11 Dec, 2019 | BX Team


Photo: Alexandra Meleán − Past Intern

Cover Issue #64


In December 2010, Bolivia made headlines worldwide when it passed the Ley de Derechos de la Madre Tierra, or what became globally known as the country’s ‘Mother Earth Law’. The groundbreaking legislation gave legal rights to the environment. That is to say, in Bolivia, nature itself is protected by law, and in fact has its own voice within the government, via the creation of the Defensoría de la Madre Tierra, an office tasked with ensuring that the rights of nature are protected. Those rights largely encompass its relations with human society – within the law, ‘ecosystem’ means more than the natural world; it includes the social, cultural and economic impacts of human behaviour on the environment.

This is not to say that Bolivia’s relations with nature have since been completely harmonious. Litter remains an issue in cities and towns across the country, and pollution from agriculture and mining continue to plague Bolivia’s watersheds. Additionally, new government-funded programs will certainly have adverse effects on the environment. For example, in 2015 the government passed a law that opened up national parks and other protected areas to mining and oil concessions, and most recently Bolivia has broken ground on a nuclear-power research centre in El Alto. While some supporters of these projects insist their implementation can be consistent with the law protecting Mother Earth, many others question the ecological sustainability of such endeavours.

These pressing issues got us here at Bolivian Express thinking about the word ‘sustainability’. This ‘Mother Earth Law’, reinforced (and to some extent re-envisioned) through additional legislation in 2012, is intended to promote a healthy balance between natural systems and human action; the goal is to maintain existing ecologies in the long term, to ensure the sustainability of the natural world. But beyond the common associations with the environment, the term ‘sustainability’ is rooted in the key ideas of time and of endurance. Sustainability isn’t just about nature or ecology, it is about deep relationships; it is about politics and economics.

In this issue of Bolivian Express, we looked into this idea of ‘sustainability’ to explore not only ideas of ecological responsibility, but also ideas of consistency, of endurance, of continuation. We travelled to locales as diverse as the salt flats of Uyuni and the cloud forests of Caranavi in the Nor Yungas region to learn about technology-based solutions for litter cleanup and new strategies to support Bolivia’s coffee industry. We learned about the idea of ‘sustainable mining’, and Bolivia’s important role in the organic quinoa industry. We met people in the tourism industry invested in maintaining Bolivia’s environmental and cultural wonders through responsible tourism.  

A common thread we often found in our work for this issue was the idea that for anything to endure, adaptation almost invariably has to happen. And we did not fall short in meeting individuals and groups finding new ways to work with old materials to make something new. We met designers who employ recycled items, from plant material to engine parts, to create clothing and sculptures. Such art gives old material new life, and this theme of sustainability through rebirth carried itself through this issue, through the maintenance of La Paz’s famous, ancient micro buses to the younger generation’s interest in finding their own fashion voice through the purchasing of used clothing.

Bolivia’s relationship with the environment is as complex as it is critical. The ability of the government to carry out its initiatives, from infrastructure development to social programs, is directly tied to its ability to capitalize on the bountiful resources Bolivia has to offer. But this can come with costs. Today we have the opportunity to experience how a society, taking a lead in creating legal frameworks to regulate human engagement with the environment, carries out such an initiative in the real world. We also have a chance to navigate a country where cultures and traditions stretch back for generations, even centuries. Let’s see what it takes to keep these traditions alive in a constantly evolving and changing world.

Editorial Issue #64, by WILLIAM WROBLEWSKI

Read more here: http://www.bolivianexpress.org/magazines/64


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