who owns the rain?

‘Who owns the rain?’ may seem like a silly question, but it was one of the questions that was raised during Bolivia’s ‘water wars’ in 1999 and early 2000, and documented by the movie Even the Rain (2011). The movie intertwines three different stories of injustice, with the shared themes of oppression and colonization running throughout: Christopher Columbus in the 1500s, a Spanish crew filming in Cochabamba, Bolivia for its cheaper workforce, and community resistance to government and World Bank efforts to privatize water.

The clearest message in this movie is that privatizing water is wrong, but beyond that, very little is black and white. Characters who at one point make arguments that support some degree of equity and justice turn around to make contradictory arguments when its in their favour.  One example of this is the Church, whose teachings were used by some to justify the horrific treatment of indigenous peoples and others to challenge them:

“By what right or justice do you keep these Indians in such cruel and horrible servitude…? By what authority have you declared such detestable wars on this people who were living calmly and peacefully on their lands…? Are these not men? Are you not obliged to love them as yourselves?” –Father Antonio de Montesinos

Another example is when one of the directors challenges a government official on the dramatic increase in water, asking how people who make such low wages are expected to pay such high water bills.  The government official challenges him back, asking who is it who pays the low wages. 

Privatizing water is most definitely a bad idea – one that history has proven to be ineffective time after time after time.  Still, its too often seen as a viable solution by governing institutions and creates enormous challenges for people who are often “just surviving”, as one of the main characters in the movie puts it. 

The movie provides a glimpse into the complexity of these negotiations, and all of the structural and everyday factors that are part of decision making and really illustrates that there is more than two sides to every story, and that once a system is in place, no matter how unjust, its tempting to buy into it -even without intending to.

**In addition to raising a lot of social justice issues for consideration (and popular consumption), Even the Rain further directs people to NGOs that are actively involved in challenging the privatization of water and providing water at the community level from its website, unlike too many recent movies that address global issues of our time.