Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Back in Mother's Arms

Volcan Sajama by Luca Galuzzi
With a population of less than 10 million people, Bolivia has lived in the shadows of some of South America’s most populated countries—Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Peru, and Paraguay. Recently, this tiny land-locked country took the world by surprise. It’s about to pass the world’s first laws granting all of nature the same rights as humans, a law to be called the Law of Mother Earth.

Over the years, Bolivia has copped flack for its controversial mining methods of tin, silver, and gold. The UNESCO city of culture, Potosí, was once home to the Spanish colonial mint, and supplied most of the silver for Spain during the New World Spanish Empire. The National Mint of Bolivia is now located here, and the ancient mines are still in use. Today, the products mined from the land are Bolivia’s largest export.

Back in 2000, I visited Potosí and saw how humans can damage the land and themselves. But this post isn’t about the negatives, so I’ll move on. 

This new law will redefine the country’s rich mineral deposits as “blessings” and will help to decrease pollution by putting tough controls on the mining industry. One of the more controversial aspects of this law is that nature will have the right “to not be affected by mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect the balance of the ecosystems and the local inhabitant communities”.* It will be interesting to see how this will develop over time.

The Law of Mother Earth will also include rights such as 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.*

A national ombudsman will monitor this new law, but communities will have the legal right to scrutinize and control the pollution of their regions. From what I can understand, the law is not designed to halt mining. I don’t think the country’s economy is capable of handling such a measure. What this law is designed to do is make people, and companies, more responsible for their actions, and to stop and think about the consequences for everyone, including nature. 

Bolivia has seen a steady increase in its people returning to their roots, including the belief system of their ancestors. As a result, the Bolivian legal system has undergone some major changes in the past two years. Bolivia’s strong indigenous population has long-held ties to the earth deity Pachamama, which, literally translated, means Mother Earth. Given Bolivia has an indigenous president, Evo Morales, I’m not surprised the people have reassessed their values and adopted the viewpoint of their ancestors.

Salar de Uyuni by entrop1963 (the spot is a 4WD)
Every visit to Bolivia has left me gob smacked. The bright blue, cloudless skies framed by snowy peaks and the silence of the mountain passes and pristine salt flats calms my soul. The jungles, full of chattering animals and birds, always leave me with a sense that all is as it should be. And thank goodness Bolivia feels the same way.

So when I heard about Bolivia reexamining its role with nature and its plans to take some extreme measures, I puffed out my chest. I am so happy to see this tiny South American country willing to commit to one of the most important roles of all—the guardian of Mother Nature. Listen up, rest of the world.

Congratulations, Bolivia. You have done yourself, the earth and humankind proud.

*Taken from the Guardian News and Media


  1. Great post! I am so glad to hear such positive stories.

  2. The health of our planet as a human right! The concept blows me away. Can't wait to see laws like this in other countries as well.

  3. What Heidi and Lavanya said. An amazing idea that'll hopefully inspire lawmakers everywhere.

  4. Thank you, ladies! I am so impressed with Bolivia. This country has a lot to show the world. Awesome.

  5. great post, lots of progress on the environment in Latin America if you read spanish google Lucha Indigena which is indigenous struggle magazine about the struggles to protect the planet.

  6. It's good to know that people are noticing the need to protect the environment.

  7. Derek, thanks for dropping by and for the name of the magazine. I will definitely check it out.

    Orlando, yes, it most definitely is great that people are finalling noticing. Thank for stopping by!

  8. The first time I read about Potosi was in a historical mystery book called The City of Silver by Annamaria Alfieri; it was her first book. But, it was set centuries ago. Now I know a lot more about the modern day Potosi. And it's good to know that it's on the right path.

  9. Lina, that books sounds really interesting. Yes, it's so great things are changing in Bolivia. Hopefully the rest of the world will catch on.