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Bolivia is preparing to boldly go where no one has gone before, although Ecuador started the ball rolling. Asof this writing Ecuador is on the verge of passing a kind of Bill of Rights for Nature, a series of laws called “Ley de Derechos de La Madre Tierra.” (The Law of Mother Earth) Pachamama is the name indigenous Bolivians generally give to Mother Earth, and as I read about this event and then Meical AbAwen’s translation of the law, which he kindly sent, I was reminded that John Perkins had made a brief mention of this event in his talk Monday night (see previous post). I had not fully appreciated what might turn out to be a world-histrical event: a country, a poor country at that, declared that our earth is not just a storehouse of resources suitable for exploitation. Ot has standing deserving of recognition and respect. Meical’s translation of the legislation is worth reading. I can say I support completely.
What Bolivia and its indigenous President have done is in my opinion on the same level as our own Declaration of Independence: for the first time stating in unambiguous terms rights and responsibilities that deny the powerful the legitimacy of simply running roughshod over the powerless. Western liberalism made big contributions in this area, but liberalism only really addresses the moral standing of human beings. With regard to the more than human world, its insights were hobbled by its arguments being based on a transcendental monotheistic view of reality. In such a view the world us simply “stuff.” As a consequence any concern for the well being of the natural world in the West has faced an uphill battle, for the terms of the debate privilege human convenience and deny to the world any value independent of human interests. The Bolivians have changed the framing of this debate, and done so decisively. I think they are taking it farther than Ecuador has done. In this they are in keeping with the best thinking in the West, and in some ways perhaps ahead of it.
As I read Meical’s translation, the law is framed in ways that harmonize it with the best of Western traditions. This is good in my view because it makes it more effective in its impact on other cultures, and if it is to have a big impact it must go beyond Bolivia and Ecuador. Of course there remains incredible work to be done determining how to translate these principles into practical action. But Ecuador and now the Bolivians, are getting us off on the right foot. In the future perhaps the entire world will owe a debt of gratitude to the indigenous peoples of the Andes and their capacity to preserve their spiritual truths through dark centuries of essentially totalitarian oppression.
The arrogant are already dismissing Bolivia as just a little third world country. Our own Declaration was similarly dismissed by the power drunk monarchs and aristocrats of an old order that was about to go under. I can only hope that history will in this respect repeat itself.