RELEASE DATE: 28 Aug, 2016

EDITORIAL BY William Wroblewski

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.


After the silver lining

28 Aug, 2016 | Ellen Weaver

Illustration: Oscar ZallesThe tension between sustainability and mining in BoliviaGutted to the point of near collapse, the once silver-lined entrails of Cerro Rico, emblematic of prosperity in the Ne...

Treading Carefully Across Bolivia

28 Aug, 2016 | Gabrielle Mcguinness

Photo: Gabrielle McguinnessAn Ethical Alternative for the Mindful TravellerThere is a certain guilt that comes with being that gringo wandering the streets of Bolivia, wrapped up in an alpaca sweater,...

Diesel Inferno

28 Aug, 2016 | Madeleine Pollard

Photo: Madeleine PollardMore Than Just a Space of WasteUpon approaching the late-night bar Diesel Nacional, located in the centre of La Paz’s Sopocachi neighbourhood, you would be forgiven for thinkin...

Investigating Bolivia´s ‘Wonder Crop’

28 Aug, 2016 | Isabel Cocker

Photo: Isabel CockerThe New Quinoa Research Centre in OruroIn England and the US, quinoa used to be the reserve of health nuts and hippies, found in stores selling tofu and hemp milk. But in recent ye...

Quenching a Different Thirst

28 Aug, 2016 | Brian Weisbecker

Photo: Courtesy of Cervecería Boliviana Nacional‘Where’s your bottle?’ It was, in fact, in the bag I was told to store in a locker when I walked into this supermarket. As I continued conversing with t...

Running on Manpower

28 Aug, 2016 | Brian Weisbecker

Photo: Brian WeisbeckerMaintaining the Micros of La Paz Requires Massive IngenuityOn the streets of La Paz, vehicles large and small breeze about. Speedy taxis pass cars whenever possible, honking at...

Sustaining Bolivia’s Basketball Boom

28 Aug, 2016 | Eduardo Baptista

Photo: Eduardo BaptistaThe Challenges of Creating a Basketball CultureJune 30th 2016 marked a historic date for Bolivian basketball. By beating Ecuador 75-74, Bolivia’s national basketball team broke...

Let Them Read

28 Aug, 2016 | Maria Mayböck

How Harry Potter is Saving the Book World Again‘The average Bolivian doesn’t read,’ says Sebastian Antezana, author of La Toma Manuscrito,  which won the “Premio Nacional de Novela” in 2008. Ther...

A Close Knit Alpaca Company

28 Aug, 2016 | Maria Mayböck

Photo: Maria MayböckLooking Abroad to Preserve a TraditionAs soon as Simon Huanca sits down at a knitting machine, it is clear just how familiar he is with what has been his livelihood for decade...

From the Shores of Titicaca to Sydney

28 Aug, 2016 | Melody chan

Photo: Melody ChanBolivians and an American Adventurer Team Up to Sail Across the Pacific Using Ancient TechnologyFloating on the shimmering surface of Lake Titicaca, an imposing boat made of yellow t...

Thrift-Shopping in La Paz

28 Aug, 2016 | Valeria Wilde

Photo: Valeria WildeThe Consumption Behaviour of MillennialsUS singer-rapper Macklemore gave us a hint in 2012 – the youth of his generation have an incredible affinity for the consumption of used clo...

Eight Kilometres of Petty Diplomacy

28 Aug, 2016 | Jacob Klein

Illustration: Oscar ZallesThe legal battle over a riachueloAlong the southwestern reaches of Bolivia, in a desolate section of the Departamento de Potosí, a freshwater spring seeps to the surface of a...

Sal y Solar

28 Aug, 2016 | Madeleine Pollard

Photo: Madeleine PollardYoshi Homna’s Revolutionary Plan to Clear Uyuni’s Peripheral Wasteland‘Close your eyes if you see any rubbish; we are really trying to work on it,’ pleads our tour guide with a...

Leaving a Paper Trail

28 Aug, 2016 | Gabriel Macguinness

Photo: Gabrielle McguinnessMarion Macédo’s Quest to Make Art From the UnwantedEach day we fill our bins to the brim with scraps of paper, cardboard boxes and bundles of packaging, a clear sign that pa...

What Sustains You?

28 Aug, 2016 | Madeleine Pollard

Photos: Madeleine PollardSustenance exists in many forms: food, drink, money, reggaeton. Reggaeton!?We asked ciudadanos on the meandering streets of La Paz ‘What sustains you?,’ probing the motivation...