Rights of Nature Versus Development in Chile

By Andres Kogan Valderrama

HAVANA TIMES – Recently, the second report of the Constitutional Convention’s environmental commission was approved in a plenary session of Convention representatives. This marks a before and after in Constitutional history, not only in Chile but also in the region and in the world, with respect to the incorporation of new rights.

I want to focus on this idea, since not only will we be the second country in the world – after Ecuador – to incorporate the Rights of Nature into a Constitution, but if the final document is approved by the population in the final plebiscite, we’ll also be pioneers in recognizing the Rights of Animals [as well as humans] in our new Carta Magna.

The norms that were approved by the full plenary are only the starting point for a broad process of global socio-ecological transition, in which Chile will have to break new ground internationally, with new biocentric legislation and policies where the respect, protection, regeneration and restoration of the natural cycles, ecosystems and biodiversity form the basis for a new Regional, Multinational and Intercultural State.

Naturally, like all transitions, it won’t happen from one day to the next. However, the new laws that will have to be passed in Chile, and the way of life these promote, will necessarily involve rethinking the idea of development itself that we’ve held since the postwar period. Our concept [of development] has always been subordinated to a modern, capitalist delirium, as is the notion of infinite economic growth.

Much has been said and written worldwide to critique the ongoing development discourse and its nefarious consequences. This discussion was made manifest in the 1992 Development Dictionary, which emphasized the ideas put forth by the recently deceased Gustavo Esteva.

Development has formed part of a racist and colonizing discourse. The concept has inherited the notion of progress put forth by those who saw themselves as the enlightened few. It has served to divide and classify the world in a hierarchal manner: divided between developed and underdeveloped countries, or first and third world countries, based on certain political, economic, and social indicators.

It would be of little use to have Rights of Nature if future leaders and legislators continue speaking of reductionist notions like sustainable development, green economies, and intelligent cities; and continue seeing us as a country enroute to something that never arrives, like development, while living in a completely unequal world system with centers of imperial power that make it impossible to democratize the relations between countries.

Not to see that is to continue viewing the Rights of Nature in an anthropocentric and Europocentric way, as merely a third-generation environmental Human Rights. Such a view sees Nature as one more dimension for governments to work on, like the environment, instead of seeing it as the force that sustains life in all its breadth and plurality.

In other words, we don’t want the Rights of Nature to be recolonized by the development discourse, leading to nothing more than a set of specific governmental institutions (ministries) and legal structures (tribunals) without touching the unsustainable economic model that depends almost exclusively on the badly-named natural resources or raw materials.

Similarly, the Rights of Nature aren’t compatible with the lineal, theological, evolutionary view of stages which the different development strategies have unfortunately accustomed us to. These have been used as doctrines by the left as well as the right, to sell us a “better world” where a sustainable world can exist together with the expansion of certain extractive businesses, private as well as governmental.

For these reasons, it’s worrisome that the notion of development appears repeatedly in the draft of the new constitution, but up until now nowhere does it touch on alternative notions, such as “a good life”, “agroecology”, “reverse growth”, “food sovereignty”, permaculture” and many other development alternatives that appear, for example, in the anthology Pluriverse: A Post-Development Dictionary. (2019)

It’s also concerning that the draft doesn’t mention anywhere that we’re part of Latin America and the Caribbean, making it impossible to see the Rights of Nature beyond the national borders and the principles of Chile’s native nations, from a broader multinational and regional perspective.

While we celebrate the inclusion of legal pluralism in Chile’s new constitution, the concepts of economic, epistemic, and ontological pluralism should be there too, since these are fundamental for decolonizing, and for undoing the patriarchal and mercantile relationship we have with Nature.

On the other hand, reviewing the discussion in the Constitutional Convention about approving the environmental commission’s second report, it’s noteworthy that the most conservative sectors of the country have opposed the Rights of Nature, saying that if these are approved, there’ll be no way to finance social rights, due to a lack of resources.

It’s not only striking that the neoliberal right should now be speaking of social rights after so many years, but also that they’re using arguments identical to the so-called progressive governments of the region, such as Bolivia and Ecuador. These nations have violated the Rights of Nature, appealing to the same arguments about development in order to deepen their extractivism.

That’s why the nationalization of the natural common property, as some of the State-centered leftists still propose, is no better than their privatization, since both forms of thought were inherited from modern developmentalism, in contrast to the Rights of Nature.

I don’t mean to imply that Nature shouldn’t be touched nor intervened by human beings, much less that we should have to live as we did thousands of years ago, as some sectors seek to caricature us. Instead, I hope to promote an understanding that the economic models and life systems that are generated should have some limits and be compatible with the Cycles of Nature.

Not to see it that way, amid a deep climate crisis and a crisis of civilization, is to live on another planet, literally.

*Andres Kogan is a Chilean sociologist.

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