Law of Mother Earth: A Vision From Bolivia

Peter Neill

Just when you think the world is impossible, the world surprises.

Looking toward the future, one can easily despair over the scale of change required, the intractability of vested interests and governments, and the human energy and imagination required to make any change for the better. We talk of hope, but when specific actions are considered and expressed, all the reasons against often overwhelm the possibility.

Enter Bolivia, where in December 2010, in response to an understanding of the impacts of climate change on the nation's economic and community health, the National Congress voted to support an act to protect the well-being of its citizens by protecting the natural world--its resources, sustainability, and value--as essential to the common good. The act was supported by Bolivian President Evo Morales; revisions of the national legal code were explored; over 2,900 specific conservation programs and anti-pollution projects, conceived as expressions of the practical application of the law, were implemented in all 327 municipalities; $118 million was invested; and full legislation enabling this new social and economic model is expected to be ratified soon.

The language contained in the legislation is astonishing. Here are the binding principles that govern: 1) Harmony: Human activities, within the framework of plurality and diversity, should achieve a dynamic balance with the cycles and processes inherent in Mother Earth; 2) Collective Good: The interests of society, within the framework of the rights of Mother Earth, prevail in all human activities and any acquired right; 3) Guarantee of Regeneration: The state, at its various levels, and society, in harmony with the common interest, must ensure the necessary conditions in order that the diverse living systems of Mother Earth may absorb damage, adapt to shocks, and regenerate without significantly altering their structural and functional characteristics, recognizing that living systems are limited in their ability to regenerate, and that humans are limited in their ability to undo their actions; 4) Respect and defend the rights of Mother Earth: The state and any individual or collective person must respect, protect and guarantee the rights of Mother Earth for the well-being of current and future generations; 5) No Commercialism: Neither living systems nor processes that sustain them may be commercialized, nor serve anyone's private property: 6) Multiculturalism: The exercise of the rights of Mother Earth require the recognition, recovery, respect, protection, and dialogue of the diversity of feelings, values, knowledge, skills, practices, transcendence, science, technology and standards of all the culture of the world who seek to live in harmony with nature.

The legislation continues: Mother Earth has the following rights: to life, to the diversity of life, to water, to clean air, to equilibrium, to restoration, and to pollution-free living. And it further outlines the obligations of the State and the people to these principles and rights as a binding societal duty.

The Bolivian economy does rely heavily on natural resource export activity, earning a significant part of its foreign exchange thereby. But this moves forward nonetheless, as an endeavor initiated and supported by Bolivian political groups representing some three million voters, is on its way to finalization and implementation as national law, supported by the local and national government, with an already existing ministry to implement revisions to the legal system and to continue the applicable programs already underway. Bolivia attempts to move forward, to show us another way, and nearby Ecuador, with similar intent, is right along side.

As importantly, consider the impact of such a change on the most divisive issues elsewhere: the growing global conflict over excess consumption of coal, oil, gas, cement, minerals and marine resources, pollution that destroys the sustainability of the land, privatization of water, genetically modified agriculture, air quality, ocean acidification, species extinction, action to meet the now and future conditions of a changing climate--all the things we fight about elsewhere against the overwhelming evidence that we, through ill-considered, continuing actions, are exhausting the capacity of the earth, taking from nature, and then taking more, with no awareness, at least no evident interest in sustaining any of it for the future.

The Law of Mother Earth: not just an idea, more than a vision. Something new. Something real. Change must begin somewhere, sometime; perhaps Bolivia is inventing the social model and role of governance that will demonstrate how globally we can transcend the divisions and conflicts, beyond the destruction and despair that we feel, toward an harmonious, effective, efficient, and equitable society connected by the true value of nature as sustainer? If so, should we not pay attention?

Republished from Huffington Post

On Bolivia’s new child labour law

Neil Howard

Evo Morales has been condemned for lowering the working age in Bolivia to 10. But when child labour remains a given, it is in the children’s best interests to formalise and regulate it.

