Buen Vivir: Latin America’s new concepts for the good life and the rights of nature

Buen Vivir: Latin America’s new concepts for the good life and the rights of nature

Heinrich Böll Foundation
For free
Date of Publication: July 22, 2011
Number of Pages: 36
ISBN: 978-3-86928-059-2

Publication Series Ecology, Volume 17

Buen Vivir: Latin America’s new concepts for the good life and the rights of nature

July 22, 2011
Thomas Fatheuer

Climate change, financial and poverty crises, and most recently, the nuclear disaster in Japan are adding urgency to the search for alternatives to our current model of production and consumption. The ideals of a united world and a desire for happiness and a good life lie at the heart of all debates about sustainable development – and such discussion has long been taking place in developing and emerging countries. Numerous actors all over the world are looking for alternatives to the growth imperative.

Latin America is no different. Ecuador and Bolivia have enshrined the right to a good life in their constitutions. Buen Vivir is based on indigenous traditions and values. Thomas Fatheuer’s essay describes a concept that has remained virtually unnoticed in Europe.


Buen Vivir: Latin America’s new concepts for the good life and the rights of nature
   
Editor Heinrich Böll Foundation
Place of publication
Date of publication July 2011
Pages 36
ISBN 978-3-86928-059-2
Service charge Free of charge


Contents

  1. Buen Vivir – the right to a good life
  2. A new start in South America
  3. Bolivia and Ecuador: the Andes axis
  4. Buen Vivir – a closer examination
  5. Buen Vivir in day-to-day politics: conflicts and new horizons
  6. A concluding acknowledgement

Introduction

The political developments in South America in recent years have attracted considerable attention. "Leftist" candidates have gradually prevailed in elections and constituted new progressive alliances. Even a cursory look at the subcontinent, however, shows that this is a complex and heterogeneous process that does not amount to the formation of a new leftist block. The picturesque qualities of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and the astonishing success of the former union leader Lula da Silva in Brazil have often distracted from developments in the smaller countries of the Andean region. In Ecuador and Bolivia in particular, developments have taken hold that strive for renewal, and have already brought forth notable successes.

After considerable internal political turmoil, the outsider Rafael Correa won the 2006 presidential election in Ecuador. Two demands were decisive here: the promise to put an end to the "long night of neoliberalism" (Correa), and the abandonment of party rule, the partidocracia. In Bolivia, Evo Morales won the presidency in 2005. Here again, criticism of traditional parties and the neoliberal economic model played a central role. The Morales administration sees itself as a government of social movements and emphasizes its indigenous roots.

Both states recently adopted new constitutions. The constitutional processes were meant to signal a new beginning after authoritarian regimes and economic exploitation. Both countries had the courage to anchor unusual concepts in their constitutions. Both Bolivia and Ecuador have enshrined the concept of the "good life", and both regard nature as a legal entity that can have rights. These two paradigm shifts will be of broad significance if they transcend constitutional rhetoric and have a true impact.

One element is fundamental to understanding the developments in Ecuador and Bolivia: both countries draw upon the indigenous tradition of the Andes. Sumak Kawsay is a Quechua expression that can be translated as Buen Vivir (good life) in Spanish. Proponents of Buen Vivir emphasize the indigenous – and in the South American context, thus also non-colonial – origins of the concept. The attempt to finally overcome the colonial past that has shaped South America’s history is also taking shape in the search for new guiding principles. Buen Vivir appears to complement other efforts to seek new ideas in light of a general unease with traditional concepts of growth and progress. While gross national product as an indicator of growth has been thoroughly repudiated in theoretical debates, it nevertheless remains politically dominant. Happiness is also being discussed as a new guiding principle, and the kingdom of Bhutan has become famous for the duty to promote happiness enshrined in its constitution.

The developments in the Andean countries, however, run the risk of being carelessly subsumed into the Western search for new principles, or prematurely dismissed as nonsensical South American political folklore. I would therefore like to begin by outlining the historical and cultural context in which the new constitutions took shape, and then take a closer look at the new concepts, their potential and limitations.

Preface

Barbara Unmüßig, Member of the Executive Board of the Heinrich Böll Foundation
Georg P. Kössler, Department Head of International Climate and Energy Policy of the Heinrich Böll Foundation
Germany is experiencing a boom in the year 2011. The financial crisis has almost been forgotten in the light of growth and export forecasts. Higher, further, faster – and above all, more of everything – is the order of the day. The growth paradigm remains unbroken. And yet more and more people are discussing ways out of the growth imperative. Climate change, financial and poverty crises, and most recently, the nuclear disaster in Japan are adding urgency to the search for alternatives to our current production and consumption model. Options for truly decoupling resource consumption and growth, or even a “post-growth society” are being thought about, discussed and published. The ideals of a united world and a desire for happiness and a good life lie at the heart of all debates about sustainable development – and such discussion has also been taking place in developing and emerging countries for some time. Numerous actors all over the world are looking for alternatives to the growth imperative, and the Heinrich Böll Foundation has made it its mission to raise awareness of them in Germany. Latin America in the year 2011: working in the shadow of the giant Brazil, leftist governments in Ecuador and Bolivia have drawn up new constitutions. Buen Vivir – the right to a good life and the rights of nature – has been enshrined in those documents. Buen Vivir is based on indigenous traditions and values of the Andean region and sees itself as a new development concept that departs from Western paradigms of affluence. In the following essay, Thomas Fatheuer describes the political genesis of a complex concept: Buen Vivir – and a “concept under construction”.

He points out that achieving constitutional status is no means a guarantee for the implementation of Buen Vivir – harmony with nature or the culture of life. While there is no timetable for it, it has been the subject of lively debate in Latin America that has remained virtually unnoticed in Europe. With this publication, we would like to introduce the Buen Vivir concept and get to know it better, and thus provide a further aspect with which to enrich our own debate about growth. We would like to invite you to a dialog, because all over the world, the search for a good life just begun. We would like to warmly thank Thomas Fatheuer, the former head of our office in Rio de Janeiro, for his contribution. Fatheuer approaches the idea of Buen Vivir without preconceptions. He makes it clear that the concept deserves our attention, and that it must not end as mere propaganda or a new dogma.

We hope you find this publication enjoyable and enlightening, and we are looking forward to your feedback.
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