linke leftist party in the German Bundestag, calls Gabriel's assurances on investment protection in the TTIP "eyewash." The minister leaves the little backdoor open... "Outwardly he pretends to be a great reformer but remains vague in showing real stamina."

The CETA agreement was negotiated and contains investment protection clauses that are not up for discussion any more, as Gabriel said... A dispute settlement between investors and the state must be established...


EU-US Trade Agreement: Democracy under Attack by Elisabeth Beer and Thilo Bode, Sept 2015




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