Declaration of the VIII International Meeting

The document includes a General Declaration, complemented by four specific Declarations for the cases of Costa Rica, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico.

General Declaration

Water, power and impunity: social resistances and emerging alternatives in the construction of egalitarian and inclusionary water politics

The relationship between structural social inequalities, water control, and the accumulation of social power in its diverse manifestations, cultural, economic, epistemic, political power, etc., is a fact that has been firmly established by a long-standing tradition in the social sciences dating back at least to the XVIII Century. Regrettably, our vast knowledge of this topic, and particularly of the concrete mechanisms that account for the processes of reproduction of inequality and injustice in relation to the access to and the control of water in their various aspects has not been translated in a greater capacity of human societies to reverse these processes and replace them by more egalitarian, rational and democratic social forms of relating to water and, through water, with the other species and the rest of nature.

In fact, the growing evidence suggests that, in relation to the politics and management of water, we are witnessing a stage of deepening and acceleration of the processes of accumulation of social power grounded on the structurally unequal control of water at world level. This finds expression, among other issues, in the artificial production of scarcity, in the advance of the commodification of water and water-based services, in the anthropogenic generation of diverse kinds of disasters related to water management issues and their negative consequences that time and again affect the most vulnerable sectors, in the forced or induced displacement of whole populations subject to the expropriation or spoiling –for different reasons– of their water sources, among many other problems of high social relevance. In Latin America and the Caribbean, these processes take place in a context where the regional economies’ subordination to the model based on primary exports is being deepened, which includes the re-primarization of those economies that in recent decades had achieved some degree of diversification. In this regard, since 1990s the region has become a large experimental field for the advance of extractivist activities, including large-scale open cast mining, transgenic and mono-cropping agriculture with their associated technological packages of monopolization of seed production and agrochemicals (often termed agrotoxics owing to their socio-ecological impact) and the massive construction of large infrastructure works, among other crucial topics.

On the one hand, the processes of production and reproduction of structural inequalities in relation to the control and access to water sources and to water-related services are often manifested, clearly visible, very often in a brutal fashion. This happens, for example, through the diversion of rivers depriving human populations of their water sources to deliver water to extractivist projects such as large-scale mining or the production of hydrocarbons through technologies of hydraulic fracturing (fracking). It also happens through the construction of massive infrastructures, too often without consultation, without properly considering social and ecological impacts, which produce profound transformations in our societies and that are implemented in the absence of adequate democratic controls. An example in Central America and Mexico is the Mesoamerican Integration and Development Project (MIDP) (previously known as Puebla-Panama Plan), and in the South the Initiative for the Integration of the Regional Infrastructure of South America (IIRSA). It also happens through the generalized expansion of intensive agriculture or through the elimination of public policies predicated on the notion of social rights and their replacement with policies that seek to convert water into a commodity, for instance through the privatization and mercantilization of essential water and sanitation services in cities, just to mention some conspicuous examples. However, and to a large extent, the production and reproduction of inequalities has been historically consolidated in ways that tend to be unseen and that too often have been internalized, even naturalized by human populations, such as in the example of unequal water rationing or the unacceptable quality of the water distributed for human consumption affecting large sectors of the population, which have a disproportionate negative impact on the most vulnerable sectors.

In this connection, the implicit or even explicit role of the production of scientific knowledge in the invisibilization, when not the justification or naturalization of structural inequality in relation to water is also a fundamental factor in these processes. For example, we have the case of scientists, when not even whole departments and even disciplines, entirely dedicated to the role of organic intellectuals of the process of monopolization of water sources and water-related services. It is a case of science at the service of private capital accumulation rather than contributing to the socially equitable distribution of the benefits derived from the uses of water and of the protection against the threat and dangers associated with water, be it disasters, epidemics, and other phenomena that regularly affect human populations. Also, it must be highlighted the prevailing reductionisms and determinisms, particularly though not only in the techno-scientific disciplines, which continue to pose obstacles to the process of re-integration of knowledge and the development of higher levels of interdisciplinary coordination that may allow us to render observable the interrelations between the processes of production and reproduction of structural inequality in relation to water and their manifestations in the form of poverty, destitution, vulnerability, defenselessness, marginality, and exclusion, among other relevant aspects. The weight of techno-centric determinism and reductionism is strongly manifested, for example, in the direction given to scientific policy internationally and in the formulation of public policies. As an example, it can be mentioned the meager concrete results of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 21) that took place in Paris, which beyond the excellent declarations of good will tended to consolidate the promotion of techno-centric and mercantilist solutions, while the decisions taken regarding the actions needed to reduce global warming were limited to statements of good intentions that are not binding for the signatory countries.

