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Volume 2 | Issue 4 | Page 8-9 | Aug 2011
Law of the Land: Bolivia Grants Nature Unprecedented Legal Rights
2007 Jessica Sprague, Courtesy of Photoshare
A Quechua woman walks through the Bolivian Salt Flats.

With the support of President Evo Morales, Bolivia is poised to pass a national law giving nature unprecedented legal rights. According to Vice President Alvaro García Linera, the legislation will make history in its recognition that “Earth is the mother of all.” The law specifically accords eleven new rights to nature, 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 not to be polluted; and the right to balance the relationship between man and nature in a way that allows the latter to regenerate. The Law of Mother Earth, particularly, evokes the revered Andean goddess Pachamama, the center of all life. The law’s development and passage is part of a 2009 restructuring of the Bolivian Constitution; implementation should take place over the coming year.

How this equality will look in legal terms is not clear, but the government is expected to create a Ministry of Mother Earth and to appoint an ombudsman on her behalf. The country’s 3.5-million-strong Confederación Sindical Única de Trabajadores Campesinos de Bolivia, a peasants union with broad support among indigenous farmers and laborers, hopes to leverage the new law against corporate malfeasance and resource exploitation in Bolivia. According to the group’s leader, the Law of Mother Earth will “allow people to regulate industry at national, regional, and local levels.”

While the law has radical implications, it enjoys popular support in Bolivia. Morales, as Latin America’s first indigenous leader, is known for emphasizing traditional Bolivian values. Resistance to the new law has largely focused on one of nature’s new rights, the one dictating that Earth “not be affected by mega-infrastructure and development projects.” This clause also defines mineral deposits as “blessings.” Given the dependence of Bolivia’s economy on mining, industry groups claim that such broad and lofty language could be problematic. According to a recent article in the Guardian, “Bolivia earns $500 million a year from mining companies, which provides nearly one-third of the country’s foreign currency.”

But recent academic forecasts have projected that by 2100 all of Bolivia’s glaciers below 5,000 meters could melt, causing massive water shortages. And much of the country is expected to undergo desertification. In a recent speech to the UN General Assembly advocating international adoption of the rights of Mother Earth, Bolivia’s permanent representative commented that “the answer for the future lies not in scientific inventions but in our capacity to listen to nature.”