Chile’s New Constitution has Nature as a Centerpiece

The vote to approve or reject the new constitution takes place on September 4th

By Andres Kogan Valderrama

HAVANA TIMES – Anyone who examines the contents of Chile’s proposed new Constitution will easily note that one of the most important aspects of the document is the care and defense of Nature, which for the first time in the country’s history will be considered a subject with rights.

The relevance that’s given to Nature is made clear in the Constitutional draft, by dedicating a complete section to it. (Chapter III, Nature and the Environment). This means assuming full responsibility for the principal threat we face as living beings with the climate crisis and in which we currently find ourselves on a world level.

To begin with, comparing everything that’s written in this new Constitutional proposal with what appears in the antidemocratic Constitution written under Pinochet, it’s shameful the zero importance that the latter gives to Nature. In all its pages, there’s only one mention of nature – in Article 19: “The right to live in an environment free of contamination. It’s the State’s duty to make sure that this right isn’t affected, and to protect the preservation of nature.”[1]

This old Constitution, still in force, isn’t only mute about Nature throughout most of the text, it also views it through an extremely neoliberal economic lens, transforming it into merely an economic asset, something to be traded on in the market. This level of mercantilism was left explicit in the case of water, for example, where Article 19 of the current Constitution states: “Individual rights over the waters will be awarded to the title holders, granting them property rights over it as recognized or constituted according to the law.”[2]

In contrast, the newly drafted democratic Constitution that will be voted on next September 4th, puts Nature at the center. This is reflected by the number of times that it makes mention of it, in one form or another: it’s present in 74 articles of the 388 that make up the proposed Constitution, equivalent to 19% of them.

Similarly, of the 57 transitory articles for implementing the new Constitution, once approved, 9 of them are related to Nature, again demonstrating the concern that the State be enabled to develop laws and policies that guarantee the care and defense of the territories that have been severely mistreated in the last decades.

Without a doubt, we’re in the presence of an eco-Constitution that marks a precedent on a world scale since it contributes to putting limits on a completely unsustainable way of life. In the case of Chile this unsustainability is being made evident with the desertification, the loss of biodiversity, the so-called sacrifice zones, and the multiple socio-environmental conflicts generated by mining, forestry, agriculture and food production, salmon fishing, building and energy sectors.

In the face of this, the new constitution represents an enormous paradigm change with respect to our relationship to Nature. It positions us as part of it, interdependent, leaving behind that mechanical and anthropocentric paradigm, which functions in the service of privatization and the commodification of life.

It’s no coincidence that Luc Lavrysen, president of Belgium’s Constitutional Court, has noted that if Chile’s new Constitution is approved, it would be the most advanced in the world in matters of environmental protection.[3] This is something that should fill us all with pride as a country.

The new Constitution emphasizes that the State must generate preventive policies in the face of the existing climate crisis, and that it should respect and promote the Rights of Nature via responsible ecological policies and an environmental education for all.

In addition, it highlights the government’s obligation to protect biodiversity, preserving, conserving, and restoring different habitats, with special care invested in the natural public assets, such as the ocean floors, beaches, waters, glaciers and wetlands, geothermic fields, air and atmosphere, high mountain systems, native woodlands, and the subsoil.

From this principle, a new water statute is derived, redefining water as an essential public good that’s necessary for life, and as a right that can’t be appropriated by anyone. This would finally force Chile to leave behind the model of using water to derive profits, a concept which made it the only country in the world to privatize not only the companies distributing and administering the water, but also the water sources themselves.

It’s also impossible to avoid mentioning the creation of an autonomous institution for the Defense of Nature, as well as the establishment of different embedded principles that reflect the ecological views of the new Constitution: good living, environmental justice, intergenerational solidarity, and just climate responsibility and action.

Finally, it’s unprecedented and hugely noteworthy on a world level that Chile should declare itself an oceanic country and recognize the maritime zone as a legal category. This demonstrates, once more, the central position that this new Constitution assigns to Nature.

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