This has potentially grave consequences for Latin America and the Caribbean, and most particularly for Central America, given the growing catastrophic impacts of climate change in the region, with the intensification of diverse processes such as changes in the rainfall regimes, in the temperature patterns, in the regularity and intensity of extreme climatic events, or in the rise of the sea level, which have a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable sectors. Regrettably too, for many scientists, including many in the progressive political camp, the disciplinary enclosures and reductionisms often constitute sanctuaries, comfort zones, which become epistemic traps and, given the resulting social consequences, political traps, that pose formidable obstacles to the advance of forms of knowledge that can have liberating effects, that may allow the advancements towards the development of more egalitarian social forms. In this regard, we must highlight the scientificist reductionism and determinism that devalues, when not directly rejects, the possibility of the dialogue of knowledge and transdisciplinarity, as it clings on an elitist and conservative understanding of science and imposes a hierarchical, exclusionary approach to the process of knowledge production that denies the need to promote the co-production of knowledge involving non-scientific actors, especially in relation to the social groups most affected by the inequalities and injustices related with the control and management of water in their different forms. This elitist understanding of science, even in those cases where it takes benign, paternalistic, even nominally progressive forms, constitutes a formidable epistemological and political obstacle for the development of more egalitarian and democratic social forms and contributes to the production and reproduction of structural inequalities in this field.

Historically, the processes that produce and reproduce structural inequalities in relation to the control and the access to water have been the source of social conflicts and struggles, often leading to processes of cooperation and democratization of water management, but very often too ending in the deepening of the forms of monopolistic accumulation of social power and the expropriation of the material living conditions of vast majorities of human beings, including the tacit, when not explicit, negation of the few daily liters of clean water needed for a modicum of dignified life. The discussion of these and other problems related to water, and particularly of the processes and social actors involved in the accumulation of power in relation to the control and management of water and water-related services very seldom finds space in the public debate, and when it does there is a tendency to marginalize and postpone it in one way or another. In fact, the attempt to bring this debate into the public domain, an attempt often led by the affected populations and by solidary actors such as social movements, different types of civil organizations (NGOs, user and consumer groups), labour unions, committed academics, socially sensitive political representatives, among others, too often becomes a risky endeavor, subject to intimidation, verbal and physical aggression, in a prevailing context of great impunity. This is often expressed in the systematic criminalization, repression and, in the extreme, assassination of those who participate in the struggle to stop and reverse these inequalities and injustices. The Central American region is one of the places in the world where these processes take place with much intensity, as crudely illustrated by the assassination of the environmental activist Berta Cáceres in Honduras on 3 March 2016 and the subsequent unjustified detention of the also environment activist Gustavo Castro, from Mexico, who was later liberated by the Honduran government in April. Likewise, the systematic repression and assassination of labour leaders connected with the defense of water and water services in the region, one of the most dangerous in the world to be a labour union member, constitute one the permanent threats confronting the democratization process in our countries. These examples are, regrettably, the tip of the iceberg of a structural situation, which is obviously not limited to Central America but is rather also present in different forms and to different extents in many other regions.


