The Rights of Nature

 

Text

To our amazement and delight, we recently won

the world’s very first lawsuit defending the Rights of Nature…

but it's not over yet:


We need your help!



In 2008, Ecuador was the first country in the world to give legally defensible rights to nature.  This is a major legal milestone that is on a par with ending slavery as a legal institution and with giving the right to vote to women and racial minorities. 


What part of Nature were we defending in our landmark lawsuit?  We sued the provincial government on behalf of the Rio Vilcabamba, the lovely little river that runs for over a mile along the southern border of our Garden of Paradise.


In January of 2008, the provincial government's building crew began tripling the width of a road that runs between Vilcabamba and Quinara, a town about 15-20 miles to the west.  The Garden of Paradise is located about halfway between those two towns.  Every time the roadbuilding crew was excavating the hillside near the Rio Vilcabamba, they dumped their construction wastes into the river—thousands of tons of giant boulders, rocks, gravel and dirt.


We asked them to stop.  They smiled, saying, "Sure,"….and continued to dump construction debris into the river.


In several major stretches of the river, the debris narrowed the river by half.  These areas happened to be where the Rio Vilcabamba flows along our southern border. 




No environmental impact study had been done! 


Norie began to research the situation, going from office to office.  She finally discovered that the provincial government had never done the legally required environmental impact study of how their road construction project would affect the Rio Vilcabamba. 


Meanwhile, at every level, government officials made repeated promises to her that they would remove the construction debris. But nothing was done. 



Fifty-Year Flood


In March-April of 2009, thanks to a large storm system that stalled out for more than two weeks over the Podocarpus National Park to the east of us, we suffered a 50-year flood that carried off at least four acres of our best agricultural land that lay on the banks of the Rio Vilcabamba. 


Although there had been large floods like this in the past, older residents here told us that the river had never before caused this sort of damage.  It was obvious:  the thousands of tons of construction debris tossed into the river had changed the entire equation.  In areas where the debris had cut the river's width in half, this doubled the water's velocity as it passed through these bottlenecks, effectively turning the river into a "sandblaster". 


Fast-moving water—now carrying vast amounts of abrasive sand, gravel, rock and boulders—ripped out the river banks and carried away prime agricultural fields

We learned that we had only one year in which to restore the river to its original causeway or we’d lose title to the land that had been carried off.  So, we began a major restoration project that ended up costing us about $45,000. 


CLICK HERE to see photos and the description of our emergency response. 

The whole story of what we have been through is much longer and full of intrigue, lies and betrayal.  Truly epic.  Norie is working on a book about this—a fascinating story that we are doing our best to ensure will have a happy ending.  Join our mailing list below to learn about the completion & availability of this book. 


To bring this lawsuit to a happy ending, however, we are going to need your help!


From the summer of 2009 onward, we worked hard on many fronts, attempting to get the provincial government to remove their construction debris from the river.  Then suddenly, after many (broken) promises, in the closing days of November 2010, the building crew once again began to dynamite a large outcropping of rock on the far side of the road from the river, directly across from our Garden of Paradise. 


Once again, they began dumping massive amounts of dirt and rock into the Rio Vilcabamba—specifically, in a 200-300 feet section of the river that they already had narrowed almost by half the previous year with thousands of tons of debris.

This new construction debris now filled the river more than half!


This time we were ready for them


We photographed and videotaped the giant backhoe and bulldozer pushing the dirt, gravel, rocks and boulders—thousands of tons—into just this one small section of river.  

Armed with photographic evidence, we took the bus to Loja the same afternoon to see our lawyer, Carlos Bravo.

Carlos was shocked by the pictures and agreed to file an emergency "cease-and-desist" order as part of a lawsuit on our behalf—a lawsuit that would require the government to remove the debris from the Rio Vilcabamba.


"How do you want to prosecute this case?" he asked.


Norie thought for a moment and said, "There's that new provision in the 2008 Constitution for defending the rights of nature.  Let's use that one."  Carlos replied, "Well, using that law you won't get reimbursed to any of the money that you've spent fixing up the damage."  


"At this point," said Norie, "We need for them to stop throwing material into the river and to clean their mess out of the river.  Until that happens, the river is very damaged and it also threatens everyone downstream, not just us."


"Fine," said Carlos, "Let's do it.  Since this is a new law, I don't know anything about it but I'll read up on it."  He then added, "The fact that you're not asking for money might actually give us a small chance of winning.  But I don't want you to get your hopes up."  


"We need to move fast", Norie said. "We're coming into the rainy season and all that debris in the river creates a very dangerous situation, not just for us but for everyone downstream."


On December 8, 2010, Carlos submitted an urgent cease-and-desist order.  A month later, we went with Carlos to a judge's office in Loja, where the first round of our legal battle was to take place.  



Our lawsuit is thrown out of court!


The judge, an attractive woman in her forties who was dressed to the nines, flipped through the papers and, within minutes, threw the case out.  "There is no personeria, she said.  There is no one who who is responsible.  She added, "This is simply an act of nature."


We were absolutely stunned.  As we had clearly shown in our arguments, in the past when the river had flooded, there had never been damage of this sort.  The land on the edge of the river had never been ripped away as it had in this flood.   Why couldn't the judge see how the building crew's actions had been directly to blame for the damage?  And why couldn't she see that they had never done the legally required environmental impact study?


But, as we've increasingly come to understand, here in Ecuador, almost everyone is related to everyone else.  It's like one big family and in some strange way, they all take care of each other.  The judge and the provincial government folks were all kissin' kin.  We were outsiders.  During the hearing, the judge even called the provincial government's lawyer by his nickname, "Paulito".  


