Water in Latin America: after neo-liberalism

There is an increasing amount of attention being given to water “post-neo-liberalism“. Which, in addition to being a mouthful of prefixes to what may very well be a faulty underlying politic in general (I’m no fan of liberalism), also reveals how people are trying to understand what comes after the full push to privatize water falls short.

It is no secret that what has happened in many regions is that the idea of fully privatizing water services was hotly contested. It also turned out to not be that lucrative – many aspects of municipal systems didn’t yield much of a return on investment. So companies started keeping only the profit generating infrastructure and reworking contracts to have public utilities do the rest. Or, in some cases, working out “private-public partnerships (P3s)” to ensure investments yield cash later.

In this context, a conference is coming up on water in Latin America October 14-18 in Quito, Equador.

Here is the information, which I received a request to pass along. The full website is here.

Is Latin America moving towards a “post-neoliberal” water politics?


Venues: International Centre for Higher Studies in Communication for Latin America (CIESPAL) and Yaku Water Museum


Ecuador is right now a key place for the study of some of the most recent initiatives taken to reconsider the role of the State in the government and management of water. The process leading to the new Constitution in 2008 recognized the right to water, limited the participation of private enterprise in the provision of water services, re-established public companies, created a single national water authority, and recognized community water management arrangements and the rights of nature. Ecuador has also headed the rejection of international arbitration for disputes between private companies and national states and some of the proposals for regional integration within the framework of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), which has its headquarters in Quito. What kind of balance can we make in 2013 concerning these initiatives, which have been termed ‘post-neoliberal’? What challenges and advances can we identify? How do these initiatives compare with others in the region? What kind of theoretical and methodological challenges we face for the study of these processes?


Topics that we will address in our meeting

With the objective of strengthening the debate about the challenges that these transformations are posing for the development of post-neoliberal water politics we decided to focus our meeting on the following issues:

1. Are we moving towards a post-neoliberal hydrosocial metabolism in Latin America?

a. Revisiting the notion of water “neoliberalism” (forms, indicators, levels; liberalisms and neoliberalisms; continuities and ruptures, etc.).
b. Capitalist autonomies and heteronomies in Latin America; degrees of “de-neoliberalization”; neoliberal persistence and resistance (neoliberal islands in a post-neoliberal landscape?).
c. Obstacles and opportunities for strengthening a post-neoliberal hydrosocial metabolism in Latin America.
d. Post-neoliberal water government and management; the “buen vivir” and the rights of nature (contradictions, struggles, and challenges to the establishment of these rights and principles, etc.).
e. The reproduction and construction of democratic post- and non-neoliberal hydrosocial territories (basins, transboundary waters; class, gender, and ethnic inequalities, etc.).
f. Preserving and constructing democratic post- and non-neoliberal hydrosocial cultures.

2. Tensions and contradictions of the post-neoliberal capitalist state

a. Revisiting the tension between social and environmental justice in the context of post-neoliberal capitalisms.
b. Mega projects of hydraulic infrastructures with impact on the hydrosocial metabolism.
c. Mega mining projects.
d. Industrial and exports agriculture.
e. The expression of tensions and contradictions in the health dimension (public health, environmental health, etc.).
f. “Natural disasters”: injustice, inequality and defencelessness in post-neoliberal contexts.
g. Confronting water injustice, inequality and defencelessness (struggles, contradictions, alliances, direction of the processes, etc.).

3. Recovering and defending the public role in the provision of essential water services (drinking water, sanitation, drainage, etc.).

a. The challenge of guaranteeing the exercise of the human right to water.
b. Challenges facing the interaction between community and public water management.
c. Inequality and injustice in the post-neoliberal government and management of essential water services.
d. Commodification and privatization of water and water services in the post-neoliberal stage (including the mercantilization of public companies, the consolidation and emergence of regional multinational companies [“multi-latinas”], etc.).

4. X-disciplinarity in research and action to democratize water government and management

a. Deepening interdisciplinarity in research: obstacles, opportunities, examples.
b. Practicing trans-disciplinarity: research and action to democratize water government and management.
c. The interrelation between academics, “non-academics”, and other actors of X-disciplinarity.

Preliminary programme

On Monday 14 we will have a joint meeting of the WATERLAT network and the Water Justice Alliance. This meeting will feature round tables and activities directed at promoting greater interaction between members of both networks.
On 15-17 October we will concentrate the activities of the open meeting of the WATERLAT network, which will include a special conference, paper sessions, workshops, round tables, and a public hearing. For those people interested in participating in our meeting with presentation of papers or other activities, please contact our Secretary. Participation in our meeting is free of charge.


Internal meetings

On Friday 18 October we will have the internal meeting of the WATERLAT network to deal with organizational issues. On Saturday 19 there will be a special meeting of the DESAFIO project. DESAFIO is a new research project led by members of WATERLAT’s Working Group 3 dedicated to the Urban Water Cycle and Essential Public Services.




The Meeting is an activity of the WATERLAT Network. It is co-organized by the School of Geography, Politics and Sociology, and the Institute for Research on Sustainability (NIRES), Newcastle University, UK, and the Institute of Higher National Studies (IAEN), Ecuador.

The organization of the event is supported by the International Centre for Higher Studies in Communication for Latin America (CIESPAL) and Yaku Water Museum, Ecuador.