Ecuador has a new constitution
September 29, 2008 3:52 PM   Subscribe

Voters in Ecuador appear to have approved a new constitution yesterday, guaranteeing rights to clean water, universal healthcare, pensions, and free state-run education through the university level. It also may allow President Rafael Correa to remain in power until 2017. Particularly of note is a world first bill of rights for nature which grants inalienable rights to nature.

This portion of the constitution was drafted with the assistance of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, a group which "[provides] free and affordable legal services to community based groups and local governments working to protect their quality of life and the natural environment through building sustainable communities."

The specific provisions state: (source)

"Chapter: Rights for Nature

Art. 1. Nature or Pachamama, where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution.

Every person, people, community or nationality, will be able to demand the recognitions of rights for nature before the public organisms. The application and interpretation of these rights will follow the related principles established in the Constitution.

Art. 2. Nature has the right to an integral restoration. This integral restoration is independent of the obligation on natural and juridical persons or the State to indemnify the people and the collectives that depend on the natural systems.

In the cases of severe or permanent environmental impact, including the ones caused by the exploitation on non renewable natural resources, the State will establish the most efficient mechanisms for the restoration, and will adopt the adequate measures to eliminate or mitigate the harmful environmental consequences.

Art. 3. The State will motivate natural and juridical persons as well as collectives to protect nature; it will promote respect towards all the elements that form an ecosystem.

Art. 4. The State will apply 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.

The introduction of organisms and organic and inorganic material that can alter in a definitive way the national genetic patrimony is prohibited.

Art. 5. The persons, people, communities and nationalities will have the right to benefit from the environment and form natural wealth that will allow wellbeing.

The environmental services are cannot be appropriated; its production, provision, use and exploitation, will be regulated by the State."
posted by PercussivePaul (38 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
The introduction of organisms and organic and inorganic material that can alter in a definitive way the national genetic patrimony is prohibited.

Tough to enforce, I'd think.
posted by chuckdarwin at 3:57 PM on September 29, 2008


lousy latin socialists with their reverence for nature and education and care and happiness
posted by Damn That Television at 3:57 PM on September 29, 2008 [24 favorites]


If McCain wins, I'm moving to Ecuador.
posted by Sfving at 4:02 PM on September 29, 2008 [7 favorites]


One of the driving forces behind the environmental portion of the constitution is that the Galapagos are part of Ecuador, which depends on them heavily for tourist income. But they may have had a stance like that for quite a while -- I think an article in the New Yorker about one of the boats that rams Japanese whaling ships talked about them finding safe harbor in the Galapagos, so they may have had a sympathetic government.
posted by LionIndex at 4:22 PM on September 29, 2008


We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all menliving beings are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, Sunlight, Water and the pursuit of Happiness. And a little bit of mulch now and then.

Until the trees get a vote, colour me superior. When they do, colour me terrified!
posted by Lemurrhea at 4:36 PM on September 29, 2008 [3 favorites]


Sfving: hah, I thought the same thing!
posted by scody at 4:37 PM on September 29, 2008


jesus, Correa, stay the fuck on the ground.
posted by klanawa at 4:47 PM on September 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


Until the trees get a vote, colour me superior. When they do, colour me terrified!

If they voted this guy into office, that would be pretty cool.
posted by homunculus at 4:53 PM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Every country should update their Constitution about every 100-200 years. Things change. Constitutions should keep up.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:53 PM on September 29, 2008 [4 favorites]


First order of business: Telling every resident of the Galapagos Islands to get the fuck out.
posted by clearly at 4:59 PM on September 29, 2008


Hang on here folks. Ecuador is no wonderland. It is a fragile democracy caught in economic termoil. Tax changes swing wide and far from year to year. The average income per person is less than US$3,000 - which is well below the Latin America average of around US$4,800. 46% of the population lives in poverty, and almost 18% live on less than US$1 a day.

I don't care what the piece of paper says, if Ecuador remains with these kinds of economic numbers, the only thing in the Constitution worth nothing is that the president just gave himself nearly 10 years of job security.

Constitutions are only worth as much as the people are willing to bleed for them. If the courts are not strong enough to have lawsuits to enforce rights, if the executive is not strong enough (or willing enough) to enforce the court rulings AND if the PEOPLE are not ready to live and die for the ideals, then the words are meaningless.

I will just wait and see how this all plays out, hoping that democracy is growing with new, interesting ideas. I am concerned that what I'm really seeing is a power grab and lip service by a government that rocks on the edge of potential socialist dictatorship. It would not be the first or the last poor Latin American country to fall towards that fait.

Good luck to the people of Ecuador.
posted by Muddler at 5:04 PM on September 29, 2008 [17 favorites]


That should have read "worth noting" in relation to the extension of the presidential term...

