Bolivia Set to Pass ‘Law of Mother Earth’


From The Guardian – April 11, 2011

by John Vidal

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.

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 regeneration.”

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.

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.

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

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

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

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.

Coping with climate change

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.

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.

Read original article and watch video


About Damien Gillis

Damien Gillis is a Vancouver-based documentary filmmaker with a focus on environmental and social justice issues - especially relating to water, energy, and saving Canada's wild salmon - working with many environmental organizations in BC and around the world. He is the co-founder, along with Rafe Mair, of The Common Sense Canadian, and a board member of both the BC Environmental Network and the Haig-Brown Institute.