In 1999 the US company Bechtel was granted the concession to manage water services in Cochabamba, Bolivias third largest city. The cost of water tripled and it became necessary to buy a license to access water resources and a licensing system for collecting rainwater was also introduced. After a year, 55 percent of local citizens still did not have access to water. In April 2000, hundreds of thousands marched on the streets of Cochabamba to protest against the Government, and forced it to revoke the Water Privatisation Law. The contract with the multinational company Bechtel was terminated and the water service concession re-advertised. The conflict, known as the Cochabamba Water War, became symbolic of the struggles fought to protect common rights, proving that popular participation could have a major influence on decision making in regard to the management of public services.
There is a long history of peasant protests in this region characterized by a permanent shortage of water resources. In this context, the privatization of the municipal water distribution company, linked to a water transfer called Misicuni project, infuriated the local population in 2000. At the same time, at the national level, regulation of the water supply and sanitation was influenced by World Bank recommendations and the so-called Washington Consensus. The public reaction led to the formation of a Departmental Coordinating Platform for Water and Life, which which grew until the symbolic occupation of the city of Cochabamba was brutally repressed. Then,in April 2000, the Coordinadora submitted the privatizing measures to a popular referendum. The result was 90% favorable to public management. Facing such massive and permanent mobilization, the government finally decided to give up on the privatization, giving the water management to the Coordinadora (together with the considerable debt of the company). Since then, water management in Cochabamba has a public character, and it has emerged as a successful example of social movements against the advance of the water multinationals. However, there remain serious problems of supply in many areas of the city, which have been mitigated through the creation of water committees which govern the use according to community traditions. Oscar Olivera, one important leader, published in 2004 (in English translation) Cochabamba - Water War. Cochabamba 2000 came to be seen as a turning point against corporate neo-liberalism.