Bechtel's right to profit
As Ambrose Bierce said, a corporation is "an ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility." Of course the corporation is just one the better tricks to avoid responsibility.
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.
Corporations themselves employ many tricks themselves to avoid responsibility. For instance, Tom Glegola (External Affairs Associate Bechtel Corporation San Francisco: wikipedia Bechtel:talk) will tell you the Bechtel did not have the contract to run Cochabamba's water system, Aguas del Tunari (which Bechtel held a 27.5% interest in) did. One more layer of insulation to help avoid being held accountable. Bechtel can claim that someone else is 72.5% reponsible for Aguas del Tunari's actions.
Interesting how "recovering their costs" mean's recouping expected profits.
Perhaps I'll have more on Bechtel later.