Twenty years after the Water War in Cochabamba (Bolivia), Marcela Olivera and Stefano Archidiacono reflect on “autogestión” of water as a practical and cultural dimension of the commons. A new piece for the series “Reimagining, remembering, and reclaiming water: from extractivism to commoning”.

Although Bolivia was born as a centralist and unitarian state, there has always been a tradition of autonomy in water management(as well as in the management of other commons) called in Spanish autogestión. Autogestión is an everyday practice for many people and is ingrained in many Bolivian territories at the margin of the state (meaning separate from public institutions regulated by the state). These practices have endured from time immemorial despite their limitations and challenges – as we will elaborate in this article. Autogestión could be roughly translated into English as autonomy, self-regulation and self-management. Yet much is lost in translation. We hence want to keep the word autogestión in this article and explore, through three different stories, some of the practices and events that define the uniqueness and relevance of this concept as a way to organize around water.

We live in Cochabamba, a city in central Bolivia, known for the famous Water War that took place in 2000. Beyond the remunicipalisation of the local water company, SEMAPA, and the cancelling of the privatization contract, the Water War of Cochabamba triggered and still triggers multiple and sometimes contradictory reflections and interpretations. Meanings, impacts and significance that arose from the Water War are multifaceted and changing in time. If you talk to a protester from a popular neighbourhood in Cochabamba, a scholar in a university in the north or an analyst of the World Bank, you can get very different perspectives on what happened and why.

Read the full article here.

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