Point is simple, watch and wait with interest.
posted by Muddler at 5:06 PM on September 29, 2008


Well said, Muddler. Latin America is famous for incredibly progressive constitutions with huge gaps between the letter and reality of the law.
posted by AwkwardPause at 5:21 PM on September 29, 2008


Huge gaps between the letter of the Constitution and the reality of the law? Hah! I'm glad we don't have such shenanigans here in America.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 5:30 PM on September 29, 2008 [8 favorites]


I'm with Muddler. Let's see if there's any substance behind all of this before cheering to the echo.
posted by AdamCSnider at 5:33 PM on September 29, 2008


five fresh fish writes: Every country should update their Constitution about every 100-200 years. Things change. Constitutions should keep up.


Would you really want contemporary politicians, with their short-sighted pragmatism, tacking on "except for national security reasons" to the end of every Amendment of the Bill of Rights?
posted by anifinder at 5:52 PM on September 29, 2008 [9 favorites]


To whom is the duty to pay for all this put on ?
posted by sien at 6:29 PM on September 29, 2008


In other news, my neighbor is a leprechaun and he's totally psyched because gold keeps going up and up.
posted by XMLicious at 6:36 PM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Would you really want contemporary politicians, with their short-sighted pragmatism, tacking on "except for national security reasons" to the end of every Amendment of the Bill of Rights?

Haven't they done that, already?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:51 PM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Just the fact that a state Constitution contains rights for Nature is something to celebrate. It sets a precedent. Maybe it won't work out for Ecuador but it might spur other states in the future to do the same by learning from their mistakes. Has to start somewhere.
posted by stbalbach at 7:26 PM on September 29, 2008


The constitution the Soviet Union passed in the 70's had lots of wonderful language, plenty of rights, all very progressive. And it was pretty much bullshit.

The US has a great constitution too, the problem being that over the past few years we've seen parts of it effectively made into bullshit.

I hope Ecuador's experience is better.
posted by aerotive at 7:34 PM on September 29, 2008


Optimist in Me: The fact that they put environmental rights in the constitution means they've got the general idea.

Pessimist in Me: The fact that they need to lay out environmental rights in the constitution (e.g. it's not common sense that other living things deserve respect) proves that there is still a long long way to go.
posted by symbollocks at 7:34 PM on September 29, 2008


Well, a right isn't a right if it isn't enforceable. It's an ideal.

That being said, perhaps Ecuadorians can sue if these constitutional provisions are violated?
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:49 PM on September 29, 2008


Or what Muddler said better.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:50 PM on September 29, 2008


Would you really want contemporary politicians, with their short-sighted pragmatism, tacking on "except for national security reasons" to the end of every Amendment of the Bill of Rights?

Haven't the foggiest what your folk would do, but my fellow Canucks did an admirable job of creating a new Constitution.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:56 PM on September 29, 2008


If McCain wins, I'm moving to Ecuador.

Unfortunately, Ecuador does not rank very high on the list of countries unlikely to be invaded by the US in the event that the next president of the US is John McCain.
posted by Creosote at 8:11 PM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


I would be more impressed if it hadn't included, almost as a fillip, an extended term for the head of government in power. A little for me, a little for thee.
posted by dhartung at 10:01 PM on September 29, 2008


guaranteeing rights to clean water, universal healthcare, pensions, and free state-run education through the university level

And a pony!
posted by oncogenesis at 10:22 PM on September 29, 2008


This reminds me of Christopher Stone's 1972 article, "Do Trees Have Standing?" and subsequent book on the same subject.

Anyway, the Indian Constitution doesn't quite give rights to nature, but makes the protection of nature a duty of the state and every citizen:
Article 48A: The State shall endeavor to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.

Article 51A: It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife and to have compassion for all living creatures.
Legal action has in fact been taken up by NGOs on behalf of the environment in reliance of such constitutional provisions, which then were enforced by the courts in India. So even if nature doesn't have true locus standi in the eyes of the law, it's relatively easy for public interest litigation to seek the prevention of environmental degradation.
posted by hellopanda at 5:22 AM on September 30, 2008


Every country should update their Constitution about every 100-200 years. Things change. Constitutions should keep up.

Our Bill of Rights is just fine, Mr. Bush. We'd rather not update it right now, thanks.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:32 AM on September 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


The problem that I see in your comment, Muddler, is that it falls for the same reductionism that is always applied to the new governments in Latin America: since they came and implemented huge changes, they gotta be on some sort of scheme to perpetrate themselves in power forever.

