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February 27, 2009

Authors discuss globalization’s Bolivian impact

[img id="77355" align="alignleft"] Jim Shultz and Melissa Crane Draper, coeditors of Dignity and Defiance: Stories from Bolivia’s Challenge to Globalization, discussed the effects of globalization on the Bolivian people at a discussion Tuesday at International House.

Shultz and Draper discussed the effects of globalization on the Bolivian people, and their attempt to battle World Bank and International Monetary Fund policies that have allowed foreign companies to exploit Bolivia’s resources. “Globalization has been a vehicle for oppressive economic theory,” Draper said.

Shultz and Draper began writing the book as part of their work as directors of The Democracy Center, based in San Francisco.

According to Shultz, oppressing the Bolivian people is easy because they misunderstand the effects of global policies. “The lesson has been learned time and again in Bolivia that there is a difference between lies and truth, and there is a difference between theory and reality.”

The goal of the Democracy Center is to bridge this gap between policymakers and people on the ground. “There are issues explained throughout this book that cry out for a platform, that cry out for a friend, and that is where we come in,” Draper said.

Shultz first began research for the book when he moved to Bolivia in 1998, where he observed the 2000 Cochabamba Water Revolt.

“It was an extraordinary, accidental opportunity to bare witness to a remarkable turn of events in a truly remarkable country,” Shultz said. The uprising involved Bolivian workers fighting against the privatization of their water supply by the US firm Bechtel.

The privatization of Bolivia’s resources by US firms is a recurring theme in the book, and Shultz spent part of Tuesday’s presentation relaying one of the book’s eight stories, “A River Turns Black,” which recounts an oil spill in January 2000 caused by notorious former energy company Enron.

The rupture of the pipe, which was owned by Enron, pumped 29,000 barrels of oil into the Desaguadero River, poisoning thousands of people and over 200,000 animals. The book relates the attempted cover-up of the spill by Enron. According to Shultz, Enron officials lied in reports, claiming that the thousands of illnesses were unrelated to the spill, and may have been due to “poisonous plants.” The company also refused to pay compensation to those affected, and told the Bolivian villagers that the oil was fertilizer.

“If you were going to design a way to kill an ecosystem, this is how you would do it,” Shultz said.

Shultz and Draper both stressed that the best way to achieve their goals is to spread knowledge of the situation in Bolivia. “Whether you buy the book, photocopy the book, or steal the book, we don’t care what you do; just read the book,” Shultz said.

The presentation, moderated by Jerome McDonnell, host of Chicago Public Radio’s Worldview, was the second in the ongoing “World Beyond the Headlines” lecture series, co-sponsored by the University of Chicago Center for International Studies, Seminary Co-op Bookstores, and the International House Global Voices Program.