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Ecuador's Constitution Gives Rights to Nature

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For all of the hope and tangible progress the Rights of Nature articles in Ecuador's proposed constitution represent, there are shortcomings and contradictions with the laws and the political reality on the ground.

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 Ecuador at the cost of natural resources important for their biodiversity, since they are the source of rivers and the homes of local communities. The Constitution Project, on the contrary, promotes a development model oriented towards ‘good living’ ('buen vivir'), which means living in harmony with nature and strengthening environmental rights for this end. This contradiction, between Correa’s statements and ‘buen vivir’, will probably provoke an intensification of socio-environmental conflicts in the coming years."

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.

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Cyril Mychalejko is an editor at www.UpsideDownWorld.org, an online magazine covering politics and activism in Latin America.
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