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Uruguay Makes a Splash

Catlin Benedetto Dec 1, 2004

Uruguayan voters approved a constitutional amendment Oct. 31 that defines water as a public good and guarantees civil society participation at every level of management of the country’s water resources. Supporters of the initiative, which passed by 65 percent, hailed it as a historic precedent.

“[This] sets a key precedent for the protection of water worldwide, by enshrining these principles into the national constitution of one country by means of direct democracy,” said a letter by the environmental group Friends of Earth International that was signed by 127 organizations from 36 different countries in support of the initiative.

The victory in Uruguay follows successful protest movements in recent years against water privatizers Argentina and Bolivia, and marks a dramatic move away from the pro-privatization trend that started in Latin America in the early 1990s.

Uruguay, a small South American nation of 3.3 million, also voted in a leftist government for the first time in 174-year history giving the Frente Amplio (“Broad Front”) 52 percent of the vote.

The water initiative was spurred by the National Commission in Defense of Water and Life. The commission was formed in 2002 when the government of Uruguay signed a letter of intention with the International Monetary Fund, clearing the way for future privatization of the countries utilities.

The battle over Uruguay’s water comes at a time when water privatization is speeding up around the world as international water barons buy up water resources in the Global South to support soft drink and bottled water production. Privatized water utility services have in turn been frequently plagued by price-gouging and shoddy maintenance.

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