Thinking on sustainability

Last week we had fun here in La Paz with visitors from the Presbyterian Hunger Program, Ruth Farrell and Valery Nodem. I joined them and Chenoa in meetings with the board of Red UMAVIDA and visits to the organizations with offices nearby. Their arrival coincided with a tumultuous time in Bolivia.

A lull in demonstrations, pro-environmental graffiti

Those who follow Bolivian current events will be aware of the TIPNIS situation which has been building energy and controversy over the past two months. TIPNIS is an indigenous territory and national park that the Bolivian and Brazilian governments are planning to build a road through the middle of, and there’s a complicated array of perspectives about who this would advantage and whether it’s a good idea or not. A group of the road’s opponents have been marching from the park to La Paz seeking a meeting with the president, and after a harsh police intervention against the indigenous marchers a week ago, many more people (controversially including some of the political right wing) jumped into protest mobilization mode, and several government ministers have resigned over the scandal about the methods used to break up the march.

There have been marches of support for the TIPNIS marchers, and counter-demonstrations of support for the administration and the road. English-language coverage of the events has been relatively abundant in mainstream media, and some background on the issues and happenings is available in this article in addition to ongoing updates here. I am still trying to sort through the layers of political maneuvering and competing interpretations of what constitutes “good” in terms of sustainable development, building infrastructure while honoring the rights of the environment and indigenous communities. As with so many cases in Bolivia, this is complex.

While we continue to chew on that, I’d like to share a Venn diagram that the Department of Rural Development of the Bolivian Methodist Church shared with us in their presentation last week. This model struck a chord with me, and fleshes out the picture somewhat. There are three circles: ecology, economy, society. Where ecology and economy meet, they should be viable. Where economy and society meet, there should be equity. Where society and ecology meet, the conditions should be livable. And when all of these things are true, that is when we find sustainability.

I’m not sure if there are many examples that meet these criteria for sustainability, and I don’t know what path Bolivia will take regarding TIPNIS and the road. For now, I find it invigorating to wrestle with these questions as part of the beautiful struggle toward God’s promised shalom for all creation.


About Sarah

I serve with Presbyterian World Mission as liaison to the Andean region. This blog is a place to share stories, experiences, and observations, both my own and those of friends and colleagues and the occasional item of news.
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