Ever since the late seventies or early eighties, when John Pilger’s reports from the Killing Fields of Cambodia led me to some kind of political awakening, I have always tried to keep up with what this great, courageous and Award-winning Australian journalist was writing.
For some reason I had missed his 2003 updated book called The New Masters of the World; and this blustery Bank Holiday Monday seemed a good time to catch up with it. As someone who has been against the Irish Water Charges from the beginning, you can only imagine how I sat forward with an unholy lunge when I came across this section, where Pilger talks about the unreported victories of ‘men and women of conscience and struggle’:
“Their victories, usually unrecognized in the West, are often epic. Not long before I wrote this, in Bolivia’s third city, Cochabamba, ordinary people took back their water from a corporate conglomerate, after the World Bank had pressurized the Bolivian government into privatising the public water supply. Having refused credit to the public water company, the bank demanded that a monopoly be given to Aguas del Tunari, part of International Water Limited, a British-based company half-owned by the American engineering giant Bechtel.
“Granted a forty-year concession, the company immediately raised the price of water. In a country where the minimum wage is less than $100 a month, people faced increases in their water bills of $20 a month – more than water users pay each month in the wealthy suburbs of Washington, home to many World Bank economists. In Cochabamba, even collecting rainwater without a permit was now illegal. [Jeez, don’t give Denis O’Brien and his water meters any ideas!]
“So they organised. Marcelo Rojas, who became one of the leaders, said: ‘I had never taken an interest in politics before. My father is a politician, and I thought it was all about cutting deals. [!] But to see people fighting for their water, their rights, made me realise there was a common good to defend, that the country can’t be left in the hands of the politicians.’ He was arrested and tortured by the police, as were many young people who built barricades and protected the old when the authorities attacked. They took over their city and they won. The government tore up the contract, and the company cleared its desks.
“Victories of that kind are not acknowledged in the West.”
I’m looking out of the window here, on this Bank Holiday on a day when the rain has never stopped and the country is half-drowned. And I’m thinking of how a complicit, tame media has conspired in painting the dissenting Irish water protesters as thugs and layabouts who are not far short of being actual Enemies of the State; and I’m thinking that we could take a lesson from Bolivia in having some guts.
For, earlier Pilger had quoted from a report in the New York Times which talked of foreign governments and the redefinition of dissent as an ‘international security concern’.
But I worry too much; that could never happen here.