Sunday, January 15, 2012

Enshrining the rights of mother earth

Back in 2006, two years before this country elected its first African American president, Bolivia elected Evo Morales, their first indigenous president. This was part of a pattern all over South America as the people of various countries stood up for their own democratic rights.

So here's an interesting conflation: As we battle AGAINST the idea of corporations as people (with free speech rights ala Citizens United), Bolivia is about to give human rights to mother earth.

With the cooperation of politicians and grassroots organizations, Bolivia is set to pass the Law of Mother Earth which will grant nature the same rights and protections as humans. The piece of legislation, called la Ley de Derechos de la Madre Tierra, is intended to encourage a radical shift in conservation attitudes and actions, to enforce new control measures on industry, and to reduce environmental destruction.

The law redefines natural resources as blessings and confers the same rights to nature as to human beings, including: the right to life and to exist; the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration; the right to pure water and clean air; the right to balance; the right not to be polluted; and the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered. Perhaps the most controversial point is the right "to not be affected by mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect the balance of ecosystems and the local inhabitant communities".

But Bolivia is not the first South American country to make such a move.

Back in 2008 Ecuador, led by Rafael Correa, included the inalienable rights of nature in their new constitution.

Ecuador has become the first country to approve a constitution that, among other reforms, recognizes certain inalienable rights for nature.

Under five provisions in the new constitution's Rights of Nature chapter, an ecosystem has the "right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution," and "every person, people, community or nationality, will be able to demand the recognitions of [these] rights."

None of this has gone smoothly for Ecuador, nor will it for Bolivia. Battles over the balance of protecting the environment and development will continue. But it does provide an interesting contrast of priorities from the battles we are having to wage in this country. Perhaps Mitt ought to quit worrying that we want to model ourselves after European countries and start worrying about the example being set in South America.


  1. I am thrilled that you are following this, though not surprised by it, as you strike me as someone who is really interested in being human.

    One of the things I do from time to time is look at what has happened among indigenous South Americans in the last decade or so. Since 1994 maybe, with the Zapatistas. People are not so much taking back the land but their proper relationship to it and their being in it. This is the most important thing that can happen for us as people. I am convinced that all would be well if we truly righted our relationship with the land. I know in my case that when I am able to just sit with the land where I live and let myself be with it, I learn a lot.

    I suppose this means two things for us in the United States. First, us settlers--meaning, basically, white people, because Black Americans neither abandoned the spirits of their ancestors nor were abandoned by them--need to get right socially, politically, and economically with indigenous people here. I'd include Black Americans in that, too, because of how the whole 500 year process has gone down. Yes, I think a serious reparations program is in order, and a well-executed one with real rebuilding in mind. Second, we need to quit capitalism. Just have to stop. It's killing us, if very slowly.

    1. Bill,

      I get really frustrated at the lack of interest from the left in this country about what is happening in South America. There is SO much we could learn!

    2. The privileged "left," i.e., educated white progressives, aren't interested in any questions the answers to which they don't already know.

  2. Also, if you haven't read Vine Deloria's God is Red, I'll buy you a copy myself.