Enough signatures have been collected to put a referendum on water rights on the ballot next year in Colombia. This is the result of a strong grassroots effort. The referendum would establish water as a basic right and protect water resources from privatization. Another more contentious initiative that will be put on the ballot next year would amend the country's constitution in order to allow President Alvaro Uribe to run for a third consecutive term in 2010. When Hugo Chavez of Venezuela attempted to include a similar measure on term limits in a referendum package of constitutional reforms, he was widely criticized by his opponents as being an authoritarian dictator. Some are now levelling the same criticism at Alvaro Uribe of Colombia for his refusal to rule out a third term and denounce the referendum. Stay tuned, for we will be posting more about that referendum in the near future. - Editor
Over Two Million Citizens Supported Water Referendum
Bogota, September 15, 2008
Approximately one thousand people marched from the National University of Colombia to the National Registry in Bogota to submitt 2,044,267 signatures supporting the Water Referendum. A colourful bus full of children from different schools of the city, like guardians of their future, closed the march. Colombian music performed by young people in stilts gave it a joyful and carnival atmosphere. At 3 pm aqueduct workers, environmentalists, indigenous people, public service supporters, and men and women of various ages entered, like a water torrent, the National Registry, to submit the signatures to the National Registrar. Without speeches and with little formalities, the diversity of expressions supporting this Referendum were shown, through moving statements of women of various ages; a little girl, an indigenous women.
Rafael Colmenares, spokesperson of the National Committee in Defense of Water and Life read the letter to the Registrar.
This popular initiative started two years ago and has managed to join different local, regional and national initiatives in defense of water and life. The second period of collecting signatures started on March 14, 2008. It was a huge challenge; signatures corresponding to at least 5% of the people authorized to vote needed to be collected in six months, approximately 1.4 million signatures. During this six months it was necessary to go to the streets and rivers to carry out the task.
However, it wasn´t difficult to get the support of the people. How can someone oppose to water being considered a fundamental right? Who doesn´t want to protect strategic ecosystems? How can someone accept the threats of water privatization?
Finally, the task was carried out, the Colombian people answered the call for water. Every day, different people approached the tents located at big cities and the regional comittee in defense of water and life to join the campaign, to collect signatures and submit them. This was a way of stating "here we are and will be, we commit to water, to life and to the future of our children and grandchildren".
The National Registry will rule on this issue next month, so we are still alert to the challenges to the Referendum and the movement in defense of water and life. That small river born on February 14^th , 2007, is a huge river now, impossible to dam.
By Tatiana Roa Avendaño, www.censat.org.