Buen Vivir: Future or Past?

Buen vivir is an ideology that finds it origins with the indigenous people of the Ecuadorian Andes. There are other areas in South America that share similar ideologies that are placed under the umbrella of Buen Vivir. In 2008, this ideology was introduced to Ecuador’s constitution and this marked the first time that nature has been given rights in a constitution. Eduardo Gudynas, a senior researcher at the Latin American Center of Social Ecology (CLAES), believes this political process began “first with a reaction to the neo-liberal market reforms in the late 1990s and early 2000s(which included a strong critique of classical development strategies), and second, with the election of governments of the Latin American new left or progressism, that allowed the expression of indigenous knowledge and traditions that were oppressed, minimized or subordinated over centuries.”(Gudynas, 2011).


Artist rendering of Buen Vivir, courtesy Google.

‘Sumak Kawsay’ of the Kichka is a set of rights that has similar ideals to the West, but it is examined through a different lens that incorporates nature and harmony. New ways of development are being formed in economic, political, social, cultural, and environmental areas to align with Sumak Kawsay. Buen vivir does not lean towards a direction, but it is to move away completely from European schools of thought and creating a format suitable and sustainable for the people of Ecuador. Intrinsic value is placed on the environment which aligns with indigenous nations interpretation of Buen Vivir. “Buen Vivir should be conceived as a position limited to non-Western knowledge, but as useful concept that can support and enhance critical traditions looking for alternatives to development.”(Gudynas, 2011) Buen vivir is an ideal and is not a hard lined way of thinking that limits where it can draw influence. Buen Vivir is a balancing act, as most things in nature are and is adaptive to the issues at hand. A key concept of Buen Vivir is unity and allowing a multitude of views to be shared in order to move away from the concept of development. There is a stigma around development, caused by tremendous amounts of trial and error, and there is  
a need to escape it. Moving away from development towards alternatives has allowed different perspectives to be heard not only locally, but is opening Ecuador the World. (Gudynas, 2011).


Representatives from the community of Sarayaku denounced the illegal entrance of Ecuadorian government representatives from the hydrocarbon ministry who were seeking to conduct an environmental impact study.

According to a 2001 census of Ecuador, indigenous people represented approximately 6.8 percent of the population. Confederation of the Indigenous Nations of Ecuador (CONAIE) believes that this number is not accurate and that the real population of indigenous people is somewhere between twenty-five and thirty percent. In 1967 the first American oil company came to Ecuador and by the mid-1970s the oil boom jump started Ecuador’s economy from a poor agriculturally dependent economy to a hot spot for foreign investment. According to Minority Rights Group International, “The Agrarian Reform Law of 1964 and subsequent reform treated indigenous people as poor peasants emphasizing individual land titles and diminishing their demand for collective rights.” The infiltration of oil companies into Ecuadorian amazon dramatically affected the indigenous people, causing the Tetete people to go extinct and sever contamination of the river systems. Due to unsafe oil extraction processes approximately 30,000 people developed cancer and/or skin diseases. (MRGI, 2014)

In 2014, Ecuador began entertaining bids on rights to land and the minerals that they contain in areas where indigenous people have been isolated voluntarily and are dramatically against the oil industry. According to Kevin Koening of Amazon Watch, “the Correa administration seems intent on trying to drill its way to prosperity, which has turned what was once pristine rainforest into a natural sacrifice zone crisscrossed by oil wells, roads and palm plantations.” It seems like any easy decision not to drill and preserve the Amazon rainforest, but there is a lot for popular President Correa to consider. (Mirroff, 2015).


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