Water is life and in 2000 the Bolivian people rose up to protect this vital resource. Privatisation had hiked prices so high that the poor had to choose between food and water. The people said no more, rising up and forcing out the multinationals that had flooded into Bolivia to make a profit.
The uprising lasted for months and sparked revolts against the government throughout the country. The vast majority of Bolivians, the indigenous poor, weren't seeing the benefits of free market capitalism. Until then a silent majority, indigenous Bolivians took to the streets and overthrew three governments before one of them, Evo Morales Ayma, took the presidency in the 2005 elections. I went to Bolivia in 2001 to film the indigenous uprising and I ended up joining the popular movement - one that demanded respect for human rights and, surprisingly for me, for Earth's Rights as well. I was already living in London but as an Argentinian, I was very aware of the key role played by the Bolivian indigenous uprisings in the history of Latin America's revolutionary movements. We also knew that the privatisations that had taken place ten years earlier with the promise of development for the poor turned out to be smoke and mirrors. We were still poor plus we had sold our most valuable assets to foreign corporations. 2001 was a landmark year after which nothing was the same. It coincided with the beginning of the so-called War on Terror, so US resources focused on the Middle East while we in Latin America, were about to start freeing our countries from US influence.
The Bolivian uprisings and the increasing realisation that climate change was affecting our environment was the spark of what became a new form of activism. One that sprang to life thanks to the plans of a foreign mega-mining company.
In 2001 we knew that the glaciers in the Andean Mountains were slowly melting, putting the lives of millions at risk as they are one of the region's main water supplies. Five years later in 2006, four secondary-school teachers heard that a mega-mining company, Barrick Gold, the world's number one gold producer, worth 6 billion dollars, was planning to set up camp in the Famatina mountain, in the Argentinian province of La Rioja. As far as Barrick Gold was concerned, it was a done deal. They had signed contracts with the provincial government and hence had the right to exploit the mountain. But locally, the government still needed what is known as a "social license" from the village near the Famatina in order to officially allow any exploitation. Gaby Romano, one of the teachers, got on the internet and downloaded all the data she could on open pit and gold mining. They discovered that Barrick's gold extraction method requires the use of 1000 litres of water per second, that the water is then mixed with cyanide to wash the rock in order to extract gold. The toxic waste produced by this operation is then dumped underground, where the water reservoirs are located, thus contaminating the environment and turning the area of operation into a desert. Says Gaby: "We read the facts, looked at each other and said 'Peter Munk, Barrick's Director, lives in Canada, so he doesn't have to live with the consequences of his investment in our village, but we do. That's when all the pieces fell into place and we said 'this is a joke, we have to stop it!'".
When the official press announced the arrival of Barrick Gold in 2006, it only mentioned the great benefits that mining could bring, but none of the risks. Jenny Lujan, who helped organise the first meetings to discuss Barrick's plans in the village, admits: "You know, when I heard about the great development supposedly brought about by mining I said: 'Great! Great for the people!' But then I got to know that this so-called "development" didn't mean the development of our local economy and our village".
Gaby and Jenny, together with other neighbours, formed a local assembly to stop the company from taking over the Famatina Mountain. When I met them, they didn't know how they'd manage to do it. Unknowingly, I ended up filming a step-by-step guide on how to stop a multinational and turned it into a documentary now about to be shown as part of Activate, a new series on global activism broadcasting on Al Jazeera English. The 4 teachers managed to stop Barrick Gold from operating a highly contaminating open pit mine in Famatina in 13 steps. The idea is that whether you are in the US, Brazil, India, China or the UK and you want to organise your community against, let's say, cuts in welfare, redundancy plans or prize hikes, you can look at this guide, adapt it to your particular struggle and fight the power that wants to sacrifice your life for its own benefit. In brief, the 10 steps are as follows:
STEP 1: Gather information. Know the facts and share them with your community.
STEP 2: Spread the information beyond the affected community by whatever means necessary.
STEP 3: Look for means to stop the multinational from entering your area by organizing direct action groups in order to disrupt their work.
STEP 4: Take like-minded people to the streets to inform the rest of the town about what the multinational is planning to do. This will create support for your direct-action groups.
STEP 5: Get the local government to meet the people, now informed and eager to defend themselves, gathered in open assembly. Make sure you film the event ( a mobile phone will do).
STEP 6: Deny the social license required by the multinational to start operating in your area. Get the community t state clearly that they reject the multinational's presence.
STEP 7: Make the nation aware of your actions and invite people to join you. (Next time, it might be them who're threatened by the activities of a multinational).
STEP 8: Get renowned human rights activists to champion your cause (make sure te media covers what they have to say about it).
STEP 9: Distribute printed information in middle-class venues and media outlets. Get the multinational to pay an increasing price in popularity to start operating. Make them spend millions in propaganda.
STEP 11: Then regroup and escalate direct actions. Meet regional action groups to coordinate joint operations to disrupt the multinational's work nationally.
STEP 12: Get ready to cross the police-line and put your body on the line.
In 2007, four teachers put their bodies on the line to stop Barrick Gold from destroying their mountain. They succeeded. But in 2011, seven multinational companies began to set up camp in the Argentinean Andes.
Step 13: Write a piece for the Huffington Post to call for action against Barrick Gold in the US and Canada where the corporation is based.
Water's worth more than gold. Join us to protect it! (Tag Line)
'How to Stop a Multinational' is part of the Activate series airing on Al Al JAzeera English. Airing form tonight at 22:30GMT. www.aljazeera.com/programmes/activate @ajactivate
Follow Rodrigo Vazquez on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ajactivate