Thinking global, living local: Voices in a globalized world

Mother Earth’s Rights and Good Governance: are they possible in Bolivia?

Written by on . Published in Democracy's green challenge

The questions in Ulrike Reinhard’s article about democracy´s challenge in taking action to lessen the impact of climate change are targeted at those countries that actually have policies on CO2 emissions. Bolivia, as a very much smaller producer of CO2 is not addressing this particular problem and, as it is also a very poor country, successive governments have been more concerned with development strategies rather than with trying to counteract “first world” CO2 emissions. However, in recent years we have become aware of our responsibility to preserve and safeguard our forests and natural resources to stop the spread of excessive CO2 emissions to our regions. Our way of fighting it is to safeguard the life of the trees in our forests.

The problem is certainly global and global solutions are expected from every country and especially from those that have huge CO2 emissions. But the argument presented by Peter Burnell is clear: our democracy is almost thirty years old but apparently is still considered to be young given its institutional instability – after all, only four years ago Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada´s government was overthrown by a massive popular insurrection. So it’s not surprising that our concerns are more focused on the economy and the social change the present government is trying to force on the population. However unsuitable some of the government´s proposals may be, the problem is real: Bolivia is in need of social change. So where does climate change come in? How can climate change and good governance be related to this social transformation process? Surprisingly enough, Evo Morales´proposal for good living conflates both problems into one: participation of indigenous communities and minorities in politics and the economy through their traditional systems of representation and agriculture.

In April 2010 the Conferencia Mundial de los pueblos sobre cambio climático y derechos de la Madre Tierra (World Conference of the People on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth) took place in the city of Cochabamba. The main objective of this conference was to find solutions to climate change, resolutions that would enable the wellbeing of all humankind in harmony with nature. The most striking result coming out of the conference was the presentation of the project for a law on the rights of Mother Earth. In short, the government is trying to protect Mother Earth in all her biodiversity from climate change through empowerment of indigenous views of the earth such as seeing Mother Earth as a living being. Indigenous communities would also have sovereign obligations to see it enforced in strategic territories and to protect these territories from any violation of the Earth´s health and wellbeing.

One such territory is the Isiboro Sécure national park (named after the rivers Isiboro and Sécure that constitute the park´s boundaries). The park is home to three indigenous communities – the Moxeños, the Yuracares and the Chimanes, which means that it is both a national park and an indigenous territory whose peoples have partial sovereignty over it. This means that if the government or any other institution were interested in using this territory or its products, these communities should be consulted with and that their approval is needed before any project can begin.  So far so good, yet the government has finally decided to start construction of a road  from Villa Tunari in Cochabamba to San Ignacio de Moxos in Beni (on the map you can see the proposed road in black that goes through the middle of the park and the alternative route in blue proposed by the League for the Defense of the Environment LIDEMA). Their decision has become the source of a new conflict between the government and the indigenous communities of the country, especially those who live in the park. The project has three parts, the first and third parts obtained their environmental licenses without much difficulty, however, the second and middle part is planned to be built straight through the park and its indigenous territory.

The road is meant to be part of a bigger network connecting the Atlantic with the Pacific ocean. Bolivia proposes to build lots of new roads to improve the internal transport network and enable us to export our various products at lower costs.  However, this road also happens to bring the coca-growing region closer to the Brazilian border. And this gives rise to one of the most contentious issues in Bolivian foreign policy, one that is hardly ever spoken of  – Brazil´s expanding economy and its abuse of Bolivian forests in felling timber and smuggling it across the border.

So this is the issue:  since the young democracies of poorer countries prioritize important economic gains on the world market, the whole of the good living project and the rights of Mother Earth and indigenous communities simply fall to pieces. In a nutshell: in Bolivia poverty and foreign pressure dictates policies that go against the democratic plan of encompassing environmental and social problems in a single integral solution.


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