  • We denounce that the use of violence by Latin American States, related to different aspects of the politics and management of water, too often is an intentional and systematic practice deployed against activists, labour union members, human rights advocates, academics, students, journalists, communities and groups that resist the dispossession of their territories, including their water sources. The use of violence to silence denunciations against water-related impacts and injustices committed by States and other power holders in their territories constitutes a pattern in Latin America, which reveals the influence of political and economic interests behind water politics and management. The resulting high levels of violence produce, de facto, a sort of “low-intensity war” against the populations of the region.
  • We demand that governments, multinational corporations, including their different representations such as the World Economic Forum and the World Water Forum, international financial institutions such as the World Bank, and other power holders in relation to the dominant forms of water politics and management, must stop actively promoting and financing the politics of privatization and commodification of water and sanitation services, as these politics are responsible for much of the violence affecting the activities of water use, consumption and distribution.
  • We also demand that governments and other power holders must abandon the ongoing attempts to subordinate the production of scientific knowledge over water to the pursuit of private wealth accumulation. On the contrary, what is required is to guarantee the autonomy of the scientific community in the production of knowledge, and the provision of adequate funding to support public research and teaching institutions to achieve their objectives in the production of knowledge that is oriented to contribute towards the construction of egalitarian, inclusionary, and democratic societies, where water politics and management be subordinated to the social distribution of wealth, including water wealth, and to guaranteeing the wellbeing and sustainability of ecosystems, living beings, and human societies.
  • We reject the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA), and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement, because these initiatives threaten the status of water and sanitation services provision as a right, a public and social good that must be guaranteed by the State, under management arrangements that are subject to democratic scrutiny. TiSA and TPP are instruments oriented at deepening the processes of private appropriation and commodification of water sources and, more generally, of Nature’s goods, living beings, and global biodiversity, including water and sanitation services. We demand respect for fundamental rights, including the right to water, to essential water and sanitation services, and the right to life more generally.
  • In relation to the events that took place in Syria with the attack executed by the Government of the United States on Thursday 6 April 2017, we manifest our absolute rejection to militaristic intervention as an instrument in conflict resolution, especially when it takes the form of unilateral actions, executed outside the framework of the United Nations Security Council. We make an emphatic call to dialogue, peace, and the urgency to guarantee full compliance with human rights in the region.*
  • Also, we request that the governments of Latin America, particularly the Costa Rican government, take a position against this unilateral attack executed outside the framework of the United Nations Security Council.*
  • Finally, we demand that the governments of Latin America must immediately clarify the diverse crimes committed against activists, labour union members, human rights advocates, academics, students, journalists, and communities and groups that resist the dispossession of their territories. The clarification must be followed by the corresponding punishment to the material and intellectual authors of these crimes. We demand that States must guarantee the right to protest and other legitimate actions oriented at protecting water sources and material living conditions of human populations. States also must provide the necessary protection to stop these systematic processes of repression, persecution, and assassination.*


Closing Plenary of the VIII International Meeting of the WATERLAT-GOBACIT Network, San Jose, Costa Rica, 6 April 2017

Plenary of the Public Conversation, VIII International Meeting of the WATERLAT-GOBACIT Network, San Jose, Costa Rica, 7 April 2017


*The three final paragraphs of the Declaration were added by the Plenary of the Public Conversation, VIII International Meeting of the WATERLAT-GOBACIT Network, San Jose, Costa Rica, 7 April 2017

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Declaration about the Situation of Water in Costa Rica

Within the framework of the VIII International Meeting of the WATERLAT-GOBACIT Network in San Jose, Costa Rica, under the theme “Water, power and impunity: social resistances and emerging alternatives in the construction of egalitarian and inclusionary water politics”, academic groups, representatives of the public sector, leaders of communities and labour unions, and environmentalists, manifest our preoccupation and engagement with the following issues:

  • The lack of modern national water legislation, given that the existing Water Law was passed in 1942. This means that the Law lacks a vision of integrated basin management, the prioritization of water for human consumption, and citizen participation. This situation has intensified the water conflicts suffered by local communities, particularly owing to the expansion of pineapple production, and the pressures posed by the installation of hydroelectric plants and uncontrolled urbanization.
  • The deficient or even non-existing territorial planning in the country, which is responsible for extreme changes in land use, with the resulting deforestation, alteration of ecosystems, biodiversity loss, declining drinking water sources, and the vulnerability caused by water pollution and the predominance of private interests over the collective good.
  • We must also point at the needs of sanitation services in the country, given that currently one 8% of wastewater is treated, which poses risks to the health of the population, to their supply of safe drinking water, and to the ecosystems linked to rivers, streams, lakes, and beaches close to human populations, where activities of subsistence, tourism, and production take place.


