Bolivia: Oscar Olivera, Community Gardener

Source: NACLA Report on the Americas

Community gardens serve as an organizing tool in Cochabamba

On a beautiful late summer morning in Cochabamba, Bolivia, Oscar Olivera, leader of the famous Bolivian Water War that catalyzed the mass movement in 1999 that ultimately brought down a neo-liberal regime, is showing off a wildly productive community garden.  Why is a union and community leader internationally known for advancing democratic participation, anti-corporate organizing and climate activism, throwing his considerable political capacity into the community garden movement?

Visiting the Cochabamba Renters Organization garden project in the center of Cochabamba, a city of 1.2 million people, I was overwhelmed by the intense level of cultivation in a small space.  The garden, only 800 by 800 meters (2,624 x 2,624 feet), is located on state land that was once a train yard.  After decades of petroleum, gas, chemicals, garbage and abuse, the land was toxic but it was a space that no one else seemed to want.

The movement took off seven years ago when these renters petitioned the local government for the land so they could create a community garden.  Many were recent migrants from the countryside with agricultural experience but others were a generation or more away from these traditions but enthusiastic to learn.  Oscar says, “The renters didn’t have much money to buy fresh food in the market so starting a community garden seemed like a good step forward.”

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