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LATIN AMERICA
“Living Well,” a development alternative
Elsa Chanduví Jaña
6/5/2008
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Proposal is considered legacy of indigenous peoples to humanity.

More than 1,000 representatives from indigenous communities across the Americas gathered in Lima, Peru, have agreed on a new social system, known as “Living Well,” focused on reciprocity between people and the Earth.

The participants — delegates of the Quechua, Kichwa, Aymara, Lafquenche, Guambiano, Toba, Colla, Poccra, Ashaninka and other indigenous groups — agreed in the “Declaration of the Children of the Earth” to reject the “planetary suicide of the commoditization of life,” when the document was reached at the end of a two-day National Summit of Indigenous Communities and Peoples of Peru and the International Forum: Indigenous Agenda, the European Union and the Decolonialization of Power and Knowledge held on May 12-13.

A break from market dogmas
“We believe there is a big difference between [living well and] those who believe that living well is to live better than someone else. [The latter] reflects a competition instead of respect and equality. So, ´living well´ is the exercise of rights, respect, equality, and means a life for everyone,” said Blanca Chancoso, a renowned leader of Ecuador´s Kichwa women, who formerly served as one of the directors of the country´s largest indigenous organization, CONAIE. She is currently part of the Dolores Ulcuango Indigenous School in Ecuador.

“Capitalism is guilty of the depredation of Mother Nature and therefore, of global warming, which is going to have serious consequences for the life of the planet,” said Tomás Huanacu, of Bolivia´s National Council of Ayllus and Markas of Qollasuyo. “So, the indigenous peoples are looking to ´live well´ but within a planned system, not one of super exploitation, but one of rational exploitation.”

Huanacu referred to Bolivian President Evo Morales´ 10 commandments to save the planet — presented during the inauguration of the United Nations´ VII Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York in April — which say that in order to save the planet, the capitalist model that encourages consumerism, individualism and the desire for wealth must be scrapped.

“We want everyone to be able to live well and to understand that this is not the same as living better at someone else´s cost,” states the last of Morales´ commandments.

This concept is currently being used by Ecuador´s Constituent Assembly. Members of the body have already approved four articles regarding the development system, the first of which makes reference to the “implementation of living well.”

“Living well requires people, communities, groups and nationalities to exercise their rights and liberties, and to exercise their responsibilities in the framework of respect for diversity and harmonious coexistence with nature,” says the article.

Luis Ángel Saavedra, president of Ecuador´s Regional Foundation for Human Rights Assistance, who was a speaker at the Peoples´ Summit in May, an alternative summit which ran alongside a biennial summit of European Union, Latin American and Caribbean leaders, signaled that the concept of living well is three-tiered: individual, community and nature.

The individual level includes a healthy lifestyle, based on satisfying needs, which implies recognition of economic, social and cultural rights, while avoiding consumerist or lavish tendencies. Living well on the community level relates to how human development indexes play out collectively, the sense that all rights should be for everyone. The nature level — based on the concept of Pachamama, the indigenous notion of Mother Earth — is envisioned not only as the environment, but a source of life and humankind´s only hope for survival.

Saavedra stressed that bestowing certain rights to Mother Nature is impossible within the framework of a free market. He added that in Ecuador, the mention of this issue in the constitution is currently being debated, similar to what was already incorporated in Bolivia´s constitution, which faces approval in a national referendum.

Living well marks a break from market dogmas that promote consumerism, competition among individuals and accumulation of wealth as synonymous with power over others, stated Saavedra.

Challenges and obstacles
Ecuadorian Magdalena León, of the Social Forum Committee of the Americas, referred to living well as a new paradigm that meets obstacles like wealth accumulation and competitiveness that impede progress.

“Even in the proposals that appear innovative or alternative, there is the idea to not change [wealth] accumulation, but the form of distribution: we are going to continue accumulating in the same way and later we´ll see how to redistribute a little,” said León.

The idea of competition is also deeply rooted, León explains, “as if economic progress comes naturally because we compete against one another as individuals, as communities, as countries, as regions.” But she maintains that this couldn´t be any further from the notion of living well, which is based on reciprocity, cooperation and complementarity.

However, for those who promote new social relationships based on on living well, the fundamental challenge to make it possible is generating harmonious relationships between human beings.

“It is incompatible, for example, that in social relationships there is a gender division in labor, under-estimation and exploitation, a lack of recognition of women´s work,” says León. “It’s absurd that we talk about defending life but at the same time failing to recognize women´s rights to reproductive self-determination.”

Though living well is an indigenous concept, its advocates do not see it as something that can only belong to indigenous peoples, but instead, as the indigenous peoples´ legacy to humanity. “It can only be built in a context of diversity and plurality,” argues León.


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