Bolivian law enshrines rights of nature (mother of all laws)

April 28, 2011


Thanks to: Dennis Bumstead,
By John Vidal      

Bolivia enshrines natural world's rights with equal status for Mother Earth
Law of Mother Earth expected to prompt radical new conservation and social
measures in South American nation

Bolivia <>  is set to pass the
world's first laws granting all nature equal rights to humans. The Law of
Mother Earth, now agreed by politicians and grassroots social groups,
redefines the country's rich mineral deposits as "blessings" and is expected
to lead to radical new conservation
<>  and social measures to
reduce pollution and control industry.

The country, which has been pilloried by the US and Britain in the UN
climate talks for demanding steep carbon emission cuts, will establish 11
new rights for nature. They 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; and the right to not have cellular structure modified or
genetically altered.

Controversially, it will also enshrine the right of nature "to not be
affected by mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect the
balance of ecosystems and the local inhabitant communities".

"It makes world history. Earth is the mother of all", said Vice-President
Alvaro García Linera. "It establishes a new relationship between man and
nature, the harmony of which must be preserved as a guarantee of its

The law, which is part of a complete restructuring of the Bolivian legal
system following a change of constitution in 2009, has been heavily
influenced by a resurgent indigenous Andean spiritual world view which
places the environment and the earth deity known as the Pachamama
<>  at the centre of all life. Humans
are considered equal to all other entities.

But the abstract new laws are not expected to stop industry in its tracks.
While it is not clear yet what actual protection the new rights will give in
court to bugs, insects and ecosystems, the government is expected to
establish a ministry of mother earth and to appoint an ombudsman. It is also
committed to giving communities new legal powers to monitor and control
polluting industries.

Bolivia has long suffered from serious environmental problems from the
mining <>  of tin, silver, gold
and other raw materials. "Existing laws are not strong enough," said
Undarico Pinto, leader of the 3.5m-strong Confederación Sindical Única de
Trabajadores Campesinos de Bolivia, the biggest social movement, who helped
draft the law. "It will make industry more transparent. It will allow people
to regulate industry at national, regional and local levels."

Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca said Bolivia's traditional indigenous
respect for the Pachamama was vital to prevent climate change
<> . "Our grandparents
taught us that we belong to a big family of plants and animals. We believe
that everything in the planet forms part of a big family. We indigenous
people can contribute to solving the energy, climate, food and financial
crises with our values," he said.

Little opposition is expected to the law being passed because President Evo
Morales's ruling party, the Movement Towards Socialism, enjoys a comfortable
majority in both houses of parliament.

However, the government must tread a fine line between increased regulation
of companies and giving way to the powerful social movements who have
pressed for the law. Bolivia earns $500m (£305m) a year from mining
companies which provides nearly one third of the country's foreign currency.

In the indigenous philosophy, the Pachamama is a living being.

The draft of the new law states: "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."

Ecuador, which also has powerful indigenous groups, has changed its
constitution to give nature "the right to exist, persist, maintain and
regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in
evolution". However, the abstract rights have not led to new laws or stopped
oil companies from destroying some of the most biologically rich areas of
the Amazon.

Bolivia is struggling to cope with rising temperatures, melting glaciers and
more extreme weather events including more frequent floods, droughts, frosts
and mudslides.

Research by glaciologist Edson Ramirez of San Andres University in the
capital city, La Paz, suggests temperatures have been rising steadily for 60
years and started to accelerate in 1979. They are now on course to rise a
further 3.5-4C over the next 100 years. This would turn much of Bolivia into
a desert.

Most glaciers below 5,000m are expected to disappear completely within 20
years, leaving Bolivia with a much smaller ice cap. Scientists say this will
lead to a crisis in farming and water shortages in cities such as La Paz and
El Alto.

Evo Morales, Latin America's first indigenous president, has become an
outspoken critic in the UN of industrialised countries which are not
prepared to hold temperatures to a 1C rise.