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Colombian government tries to deny the human right to water

Andrew Willis Garcés of the International Peace Observatory in Colombia recently wrote that, “Led by Ecofondo and the Committee to Support the Referendum, a coalition of labor unions, environmentalists, consumer organizations, indigenous groups and student unions have been organizing since 2007 to win an official referendum to add the human right to water to those guaranteed by Colombia’s constitution.”

CUPE has also noted that, “The alliance is alarmed by dramatic increase in water prices across the country since cost-recovery tariffs and privatization were introduced. Bogotá, Colombia now has the highest water rates in South America.”

Willis Garcés highlights that, “In September of 2008, organizers submitted two million signatures in support of the effort; well more than the 5% of the population needed to put the issue on the ballot. The measure was submitted before Congress on March 16, 2009..The first days of debate failed to yield agreement in Congress. Interior Minister Fabio Valencia Cossio said the Uribe government opposes the referendum, because it is ‘unclear’ and ‘inconvenient’.”

We have just received word that on April 22, “in a session of the First Commission of the Congress, a governmental majority approved a text contrary to the citizen iniative supported by more than two million Colombians.”

“The modifications were agreed in the Presidential Palace during a meeting of the governmental parties with President Alvaro Uribe. The same President, who has radically opposed himself to our referendum for the human right to water, suddenly changed his position to propose that it would be the public who decide, but based upon a text totally different to that signed to more than two million people.”

The modifications were:

“-The consecration of water as a fundamental human right was removed.

-The recognition of water a common good and public good was removed.

-The priority use of water by ecosystems essential for the water cycle was removed.

-The prohibition on the privatisation of the management of water and sewerage services, and the requirement for its management on a not-for-profit basis were removed.

-They added a great distortion:
to make it constitutional that ‘waters which rise and fall in the same estate’, are private, in this way imposing an exception to the principle that all the waters (of the nation) are public commons. This provides for water to become the property of the new, illegitimate, private owners of the large estates which are a product of the displacement of more than four million peasants.

-In contrast with the previous change, they removed the provision for waters which run through ethnic territories to form an integral part thereof.

-They adjusted in a demagogic manner the proposal for a universal minimum subsistence amount of free water, to disingenuously declare this minimum subsistence amount would only be directed at the poorest, and within the current legal framework of the private provision of public services.”

“Given this reality, the National Committee in Defense of Water and Life which promotes the referendum invites the people to continue mobilising in defense of the original text of the referendum and to remain alert to the debate in the Plenary of the Congress wherein the appeal presented by the Spokesperson of the Committee of Promoters, that the original text be respected, will be decided.”

Maude Barlow has written that, “The fight for water justice in Colombia is complicated by the unstable political climate and ongoing tensions between left and right in the country. Those fighting for their water rights are automatically assumed to be on the left – ‘green on the outside but red on the inside’ – and subject to threats from paramilitary and other right wing gangs. In fact, Kimy Pernia Domico, a great water warrior and friend to whom my book Blue Gold was dedicated, was ‘disappeared’ by Colombian paramilitary just a month before he was slated to speak at our 2001 Vancouver conference, Water for People and Nature.”

The Council of Canadians has highlighted the ongoing human rights abuses in Colombia in our action alerts opposed to the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement at http://canadians.org/action/2009/9-Apr-09.html and http://canadians.org/action/2009/24-Apr-09.html.

We stand in solidarity with our allies in Colombia and will do all we can with them on these key issues of shared concern.