The debate regarding nature and the environment in the new Chilean Constitution
By Andres Kogan Valderrama
HAVANA TIMES – It’s with a frown that you read what recently happened at the Constitutional Convention in Chile, after voting in the plenary session on the first report by the Environment, Rights of Nature, Common Natural Resources and Economic Model Commitee, where only six articles were approved to form part of the new Carta Magna in this country. (1).
While the articles approved (Climate and environmental crisis, Duties of the State to Nature, Rights of Nonhuman Animals, the Right to participate in environmental decision-making and the Right of Access to Environmental Information) are a great step forward considering previous constitutions, given the Chilean State’s explicit concern for taking care of Nature, it’s not enough to move away from an anthropocentric and eurocentric view of the world.
Many of the articles that were left without approval would give the Chilean State a change of direction towards ecocentralism and decolonization, going beyond the West’s view of Nature, which has historically been seen as a passive and external subject and as a mere natural resource to be exploited and to cover humans’ unlimited needs, on a planet of finite resources.
The Convention’s rejection of Article 4 for example, referring to the Recognition and Protection of Rights of Nature, that proposes a diversity of concepts about Nature itself (Mapu, Pacha Mama, Pat‘ta, Hoiri, Jau, Marremen), preexisting before the State, shows us their rejection of a universal proposal, as they are understanding Nature from only one point of view (2).
As a result, it’s no surprise that they rejected Article 26 about Environmental Principles, which considers an interdependence between all of Nature’s components, including humans, which obviously clashes with the tale of Modernity, which radically separated Nature and Culture.
It’s also a serious matter that every article regarding the Environment and Common Natural Resources were rejected (Articles 12-19), as defending an abstract Nature, without protecting some of its basic components no matter the cost, such as the air, glaciers, cryosphere, the seabed, or tall mountains, will only facilitate further exploitation and regions will continue to be colonized.
Similarly, it’s very sad that Article 22, which refers to Biodiversity, was also rejected, in which the State commits itself to protecting, restoring, and conserving its ecosystems, closing the door to forestry, mining, processed food and the energy sectors expanding uncontrollably in the country.
Thus, the list of rejected articles is long and in many other fields too (Building in Harmony with Nature, Environmental and Multinational Democracy, Waste Management), which brings us to the question of whether we really will have an eco-friendly constitution or not, that will be able to deal with the crisis of civilization we find ourselves in.
Fortunately, many of these rejected articles will be discussed and presented again for a general vote at the plenary session of the Constitutional Convention, but it won’t be easy, given the transformative potential of this committee, which is finally calling the unsustainable economic system in Chile into question, and trying to decolonize the idea we have about Nature.
Consequently, the most conservative groups in the country have pointed out that the Environmental Committee’s proposals are maximalist and stem from radical environmentalism, thereby covering up their fear that for the first time in Chile’s history, Nature might no longer be a commercial good and preserving life is being put at the heart of the Constitution, above private property.
In light of this, I have to mention all of the great work the Eco Constituent bench has done, where names like Camila Zarate, Alvin Saldaña, Elisa Giustinianovich, Bastián Labbe, Vanessa Hoppe, Fernando Salinas, Constanza San Juan, Manuela Royo, and many more, as well as organizations within Chile’s socio-environmental movement, have pushed this debate forward at the Constitutional Convention.
We must remember that the entire world is watching Chile right now, as was seen with the visit and meeting of the Latin American Delegation for Rights of Nature with the Eco Constituent bench, where leading figures in the regional socio-environmental field, such as Alberto Acosta, Pablo Solón, Natalia Green, Enrique Viale, Elizabeth Bravo y Esperanza Martínez, were present.
Given the above, let’s hope that the first vote on the Environmental Committee’s report is reversed, and that Nature in Chile stops being mute, just like it did in Ecuador in 2008, and like Eduardo Galeano said, just before the Montecristi Constitution of Ecuador became the first in the world to recognize Rights of Nature (3).
*Andres Kogan is a Chilean sociologist