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Profile of Oscar Olivera
Oscar Olivera is the executive secretary of the Federation of Factory Workers of Cochabamba, Bolivia, an umbrella organization of more than 50 unions. He is also the most visible leader in the coalition of unions, peasant groups, farmer organizations, and neighborhood associations that successfully fought back a 1999 water privatization scheme in Cochabamba.
The privatization was an example of public investment programs under World Bank-imposed austerity measures. It illustrates how some of these policies have created economic and political instability; increased poverty, unemployment, inflation; and in the case of Bolivia, directly lowered household incomes by increasing the cost of water.
Privatization meant water rate hikes of 200 to 300 percent for some Cochabamban families. Households with $100 in monthly income were paying $25 to $30 monthly for their water. With Olivera's leadership and weeks of civil disobedience, the residents of Cochabamba overcame violent resistance from the government, and the water privatization program was halted by early 2000. He was one of the most visible spokespersons of the movement.
In 2000, the Letelier-Moffit Human Rights Award, was presented to Olivera by the Institute for Policy Studies. He received the Goldman Award for environmental activism for the year 2001. In recent years, he has spoken in the halls of the U.S. Congress and in gatherings from London to Vancouver.
Photograph, Courtesy of Noah Friedman Rudovsky