Therefore, we ask and propose

  • To the deputies of the Legislative Assembly, we ask the discussion in second debate and approbation of case No 17.742 “Law for the Integrated Management of Water Resources”.
  • To local governments, firstly, we ask to pay attention to territorial planning, giving priority to technical and social criteria to guarantee the sustainable development of diverse human activities in the cantons, and the protection of the ecosystems. We also ask academics, relevant government institutions, workers, and civil society in general, to be alert about this topic and to work together towards the resolution of conflicts derived from inadequate territorial planning.
  • To current and future authorities of the Water and Sanitation utility AyA, the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Environment, we ask to continue taking care of the compliance with current legislation related to sanitation, and to execute the guidelines defined in the National Wastewater Sanitation Policy and the relevant investment plans designed for the short, mid, and long term in this area. To academics, local governments, workers, and civil society in general, we ask to promote sanitation activities in their area of activity, as well as the development of a culture of water protection and saving, and of the collection and treatment of wastewater.
  • To the whole national and international community, to support respectfully and in solidarity the struggles to defend water as a collective good and a human right carried out by local communities.


Closing Plenary of the VIII International Meeting of the WATERLAT-GOBACIT Network, San Jose, Costa Rica, 6 April 2017

Plenary of the Public Conversation, VIII International Meeting of the WATERLAT-GOBACIT Network, San Jose, Costa Rica, 7 April 2017


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On the Colombian Peace Process

After the discussions and analyses carried out at the VIII Meeting of the WATERLAT-GOBACIT Network that took place in Costa Rica, and considering the current process of implementation of the Peace Agreement in Colombia, the participants attending this outstanding event of Latin American critical thinking in themes related to water, environment, and environmental justice, declare that:

  • The implementation of the Peace Agreement in socio-environmental aspects requires special attention to achieve a revitalization of the Colombian rural sector with strategies of sustainable and inclusionary human development that may reduce historical inequality gaps.
  • The long-sought achievement of Peace for all Colombians is an indisputable priority. However, the territories liberated from the armed conflict, which contain valuable natural goods, are now the object of a diversity of national and transnational economic interests. This constitutes a threat for the integrity of our ecosystems and for the preservation of the common good of our ancestral, peasant communities, and of society more generally.
  • The expectation of a great economic development for the country, based on the extractivism of raw materials, implies the exploitation of our natural goods, with potentially adverse effects on the health of human populations and ecosystems. Therefore, the achievement of sustainable human development requires that the Colombian State takes an ethical position that privileges the wellbeing and health of the whole population above the private interests of economic profit and efficiency.

Therefore, we demand

  1. Respect and consideration for the opinion of the social groups potentially affected in their living conditions, through effective citizen participation according to the Colombian constitution and to the implementation agreements of the Peace Process.
  2. Transparent and timely information about the different intervention strategies and projects in the territories, that provides support to community spaces dedicated to deliberation and democratic concertation.
  3. Guaranteeing the provision and equitable access to basic public services (water, sanitation, health, education) as substantive goods to reduces the inequality gaps and restitute the dignity of thousands of citizens historically marginalized. This is a fundamental requisite for the eradication of structural violence and the achievement of a stable and durable peace.
  4. The investigation and prosecution of those responsible for the assassination of leaders of territorial processes defending and protecting community life. There is evidence that after the signature of the Peace Agreement there has been a sequence of crimes, and this must be denounced and made visible, owing to the impunity and silence that characterizes the response of the Colombian State to this systematic violence.


Closing Plenary of the VIII International Meeting of the WATERLAT-GOBACIT Network, San Jose, Costa Rica, 6 April 2017

Plenary of the Public Conversation, VIII International Meeting of the WATERLAT-GOBACIT Network, San Jose, Costa Rica, 7 April 2017


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Manifest for the Human Right to Water in Brazil

Is it a government right to promote actions that make difficult for the population to have access to water, such as the privatization of water services? In general, privatization does not care about such issues as the recharge capacity of hydrological basins, and makes water use subject to market principles, which determine that access to water is for those that can afford to pay for it. As a result, the poorest sectors of the population have less access to water, in addition to the fact that the social water cycle becomes compromised because privatization provokes a greater use of water resources by large consumers, such as companies and service centers.