It sounds to me more like the result of reading a lot of international press, rather than seeing and analyzing what is actually happening in these countries. Calling Evo Morales a populist is plain wrong. Calling Rafael Correa a wannabe dictator is non-sense and calling Cristina Kirchner "revenge-driven" is evil. I know you didn't say those things about them, but you did say that thing about Correa giving himself "10 years of job security" and to me, it goes right along with the arguments often used to deride what these governments are doing.

These set of new governments started by doing something that everyone knew had to be done in Latin America: to change the constitutions to better reflect the reality of the countries, instead of being rewrites of the French constitution. But after doing it, it was an easy point for their political rivals to say that they did it because they want to create mechanisms to keep themselves in power. This, despite the fact that all these new constitutions introduced, for the first time, the right to hold referendums to revoke the presidential mandate, a right that in most cases is very easy to abuse, as it happened in 2004 in Venezuela.

So yeah, it is very easy to discard what the new governments are doing and to judge them by the numbers and the actions of the governments that preceded them, without regard to the fact that those governments were essentially different from these new governments. It's very easy to say "yeah, Latin Americans just have this tendency to fall into dictatorships and this is just more of the same" without even taking into consideration that these new governments come from massive social movements and that the first thing they did was to create mechanisms to prevent that "takeover of power" to happen again. This is very easy, but I prefer the other approach. I'm glad to see that things are changing, I'm thrilled to see that things are indeed changing for the people, and not just in the headlines, and I can't help remembering a phrase that Rafael Correa often uses when he is interviewed in foreign newspapers: you got it wrong, this is not a "season of change" in Latin America. It's a change of season.
posted by micayetoca at 5:32 AM on September 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


Personally, I don't see how, in terms of politicians' career goals, implementing huge changes and perpetuating themselves in power are mutually exclusive options. Napoleon, by all accounts, did reform France's law code and other elements of imperial French society and government. He also gathered as much power as he could into his own hands and held onto it as long as he could. Most politicians are not either/or in terms of personal interest and their views on the needs of the nation they are in charge of - rather they tend to kill multiple birds with single stones as much as possible.

So let's wait and see. Correa may indeed have added the 10-year bit for no other reason than giving the nation some stability and trying to avoid semi-coups like the one that happened in Venezuela. Or he may have his own political future in mind. I'm personally banking on a mixture of both, until more evidence comes to light.
posted by AdamCSnider at 6:13 AM on September 30, 2008


Universal health care: must kill disease. Rights for nature: cannot kill disease. I MUST YET I CANNOT! I MUST YET I CANNOT! Bzzzzzt spark sputter.
posted by eccnineten at 6:33 AM on September 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Just as your right to swing your fist ends at my nose, the rights of nature end at my epidermis, eccnineten.
posted by AdamCSnider at 7:28 AM on September 30, 2008


The recognition of Rights of non-human organisms seems to be on the upswing. In 1992 Switzerland added a provision to their national constitution requiring “account to be taken of the dignity of creation when handling animals, plants and other organisms.” A philosophical and ethical debate (pdf) about the rights of plants continued over the past decade, and culminated earlier this year with the Swiss Federal Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology issuing what has been called a Bill of Rights for Plants.

A majority of the panel concluded that "living organisms should be considered morally for their own sake because they are alive." They found absolute ownership of plants to be unacceptable, and arbitrary harm to plants (including random decapitation of roadside flowers) to be morally impermissible.

Some scientists and pundits think the conclusions of the report are very problematic.

I'm just worried about all those times I sang "Momma had a baby and his head popped off!" Poor dandelions...

PDF of the full Swiss report: The Dignity of Living Beings with Regards to Plants.
posted by Kabanos at 9:49 AM on September 30, 2008


46% of the population lives in poverty, and almost 18% live on less than US$1 a day.

So they care about the environment (at least on paper) AND I can afford to live there? Let's go!
posted by inigo2 at 12:12 PM on September 30, 2008


My son ended up in Ecuador after a stint in the Peace Corp, teaching English to businessmen. He said they rang in the New Year by burning effigices on the beach, most of which were George Bush.
posted by cedar key at 1:31 PM on September 30, 2008


It's more of the same populist crapola - saying nice things that the people want to hear, without bothering to explain how any of it is supposed to work. There's a reason every country run by populist leaders ends up in the shitcan. Of course, many of them start out there, so there's no net effect.

When one of the struggling latin countries implements and enforces universal property rights and eliminates all but the barest commercial regulation possible, and tops it with concerted efforts toward universal education, then we'll have a winner. Short of that, it's just going to be more of the same for those unfortunate citizens.
posted by gregor-e at 2:55 PM on September 30, 2008


« Older Art In The Twenty-First Century   |   Mail-Order Friends: The Comic... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments