15 April 2011

La Ley De la Madre Tierra (or How Bolivia Inspires Us All)

Bolivia is in the process of passing La Ley De la Madre Tierra (The Law of Mother Earth), which would give nature similar rights as those granted to human beings. The country, governed by Latin America’s first indigenous president, Evo Morales, plans to establish 11 laws for Earth. According to the Guardian, there would include:
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; the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered; and the right to not be affected by mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect the balance of ecosystems and the local inhabitant communities.
The Guardian also states, the Bolivian government is planning to “establish a ministry of mother earth” and appoint to it an ombudsman. For specific details about the draft legislation and other specifics, please refer to the embedded copy of Ley de Derechos de la Madre Tierra at the bottom of the post.

We've talked at some length (in a course I'm teaching - ALS 2984) about the quinoa commodification crisis in Bolivia, but there are a variety of other environmental/economic/sociocultural issues at play. Some of Bolivia’s environmental woes stem from its heavy mining of raw materials, including tin, silver and gold. The underlying hope is that Ley De la Madre Tierra will help protect nature before it’s far too late. Undarico Pinto, the leader of the Confederación Sindical Única de Trabajadores Campesinos de Bolivia told the Guardian that the law ” …will make industry more transparent. It will allow people to regulate industry at national, regional and local levels.”

The law, which is still in draft form (see copy below), comes as a part of the complete re-organization of the Bolivian legal system, which is, according to reports, being influenced by an indigenous view of nature (what does this mean for Bolivia? for South American politics? What would this mean in a USA context?). The country’s indigenous spiritual beliefs put the Earth deity, Pachamama (who, it is important to note, is conceptualized as a living being) “at the center of all life.” When interviewed, Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca emphasized Bolivia's traditional indigenous respect for Pachamama was vital to prevent climate change. Perhaps we'll see similar success with La Ley De la Madre Tierra.

As reported in the aforementioned Guardian article, the current draft of The Law of Mother Earth reads:
She is sacred, fertile and the source of life that feeds and cares for all living beings in her womb. She is in permanent balance, harmony and communication with the cosmos. She is comprised of all ecosystems and living beings, and their self-organisation.
While undoubtedly a welcome and remarkably innovative change in policy, one mustn't overlook Ecuador's similar attempt to grant inalienable rights to Madre Tierra. Guardian journalist John Vidal is quick to point out that "new laws are not expected to stop industry in its tracks...it is not clear yet what actual protection the new rights will give in court to bugs, insects and ecosystems." This is a difficult type of calculus that philosophers, economists, biologists, ecologists, and various others have been struggling with for decades. Bolivia may not get the initial equation 100% correct, but they certain are creating an excellent precedent, clearing the path for others to follow. Perhaps through collaborative moralistic-hedonic mathematics we can arrive at a more systems-oriented approach to policy formation (or what you might call a politics of biotic community-ism).

For more information (I've borrowed [with attribution and appreciation] heavily from Wend and the Guardian) see Wend, The Raw Story, Guardian, a super brief Wikipedia entry (perhaps a reader of this blog [or all the readers] could conduct a bit of La Ley De la Madre Tierra research and add depth and detail to the Wiki entry?), and the Government of Bolivia (in Spanish).

Ley de Derechos de la Madre Tierra - Estado Plurinacional de Bolivia