In Brazil, the situation is even graver because we have an illegitimate Federal Government that took power through a coup involving political and judicial powers, the corporate media, and the social sectors that are dominant in the country’s productive activities, to the neglect of the popular vote. The current government, disregarding the electoral commitments made by the broken alliance, has adopted a neoliberal stance towards the access to water resources and other social services, such as the pension system and workers’ rights.

As demonstrated by the literature analyzed in this meeting, access to water through privatized systems results in increased costs for the population, and too often affects the quality of the water delivered, because water treatment is affected by cost-cutting commercial strategies. For this reason, there is currently a world trend towards the re-statization of water services.

In the Brazilian case, it is fundamental to highlight that, despite the increase in wastewater collection, wastewater treatment is still incipient. The international experience shows that the privatization of water services does not lead to increases in the levels of wastewater treatment.

On the above basis, the participants in the VIII International Meeting of the WATERLAT-GOBACIT Network, gathered in San José, Costa Rica, question the recent water privatization projects implemented in Brazil, and make an appeal for the return to democratic normality in the country.

Closing Plenary of the VIII International Meeting of the WATERLAT-GOBACIT Network, San Jose, Costa Rica, 6 April 2017

Plenary of the Public Conversation, VIII International Meeting of the WATERLAT-GOBACIT Network, San Jose, Costa Rica, 7 April 2017


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Declaration on the Mexican Situation

Mexico is going through a complicated period, aggravated by the aggressive politics of the US government, particularly under the new administration of President Donald Trump. We express our solidarity with the Mexican people and particularly with the millions of migrant families that suffer a strong wave of harassment through deportations, the separation of families, and the disintegration of their communities. Also, we are concerned with the attitude of recent Mexican governments, so far, a submissive attitude, before the anti-migrant policies promoted by the US. If we demand a dignified treatment for Mexicans in the US, the Mexican government must also act responsibly and in solidarity with the peoples of Central America, and particularly with the migrants that cross or stay in the country.

In the face of this context, and considering the themes that we addressed in the VIII International Meeting of the WATERLAT-GOBACIT Network in Costa Rica,

We manifest

  1. A demand to the government and institutions of the Mexican State to stop the repression and hostility against human rights advocates and defenders of water resources and the territory. We also demand that they act seriously in the eradication of the impunity that erodes the country’s social contract, including the investigation of the crimes committed against human rights advocates, defenders of water resources and the territory, and the citizenry more generally.
  2. Also, we are concerned that the country has become one of the most dangerous in the world for the exercise of journalism, as shown by the regrettable attacks against journalists, as only in March three journalists were assassinated and other three are in critical condition fighting for their lives. Likewise, the Latin American community is concerned by the constant closure of media organizations, such as the newspaper Norte de Ciudad Juarez few days ago. Society cannot live in informational obscurity, and the State has the responsibility to defend the freedom of expression and press.
  3. Two internationally prominent ethical tribunals have made recommendations to the Mexican state owing to the deep environmental devastation affecting the country, including references to the threat that the country could be affected by a hydrological collapse. We demand that the government and the institutions of the Mexican State take seriously the recommendations made to this effect by the Latin American Water Tribunal and the Permanent Peoples Tribunal.
  4. We are greatly concerned by the current proposal from the National Water Commission (CONAGUA) to pass a new General Water Law, which consider to be deeply anti-democratic and against the general interest of Mexican society. Therefore, we ask Mexican legislators from all political parties to seriously consider the citizen initiative that proposes an alternative Law project, which is grounded on a process of collective construction and consultations that will allow an improvement of the Law proposal under discussion.
  5. Finally, we consider that the Mexican institutional framework requires a profound process of constituent re-foundation. The extreme social and economic inequalities, the persistent levels of poverty, and the environmental devastation, among other grave problems, are clear examples of the problematic character of the country’s insertion in the global economy. Mexican society as a whole faces a great challenge and we ask the institutions of the Mexican State and the different political forces of the country that they must commit to setting in motion such process of constituent re-foundation.

Closing Plenary of the VIII International Meeting of the WATERLAT-GOBACIT Network, San Jose, Costa Rica, 6 April 2017

Plenary of the Public Conversation, VIII International Meeting of the WATERLAT-GOBACIT Network, San Jose, Costa Rica, 7 April 2017


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