“Living Well” in Harmony with the Environment


Franz Chávez - IPS

The philosophy of “Living Well” enshrined in Bolivia’s new constitution is being put forward by the government as the basis for a global movement against consumerism, depredation of natural resources for profit, and current models of development.

Presenting the results of indigenous President Evo Morales’ four years in office, Raúl Prada, vice minister for strategic state planning and a former member of the constituent assembly that rewrote the Bolivian constitution, exalted the virtues of the new charter, which arose from a social and political process with extensive grassroots participation.

Prada, a sociologist, proposed expanding the Bolivian government programme because it “protects biodiversity, respects the indigenous right to land and territory, and preserves water resources.

According to its proponents, the indigenous concept of “Living Well” contrasts with “living better” because it means having all basic needs met while existing in harmony with the natural world instead of seeking to amass more and more material goods at the expense of the environment.

“It is a proposal that incorporates the traditional indigenous worldview and combines well with anti-capitalist and environmental movements defending the planet,” Prada said Tuesday, the first day of the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, which runs through Thursday in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

The Bolivian constitution is the ultimate horizon, and is linked to the aim of “Living Well” and economic models that are alternatives to capitalism, he said.

After taking office in January 2006, the leftwing Morales administration promoted the creation of a new constitution that would reclaim the country’s natural resources for Bolivians and strengthen the rights of the country’s impoverished indigenous majority, workers and women.

One of its pillars is “Living Well”, which reflects the interest of indigenous people in preserving nature.

“Living Well” is a fine-sounding phrase, “but we need to define what it means, and how it works in practice,” Trond Norheim, a Norwegian environment expert with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), who listened attentively to the speeches by Bolivian government officials, told IPS.

“Although many indigenous communities epitomise ‘Living Well’, there are a range of different lifestyles in society and we need to know what it means for city dwellers. We need to put more flesh on the bones, not just make speeches,” he said.

In spite of this caveat, Norheim is observing the Bolivian model with interest, because it gives low-income sectors the opportunity to demand their rights instead of “leaving everything to the government.”

Portuguese sociologist Boaventura de Sousa Santos, an active promoter of the World Social Forum, said that in his view the validity of the new Bolivian constitution is based on three elements of democracy: representativeness, participation by all social actors, and the recovery of community values.

“The concept of the plurinational state will be long-lived” and will improve harmonious coexistence between peoples, he said Monday night at a lecture organised by the Centre for Socio-Environmental Knowledge and Care of the La Plata Basin.

The Bolivian government’s proposal attracted the attention of delegates from the United Left of the city of Jaén, Spain: Olga Jiménez, Ana Alcántara and journalist Francisco Sánchez, who writes for the party’s magazine “Comunes”.

Jiménez emphasised the opportunity the conference offers to learn about the kind of “Living Well” the Bolivian government supports, making economic models compatible with indigenous lifestyles, while Alcántara said she had confidence the administration would ensure “great strides forward for the majority, if the opposition allows Evo Morales to govern.” Prada described the Bolivian model as a coming together of the indigenous peoples’ demand for “decolonisation” and the renationalisation of natural resources, and cited the October 2003 “gas war” – a month of protests against plans to export Bolivia’s natural gas that toppled the right-wing government of Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada (1993-1997 and 2002-2003) – as the moment the two demands came together.

The renationalisation of gas reserves and the convening of the constituent assembly, which recognised the right of indigenous peoples to exercise social control over the extraction of natural resources were highlighted by Carlos Villegas, head of the YPFB state oil and gas company.

He stated that indigenous communities are now being consulted before companies are allowed to exploit fossil fuel resources in their territories, in accordance with international conventions, and that compensation is being paid, in coordination with the government’s oversight mechanisms.

Villegas was talking about people living in the oil and gas belt in southeast Bolivia, containing South America’s second largest natural gas reserves – after Venezuela’s – with an estimated volume of 49 trillion cubic feet, which provides the Bolivian state with its main source of revenue.


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