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LAS AMERICAS any of us here in the Homeland don’t hear much about Central America except that it is somewhere south of the Rio Grande, and psychopathic army men ran around it, brutalizing poor people for most of the past few centuries. On the up side, however, travel magazines promote Costa Rica as an ideal tourist destination for bird-watchers, and off the coast of Belize a great spot for snorkeling continues to exist. Oh, and here and there are intriguing ancient artifacts left over from primitive cultures that wrote using weird stick figures and glyphs. That’s just about it. Except, of course, for the bananas. Which means that many would be surprised to learn that Central America is soon to become one of our most favored trading partners and a promising source of profits for large transnational companies looking to collect money from the poor in exchange for water. Water is a very good business to be in, as we can be sure that everyone is going to need it and that they will pay for it if they have to becauseotherwise they will die. This incontrovertible fact has been turned up by a number of sophisticated marketing studies, and so there is work to be done. Big French, British, and gringo capitalists are getting busy because this deal is going to have a large number of moving parts, and among them are all the usual suspects: the Inter-American Development For some years now, the poorest Central American countries have had rather restrictive agreements with the IMF that prevent them from spending much money on anything other than paying the IMF back for money imprudently lent to irresponsible and corrupt dictators in the past. These agreements have caused the infrastructure that existed to fall into varying states of decrepitude and disrepair. And as former peasants have come flooding into cities in flight from the mechanized, industrialized, fertilized, and pesticized export farming promoted by the World Bank, no new infrastructure has been built to accommodate them. The result in Managua, San Salvador, Water is a very good business to be in. People will pay for it if they have to becauseotherwise they might die. and Tegucigalpa is, quite frankly, a great huge stinking mess. Epidemics are commonplace, and you would not drink water from a tap there unless you had a death wish. I am not exaggerating. These days, the Salvadorans are battling the spread of conjunctivitis; half the benighted country has pink-eye. Last year the plague in the region was a horror called hemorrhagic dengue, which of course involved dramatic episodes of fatal bleeding, particularly among children. Oh well. Enter the IDB, promising to reform the water and sanitation systemsat a cost. The IDB will lend funds to the governments for the purpose of repairing and extending the existing pipery, improving management, and modernizing operations, on the condition that the newly functional water to interested private operators. So the public gets the debt to the IDB, and the operator gets the water company, the client base, and all the money. This plan is called by the IDB a “reform!’ Of course, it’s true that the private operators will have to invest, too. But the money they invest, they intend to collect first from people who need waterincluding from the poor. In fact the first investments to be made under the IDB water reform loans in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Honduras are for the purchase and installation of water meters. First things first. The IDB calls this practice “lowering water rates” because the poor now pay private tanker trucks more for water than what the new water company may charge them. Sort of like cut-rate extortion. The water loan in Nicaragua, where upwards of 65 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, is contingent upon the water company extending its billing and upping its collection rates to 85 percent. El Salvador and Honduras have similar loan conditions. It is also true that the government will retain regulatory authority over the new private companies, once the IDB and national right-wingers succeed in shoving the regulatory measures through the respective legislative hoops and loops. \(This will, of course, require When that has been accomplished, then thousands of unionized public sector workers can be expeditiously fired. Some lucky few will be given training in microenterprise management, with funding from the IDB, so that they can learn to calculate their pathetic income streams, now derived from selling chicle at street lights or squeegeeing windshields. Their old jobs will be performed by low-wage, short-term contract people and computers. This process is what is generally known, in international financial circles, as Development. The IDB claims that this particular reform will allow the water companies to save money on labor, while increasing efficiency and productivity. What a good idea. Except Let Them Drink Coke BY GABRIELA BOCAGRANDE 10 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 10/24/03