Last month, Evo Morales won a landslide victory in the Bolivian general election. Though a disaster for the free marketeers on the right, his victory has been hailed as a triumph for equality and social justice by progressives on the left. Yet on one matter, both left and right are united: in unequivocal condemnation of Morales’ new child labour law.
The ‘Code for Children and Adolescents’ overturns decades of child labour legislation. Globally, as per the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Minimum Age Conventions, 14 is the youngest that children can be when they begin light work. In Bolivia, that age has now been lowered to 10 if the children are self-employed and attending school. Children may begin contract work – meaning they may be employed by someone else – at 12, as long as they possess parental authorization and continue their education. The law also contains strong stipulations pertaining to the protection of child workers, and serious sanctions for employers who fail to respect them.
Criticism of the law has been vociferous. Conservative politicians in Latin America have derided it as dishonourable. UNICEF and the ILO have led an international chorus against it. Human Rights Watch has been scathing, with its chief child rights advocate claiming the new rules are “counter-productive” and may “perpetuate poverty”. Aidan McQuade, Director of Anti-Slavery International, wrote in The Guardian that it “shames us all” and represents the “abandonment of a child's right to a childhood”. 
This criticism, while hardly surprising, is misguided in many respects. There are a number of reasons why the law represents a very progressive step in the right direction.
The first is that it constitutes a clear rejection of the dominant ‘abolitionist’ approach to child labour in favour of a more nuanced, and ultimately more effective, regulatory strategy. The abolitionist approach seeks an immediate, blanket removal of all children from what the ILO calls the most ‘hazardous’ occupations and an immediate removal of any child under 14 from any occupation whatsoever. The problem with this approach, however, is that its history is absolutely littered with examples of it having made children’s livessignificantly worse. This happens because all to often it is implemented in an entirely a-political fashion. Well-meaning outsiders come along promising to rescue poor children from exploitation, not by changing the political-economic conditions that allow for (and indeed create) that exploitation, but simply by removing them from it. The unfortunate result of these efforts is to promptly return those children to precisely the penury that drove them to work in the first place. This frequently pushes them into the illegal economy, where they end up facing even worse working conditions.
The alternative to this quixotic dogmatism is exactly what Bolivia’s new child labour law seeks to achieve. It begins from the twin premises that children work because they are poor and that, until their poverty has been overcome, they will be better served by having their work brought out of the shadows. This involves having it legalised, having it regulated, and having the authorities ensure that child workers receive the same protections and the same wages as their adult counterparts.
The same, pragmatic logic is also found in campaigns to legalise sex work. As it is with legalised prostitution, evidence from other contexts in which a regulatory approach has been taken to child labour clearly suggests that this is by far the best way to advance children’s interests until enough political will exists for a massive, poverty-eradicating redistribution of resources. It is thus likely that this law will benefit Bolivia’s working children.
And as a precedent, this law has the potential to benefit working children everywhere. It offers a tangible, real world example of an effective alternative to the hegemony of abolitionist thinking. Nowhere else has a country so flatly rejected abolitionist inflexibility. Nowhere else has a law been passed that so roundly reveals the hypocrisy of abolitionist moralising. To condemn and illegalise child work whilst doing nothing about the structures underpinning that work is, at the end of the day, not about helping working children. It assuages the guilt of the interventionists whose privilege is made manifest to them by the uncomfortable sight of a child at labour. Abolitionist posturing is the worst kind of liberal sensibility, and Bolivia’s child labour law reveals it for what it is, whilst at the same time shining a light on another way forward.
The third reason why this law is such an advance is that it both recognises children’s agency and gives them voice in determining what is in their best interests. Contrary to what may be assumed, children have themselvesvigorously campaigned for this new law. The pioneering Bolivian Union of Child and Adolescent Workers (UNATSBO), which represents tens of thousands of under-18s all over the country, has argued that regulation and labour protection are more useful for the poor and the young than wholesale bans. Historically, those seeking to help children have done so without consulting them or taking their views into account. Beyond this being a morally questionable contradiction, speaking for children and adolescents whilst ignoring what they themselves have to say, has been highly ineffectual. Bolivia’s recognition of their right to be heard is thus of real importance.
It is likely that, as the Bolivian state takes the lead in offering greater respect to its young workers, Bolivian society will follow suit. Significant bodies of research demonstrate that perceptions of a person’s status are fundamental to how we treat that person. It is for precisely this reason that many liberal democracies illegalise hate speech. By declaring that young people are capable not only of working and organising, but of making a valuable and necessary contribution to their families and their society, Evo Morales is demanding that Bolivian society do likewise. It must respect these young workers as people, and treat them accordingly.
I neither condone the exploitation of children nor see all child work as unproblematic. But I want readers to see that in our unjust, unequal and unfair world, regulating child work is better for working children than the counter-productive sticky plaster of abolition. Instead of condemning Morales as regressive, abolitionists and their allies would do better to marshal their forces against the wealth inequalities that necessitate child work in the first place.
Republished from Open Democracy

Morales Re-Election Shows Failure of U.S. Policies

Teo Ballvé

The re-election of Bolivian President Evo Morales to a third term is a stark reminder of Washington’s self-inflicted irrelevance south of the border.

In 2006, Morales became the first indigenous president of Bolivia, a country where native peoples make up nearly two-thirds of the population.

His life history is itself a story about U.S. policy blunders in Latin America.

Fresh out of high school, he was conscripted into the army of Gen. Hugo Banzer, one of the many brutal military dictators that Washington propped up across South America during the 1970s.

After his military service, Morales settled in Bolivia’s tropical lowlands, the only place his family could afford land. At the time, the country became a laboratory for the package of radical free-market reforms that were eventually adopted throughout Latin America at Washington’s insistence. As elsewhere, the results in Bolivia were disastrous.

Morales watched as a mass exodus of laid-off workers flooded into the lowlands looking for opportunities, as these so-called reforms brought on an economic crisis.

Like Morales, these homesteaders began growing the only viable crop in the area: coca. Used for millennia by local indigenous groups for a number of household purposes, the coca plant is also the raw material of cocaine.

As coca cultivation spread, Bolivia’s lowlands became ground zero for the U.S. war on drugs.
Protesting against the resulting human rights abuses, Morales became well known as an outspoken community organizer. After several failed runs, he finally won the presidency in 2006.

Morales vowed to assert state control over the country’s newfound resource wealth and redirect its riches to improve the lives of its impoverished indigenous majority. He also promised to overturn the most harmful aspects of the U.S. war on drugs.

Despite U.S. resistance on both fronts, he kept these promises.

After nationalizing the oil and gas industries, the Morales administration invested in social programs and a number of job-creating infrastructure projects. Poverty has been reduced by 25 percent since he took office, and extreme poverty has been reduced by 43 percent, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Rather than following the militarized U.S. approach of trying to completely eradicate coca, Morales moved to regulate its production, recognizing the many local cultural uses that have nothing to do with cocaine.

According to the United Nations, by including local communities in the regulation of the crop, the government has reduced the amount of land cultivated with coca by more than 25 percent.

Despite these evident gains, the Obama White House claims Bolivia has “failed demonstrably” in combating the drug trade. The move effectively blocks U.S. aid to the country, South America’s poorest.

But U.S. hostility has not crippled Bolivia, as Morales has found allies outside of Washington’s orbit.
The days of Washington bullying its southern neighbors with impunity are over — in no small part thanks to leaders like Morales.

Republished from Teo Ballvé's website