Building a Better World

by Colette Lebel

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Back in 2007, SOCODEVI led a mission that took me to Bolivia. It was 18 months after the election of Evo Morales as the new leader of the government. Bolivia was thriving at the time. Indigenous movements, strongly mobilized, had organized into a credible political faction and had successfully elected one of their own as the leader of their country.

While I was passing through La Paz, I went to see the movie Cocalero. It is the story of Morales, an Aymara farmer who promised to change the neoliberal model and wanted natives’ rights to be recognized in a new constitution, including the rights of several other activists groups fighting for a better world, particularly feminist coalitions and unions.

When I came back to Quebec, and as life returned to normal, my interest in Bolivian news slowly faded away, that is until I received the June 2017 issue of the magazine Relations. Denis Langlois, a political commentator and a professor at the University of Ottawa, looked back at Bolivia’s inspirational revolution since Morales’ election.

First, the new Constitution enacted in 2009, focused on the plurinationality of the Bolivian state and endorsed a fairer and more balanced society. Several nationalizations, particularly in the hydrocarbon sector, generated new revenues for Bolivia, thus allowing it to provide all of its citizens with social security, education and health programs.

However, the new Constitution went much further. It acknowledged a notion that many native people all over the world hold dear: Living well (vivir bien). Unlike the notion of living better, which infers having more, and resulting in more resources being used, ‘living well’ is the very embodiment of a respectful relationship with the Earth.

It establishes an interdependency and a reciprocity for all living beings with every single element in nature, which suggests a certain connection with mutual responsibility.

This new Constitution included clauses that allowed for the guaranteed conservation of ecosystems. It was therefore established that respect for nature had to take precedence over any possible economic gains that could be had. In fact, the Bolivia has given itself a fiduciary (rather than proprietary) responsibility over natural resources. For example, the new Constitution stipulated that the soil must fulfill social and economic functions and that it cannot be used for speculative purposes. Furthermore, a person cannot acquire land more than 5,000 ha of land.   

Living well finds support in a non-linear perception of time that is cyclical, unlike our usual understanding of time. The Constitution even planned for clauses that would acknowledge and consider the cycles of ecosystems through respect for nature and concern for their continuity. 

The Bolivian model is obviously breaking with our western ways of thinking. And far be it from me the notion that Morales is an icon of perfection and that Bolivia is a paradise. But I am taking the opportunity to highlight the wisdom that comprised the Bolivian state’s new rules. In the Northern hemisphere, everyone is busy making a certain number of actions that affect one or another aspect of sustainable development, and they are proud of these actions. However, these actions are too often just a Band-Aid solution. The Bolivian approach has the merit of clarifying, from the very beginning, a strong universal vision that is engaging and shared and affords decisions some sense and coherence.

Let us salute this developing country’s steps forward that seek to create greater inclusion, improved solidarity between its people and a profound respect for our planet. Because in the end, the ultimate goal is to build a better world. Actually, if we are to believe in the theme of the most recent International Summit of Cooperatives, “Building a Better World” is also the cooperative world’s ambition. This should be enough to justify our interest in what is going on in Bolivia.

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Colette Lebel's picture

Colette is agronomist and director of cooperative affairs at La Coop fédérée. She was the first woman to be appointed as head of training of the boards of director within the cooperative network and works to improve women representativeness within the boards of directors. Dedicated cooperator, Colette had the opportunity to pass on his expertise in several missions abroad both for La Coop and SOCODEVI.