Ecuador's Constitution Gives Rights to Nature
Jaguars, spectacled bears, brown-headed spider monkeys, and plate-billed mountain toucans may all just breathe a little easier next week if Ecuadorians approve a new constitution in a referendum on Sunday that would grant these threatened animals' habitats with inalienable rights.
The new constitution gives nature the "right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution" and mandates that the government take "precaution and restriction measures in all the activities that can lead to the extinction of species, the destruction of the ecosystems or the permanent alteration of the natural cycles."
"I think a lot of eyes will be on
Margil and other members of the Defense Fund were invited as a result of their environmental litigation and legislative work with municipalities in the
Dr. Mario Melo, a lawyer specializing in Environmental Law and Human Rights and an advisor to Fundación Pachamama-Ecuador, said that the new constitution redefines people's relationship with nature by asserting that nature is not just an object to be appropriated and exploited by people, but is rather a rights-bearing entity that should be treated with parity under the law.
"In this sense, the new constitution reflects the traditions of indigenous peoples living in
Challenging Corporate Power
"I expect them to fight it," said the Defense Fund's Margil. "Their bread and butter is being able to treat countries and ecosystems like cheap hotels. Multinational corporations are dependent on ravaging the planet in order to increase their bottom line."
The class-action lawsuit in
"The ultimate issue here is
Chevron is lobbying Congress to squeeze
Jorge Daniel Taillant, President of the Center for Human Rights and Environment (in Argentina), recently wrote that, "The crude reality of the Chevron lobbyist comment, brings home what few politicians or oil industry representatives want to admit, that our societies have been unsuccessful in properly balancing our need for oil and containing the negative impacts that this industry has on our natural and social environment."
It is this lack of success, as vindicated by the symptoms of global warming, and which are becoming all too apparent, that for Margil emphasize the urgent need to try something different, like what's being proposed in
For all of the hope and tangible progress the Rights of Nature articles in
Carlos Zorrilla, executive director of Defensa y Conservación Ecológica de Intag, who has been a tireless defender of Pachamama against transnational mining companies such as Canada's Ascendant Copper (which recently changed its name to Copper Mesa Mining Corp.), takes a more skeptical approach to the proposed laws.
"It sounds great," said Zorilla, "but in practice governments like [President] Correa's will argue that funding his political project, which will bring 'well being and relieve poverty', overules the rights of nature because the best technology will be used and mining and other extractive industries will be, of course, sustainable."
The articles place the responsibility of carrying out these laws largely to the government, though it does give citizens and communities legal recourse if its determined that the government is failing in its responsibilities.
"It comes down to the government doing what is the will of the people," said an optimistic Margil.
But Zorrilla, along with many other critics from social movements, point to Correa's refusal to include in the constitution a clause mandating free, prior and informed consent by communities for any development project that would of affect their local ecosystems, as well as the Correa Administration's embrace of an extractive economic model of development, although one with greater State control.
"They aren't issues you can reconcile," said environmental lawyer Melo. "On various occasions, President Correa has stated his will to amplify border-region projects for the extraction of natural resources, especially petroleum and metals, and this can only be done in
Despite any shortcomings, the eyes of the world should stay on Ecuador beyond this weekend's vote when the constitution will most likely pass. If history is any indicator, Ecuadorians will fight for the Rights of Nature, with or without President Correa.
Cyril Mychalejko is an editor at www.UpsideDownWorld.org.