A February 28 Boston Globe story reminds us of the results of a recent infrastructure project by Bechtel:
In the Bolivian city of Cochabamba in 2000, for example, impoverished residents rioted after a company partially owned by Bechtel pushed for water rates that doubled many residents' bills. A 17-year-old boy was shot and killed in the melee....
''In Bolivia, Bechtel demonstrated that it has no moral compass whatsoever other than seeking profit off the poorest people in the world,'' said Jim Shultz, the Bolvian-based director of the Democracy Center, a citizens advocacy group.
In this November 2002 article, Shultz elaborates -- and questions Bechtel's figures:
The Bechtel vs. Bolivia case is round two of a fight over something basic: water. Two years ago Bechtel took over the public water system of Bolivia's third-largest city, Cochabamba, and within weeks raised rates by as much as 200 percent, far beyond what families there could afford. When the company refused to lower rates, the public revolted. Widespread protests eventually forced Bechtel to leave.
In November 2001, Bechtel filed a demand of $25 million against Bolivia, seeking to recover the money it says it invested, as well as a portion of the profits the corporation expected to make.
"We're not looking for a windfall from Bolivia. We're looking to recover our costs," explains Michael Curtin, the head of Bechtel's Bolivian water company.
But the company didn't invest anything close to $25 million in Bolivia in the few months it operated there. Furthermore, the $25 million prize Bechtel now seeks is equal to what the corporation earns in half a day. For the people of Bolivia, that sum is the annual cost for hiring 3,000 rural doctors, or 12,000 public school teachers, or hooking up 125,000 families who don't have access to the public water system.
Hey, but that shouldn't be a problem in Iraq, right? After all, those Iraqis are rolling in oil money. And they're infinitely patient, too.
(The Boston Globe editorial is one of the many links available at the main page of the Globe's special report on Bechtel's mismanagement of Boston's "Big Dig" construction project, which is well worth your time.)