'Indigenous thinking can solve climate crises,' says Bolivia's foreign minister

David Choquehuanca, Bolivia's foreign minister, believes ‘everything in the planet forms part of a big family’. foto: John Vidal

David Choquehuanca is Bolivia's foreign minister; he is also a prominent intellectual, an Aymara Indian and has been an adviser to President Evo Morales, a fellow Aymara, for many years. The rainbow-squared, pan-indigenous flag of the Andean peoples, the wipala, flies from his ministry balcony overlooking the presidential palace in La Paz.
I talked to him about why Bolivia was taking such an uncompromising stand at the global climate talks, and whether indigenous Andean thinking could inform the world and help resolve its many crises.
Here are some extracts from our chat.
"Bolivia is not trying to wreck the climate talks. We are only trying to defend life, the future of new generations. We must guarantee that we are going to reduce the planet's temperature by one degree centigrade, as the scientists have said. We didn't know anything about this topic and it's been scientists who said that [temperatures have increased] 0.8C, and we are already feeling the consequences. The Europeans have said we [must hold temperatures to] 2C but with the Cancún resolutions the same scientists are saying that the planet could have 4C temperature rise with disastrous consequences for us.
"At these summits the Europeans have said that with 2C rise in temperature, planet Earth has a 50-50 chance of surviving. We said, if a person knows that a plane on take-off has only a 50-50 chance of landing at its destination, would that person let his son board that plane? He wouldn't. That's the risk.
"We believe that everything in the planet forms part of a big family. We are being fed with the milk from Mother Nature, water. All animals feed with the milk of Mother Nature … as do plants, that's the reason why we work so as not to produce imbalances, we work towards harmony between plants, people, animals, we work for the balance of the planet. We have values and principles, which have survived more than 500 years. Among these values we could mention the tama. The tama means big family, that we all belong to a big family, and there is another value, there is another principle called la tumpa. La tumpa tells us that there must be a compulsory control among all of us.
"We are in the process of recovering [our indigenous] principles, values and codes. [After] 500 years or more we are just resurfacing, we are just rebuilding, we even have financial systems unknown to our universities and schools, unknown to scientists and the world of knowledge. Our grandparents had financial systems to organise each home, called ceje, and villages, called colga. Those principles could help us to rebuild. But like everything, we have to look at this as a whole.
"Our philosophy tells us that [other nations'] problems are also our problems. We have to work the balance between people, between regions, between continents, between countries, a balance between man and nature. Development – the one implemented by western societies – has an impact in this balance. It has generated considerable imbalances between people and regions. It has created a million problems. Today we are talking of crisis, energy crisis, financial crisis, food crisis, institutional crisis, climate change; we indigenous people can contribute to solving all these crises with our values for the attainment of balance.
"What we want is, firstly, internal balance, balance with our environment, with the community and between men and nature. But we have only been around for barely a year, we are just starting to walk our own road, we have our road, our zarawi in Aymara, we have trodden other roads, they have forced us down unfamiliar roads which were taking us north.
"We try to achieve total happiness, on the skirts of Mother Nature. Our Mother Nature feeds us, gives us drinks … and we respect her, we value her, we have to look after her. She is a mother and to us our Mother Nature, Pachamama, represents the same as any mother to each one of us. We are talking about a mother. I don't know what your feelings are when you talk of your mother, that's what we feel when we talk about Pachamama, our Mother Nature."

por John Vidal 
publicado no The Guardian - 13 April 2011


Bolivia enshrines natural world's rights with equal status for Mother Earth

Law of Mother Earth expected to prompt radical new conservation and social measures in South American nation.

by John Vidal in La Paz 
in The Guardian - 10 April 2011

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.
The 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."
The 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.
But 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.
Little 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 currency.
In the indigenous philosophy, the Pachamama is a living being.
The 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 self-organisation."
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

Bolivia 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.
Most 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.

* John Vidal reports from La Paz where Bolivians are living with the effects of climate change every day
Link to the video

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