“Living Well” in Bolivia

Evo Morales, the first indigenous President of Bolivia, was elected to office in 2005 with 53% of the vote. His platform was to reclaim the country’s natural resources for Bolivians, and strengthen the rights of the country’s impoverished indigenous majority, workers and women. He was reelected in 2009 with 63% of the vote.

In his first term, Morales introduced the concept of the buen vivir or “Living Well” into Bolivia’s discourse. His argument was that the western world was based on material accumulation, and this led to economic policies that were destroying the planet. Rather than trying to “live better,” he said our goal should be to “live well.” His suggestion has taken the Indigenous world by storm and now is a common theme in Indigenous summits. It has also been incorporated into the new Ecuadorian constitution and adopted by Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Other countries as far flung as Norway and Spain have shown an interest in what is going on in Bolivia.

Evo Morales, President of Bolivia

Morales’, philosophy of “Living Well” has since been enshrined in Bolivia’s new constitution, and is becoming the basis of a global movement against consumerism, the extraction of natural resources for profit, and current models of development for third world countries. The new Bolivian charter emerged from a social and political process with extensive grassroots participation. Its hallmarks are that it protects biodiversity, respects indigenous right to land and territory and preserves and protects water resources, which Morales believes should never be privatized.

In brief, the indigenous concept of “Living Well” means having all of one’s basic needs met, while existing in harmony with the natural world, as opposed to “living better” by seeking to amass more and more material goods at the expense of others and the environment.

Bolivian President Evo Morales’ 10 commandments to save the planet, life and humanity


President Morales offered a series of “ten commandments” that he thought should underpin the new “Living Well” model:

First:  a call to end the capitalist system.  The capitalist system was inhuman and encouraged unbridled economic development.  The exploitation of human beings and pillaging of natural resources must end, as should wars aimed at securing access to those resources.  Also, the world should end the plundering of fossil fuels; excessive consumption of goods; the accumulation of waste; as well as the egoism, regionalism and thirst for earning where the pursuit of luxury was taking place at the expense of human beings.  Countries of the south were heaped with external debt, when it was the ecological debt that needed paying.

Second, the world should denounce war, which brought advantage to a small few, he said.  In that vein, it was time to end occupation under the pretext of “combating drugs”, such as in South America, as well as other pretexts such as searching for weapons of mass destruction.  Money earmarked for war should be channeled to make reparations for damage caused to the Earth.

Third, there should be a world without imperialism, he said, where no country was dependent upon or subordinate to another.  States must look for complementarity rather than engage in unfair competition with each other.  Member States of the United Nations should consider the asymmetry that exists among nations and seek a way to lessen deep economic differences.  Moving along those lines, he said the Security Council — with its lifelong members holding veto rights — should be democratized.

Fourth, he said access to water should be treated as a human right, and policies allowing the privatization of water should be banned.  Indigenous peoples had a long experience of mobilizing themselves to uphold the right to water.  He proposed that they put forth the idea of forming an international convention on water to guarantee it as a human right and to protect against its appropriation by a select few.

Fifth, he said the world should promote clean and eco-friendly energies, as well as end the wasteful use of energy.  He said it was understood that fossil fuels were nearing depletion, yet those who promoted biofuels in their place were making “a serious mistake”.  It was not right to set aside land not for the benefit of human beings, but so that a small few could operate luxurious vehicles.  It was also because of biofuels that the price of rice and bread has risen; and the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) were now warning that such policies must be prevented.  The world should explore more sustainable forms of alternative energy, such as geothermal, solar, wind and hydro-electric power.

Sixth, he said there should be more respect for Mother Earth, and the indigenous movement must bring its influence to bear in fostering that attitude.  The world must stop thinking of Mother Earth in the capitalist sense — which was that of a raw material to be traded.  For who could privatize or hire out his mother?

Seventh, he stressed the importance of gaining access to basic services for all.  Services such as education and transport should not be the preserve of private trade.

Eighth, he urged the consumption of only what was necessary and what was produced locally.  There was a need to end consumerism, waste and luxury.  It was an irony that millions of dollars were being spent to combat obesity in one half of the globe, while the other was dying of hunger.  He said the impending food crisis would necessarily bring an end to the free market, where countries suffering hunger were being made to export their food.  There was a similar case with oil, where the priority lay in selling it abroad, rather than domestically.

Ninth, he said it was important to promote unity and diversity of economies, and that the indigenous movement should put forth a call for unity and diversity in the spirit of multi-lateralism.

Tenth, the world should live under the tenet of “trying to live well”, he said, but not at the expense of others.

He said the best way forward lay in social movements, such as the indigenous people’s movement, which would not fall silent until it had brought about change.