Monday, December 13, 2004

Water privatization giya Guahan

This was published last month in the Guam Federation of Teachers magazine. Just thought I'd share it. Water privatization is something everyone on this planet should know more about, as it means turning over the basic needs of life, to an institution whose desire is to make money. Just think about health care, and then think about privatizing water. Na'ma'a'nao no? Hunggan gof na'ma'a'nao...

The goal of capitalism has always been to sustain profits, the purpose and goal of water has been to sustain life. If some of our political and business leaders have their way and privatize our island’s water utilities, the purpose of water on Guam will soon be to sustain profits.

In 2002 the United Nations finally got around to formalizing what every indigenous culture has known since ever since, when it consecrated water and access to water as a sacred right, a human right. But while the nations of the world met to designate water as something which must be used for the public good, campaigns to privatize this resource were wreaking havoc, physical and cultural destruction around the world.

From India to the Philippines to Argentina to South Africa to Puerto Rico, people are suffering and dying because governments have handed over the water of their communities to corporations and then let them make profits off of peoples' needs and suffering. In India, hundreds of thousands of indigenous people are being cleared from their lands to make way for dams which irrigate less land than they submerge. In Africa, corporations have cut off water to millions causing epidemics, one such outbreak of cholera in South Africa infected 250,000 people, killing 300. In Bolivia, water prices skyrocketed so out of control that the people actually revolted, force the president from power.

After reading this list of horrors, there must be temptation to just blame it all on these countries being impoverished third world basket cases. One letter to the editor of the Pacific Daily News from last year made such an excuse, claiming that such travesties would never take place on Guam because we bask in the glorious protection of the United States Constitution. Rather then criticize him on his apparent lack of knowledge about Guam's political status and our so-called "constitutional" protection, I would like to challenge him on his statement that the United States Constitution protects against this type of abuse.

The fact of the matter is, this type of abuse is taking place all over the United States as well, and not just with water, but also with health care, electricity and other basic services. Reports by the Public Citizen, a national non-profit public interest organization reveal that around the country the privatization of water has often led to worse service and skyrocketing bills.

The predatory capitalist framework that drives these efforts, sees human beings and the needs of human beings as thing which can be exploited and used to make money. The right to life and the pursuit of happiness, which is supposedly guaranteed by the Constitution is only guaranteed so long as you can afford to create profits for corporations and insurance companies. The tragedies that other communities around the world are experiencing now, exist on smaller scales in the United States today, and will continue to intensify. The rights of the market or the corporation it seems, have become more important and more secure than the rights of humans.

On Guam, most of our leaders seem in a great hurry to give away our water as quickly as they can, and all of them have different reasons and serve different interests. Some see this move as the only way the military will dramatically increase its presence on island. Others see it as means by which they can line their own pockets. Others see it as some ideological ploy to weaken an already weak government, because of their fanatical love of the private sector. All of these things have merit, depending on how much you make each year and who you are really looking out for, but in terms of long term planning, none of these motivations take into account the interests of the people of Guam.

As a community we have to take a stand on this issue. Although Guam’s water system has serious problems, bringing in an outside company only interested in using the people of Guam to make more money cannot be considered in the best interests of the island. So long as the water is publicly distributed and publicly owned, then we, the people of Guam will control it.

For those who struggle regularly with little to no water, it is easy to think that handing it over to the private sector or to anyone but GovGuam would be a good idea. But if you really think about that for a moment, you will see how risky that idea is. Regardless of who controls our water, the same problems will exist and have to be fixed. So we can have the government work at it, at less cost, and although it may seem like it, things are slowly improving (often times water shortages result not because of GWA, but because the Navy limits the amount of water we receive). Or we can hand over our water to a private corporation who will also fix the problems but in the process make a profit, which will be added onto each of our bills. Considering the already high cost of living on Guam, this fact should make everyone very concerned. What if our water rates were to increase by 204% as they did in Pekin, Illinois? Or become 1/5 of our income as they did in Bolivia? Or what if privatization failed and we were left with our infrastructure in worse condition and a bill for $8 million, as the residents of Lee Country, Florida were?

Water is essential for human life, and to let a company only interested in profits control our access to it is a very dangerous proposition. The leaders of our island who are pushing for privatization are treating this sacred and vital resource as if it was just another commodity to be traded on the stock exchange of our lives. But what they are really proposing and pushing for is the selling of our island’s future to the highest bidder.

On Guam we are somewhat fortunate to live in a democracy, but one mistake that people make is confusing elections for democracy, they are not one and the same. Elections often just mean substituting one rich/powerful person for another rich/powerful person, all of whom claim to represent “the people” yet go about it in surprisingly opportunistic and self-centered ways. Democracy however means people having and exercising power, which means although a vote has some value, it doesn’t mean anything alone. Democracy means putting constant pressure on those who have been voted in, and making sure they remember in whom the real power is supposed to reside. It means that if we want our water protected then we have to fight for it, and come together as a community and recognize that what we are not just in danger of losing control of our water, but control of our future as well.

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