Things did not look promising



Our only hope was that our lawyer, Carlos Bravo—who was also part of this "Ecuadorian family"—clearly understood that the judge's decision flew in the face of all reason, fairness and justice. 


We asked Carlos to appeal the judge's decision, which he did immediately.  


Beating the odds!  We win!


And, thus it was that against all odds, on March 30, 2011, we won our appeal!


This meant that we had just won the very first lawsuit in Ecuador—and in the world—for defending the Rights of Nature!  To date (October 2012), this is the only successful lawsuit of this type anywhere in the world. 


According to Carlos, after reviewing all the considerable evidence we had submitted, the appeal court judge was convinced that the provincial government was indeed responsible for causing significant damage to the Rio Vilcabamba and to our farm.  


Moreover, the judge also felt that it was important to set a clear precedent:  Nature has legal rights that can be upheld in a court of law. 


The judge's sentence set forth a list of things the provincial government must do to repair the damage to the Rio Vilcabamba.  One item stated that the government must remediate damage to the river's banks.


But... to this day the saga continues.  And it has been a truly epic saga.


For one thing, Norie almost died.  In late June 2011, she was bitten by an insect during the night, just after we returned from a three month stay in the United States.  She washed off the bite with soap and water, applied an antibiotic creme to the small red welt and didn't think anything more of it.  But within a few weeks, she was very ill and within a month, she'd lost 40 pounds, could barely walk or even breathe. 


Since Norie is the one who speaks Spanish fluently and has decades of organizing experience, our lawsuit was hit hard when she was taken out of action.  Instead, we now had to put our entire focus on saving Norie's life. 


This meant that instead of Norie's bird-dogging the provincial government to make sure they fulfilled their legal obligations, she ended up in a hospital bed in Cuenca for 20 days, growing ever weaker.  The doctor there finally urged us to return to the US to seek medical help, "while Norie is still physically able to travel."  We left immediately.  That trip back to the US was one of the most difficult experiences we've ever been through.


While we were in the US, desperately seeking medical help for Norie, the provincial government finally sent in a bulldozer to pile up a few more rocks near the river in a 50-meter stretch at the far downstream end of our land.  They also leveled out 200 truck loads of dirt that we'd had hauled in after the 2009 flood.  And, they also planted a few baby trees along the river in another area and put up some fancy signs between the road and the river, proclaiming their having "reclaimed" these riverbank areas. 


But the provincial government did absolutely nothing to address our primary concern:  many thousands of tons of construction debris were still blocking the river in several places, endangering both our farm and farms downriver from us.


Meanwhile, Norie successfully completed treatment for two types of Lyme disease and we returned to Ecuador at the beginning of February.  We then learned the Provincial government was calling for a "final" inspection, claiming to have completed all of the requirements of their legal sentence!  The judge who'd be doing this inspection was the same woman who'd thrown out our legal case in the first place.


Around the time of this inspection, our lawyer, Carlos Bravo, was made a judge and was transferred to the town of Saraguro—two and a half hours from Loja.  Curious timing.



The current situation of our lawsuit


So here is where things now stand:  we've gotten nothing back from the judge regarding the inspection result.  The Provincial government contracted with a private firm to bring in and distribute evenly another 100 truckloads of dirt—which happened in early September of 2012.

According to the Provincial government, they have now fulfilled all their legal obligations!  They claim that "fixing up the river banks" does not include taking the many thousands of tons of debris out of the water!


We disagree.


Our lawyer Carlos sent our legal papers to the Constitutional Court in Quito, in the hopes that the national court would put pressure on the provincial court and on the provincial government.  To date, however, Carlos says that he's heard nothing from them.  And that is where the lawsuit currently stands. 


What's next?


As we enter October of 2012, Norie is preparing to go to Quito to visit the Pachamama Foundation, the Constitutional Court and the Ministry of the Environment.  She's in the process of doing the necessary groundwork for this visit.  As we understand it, we need continued legal pressure (which Carlos can no longer do for us) to force the Provincial government to take all the construction debris out of the Rio Vilcabamba.


Our Rights of Nature case has been attracting international attention.  In addition to articles appearing in different places, our Rio Vilcabamba—billed as the "Rosa Parks of the Rights of Nature movement”—is starring in a TV special that's being made by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).  Dr. David Suzuki, well-known Canadian environmentalist, is the host of the show that will be broadcast in January of 2013.  Suzuki and his video crew visited with us for two days in early July and we very much enjoyed our time with them.  We found David to be a true kindred soul.

As you read these words, we're reaching out to people like you to ask for help.


To go to Quito and hire a lawyer there who can continue the legal process to compel the Provincial government to clean its mess out of the Rio Vilcabamba will cost thousands of dollars.  But it is only this sort of persistent legal action will produce the results that will make our lawsuit a truly solid legal precedent for the fact that Nature has Rights—legal rights that can defended and successfully enforced.  In short, our success, which requires that the provincial government will remove its construction debris from the river, will give great momentum to the Rights of Nature movement worldwide. 


So, friends, to continue our legal action, we need your help.  We are tapped out.  To date, we have invested about $45,000 into the restoration of the river and another $5,000 in bringing the lawsuit to this stage.  Also, Norie had no insurance and her illness set us back another $40,000. 


For us to continue our legal battle on behalf of Pachamama—Mother Earth—we need support from people like you who understand that this is OUR COLLECTIVE WORK:  to build a healthy, sustainable global civilization.

In closing, please imagine the following:


-- That in a few years time, all over the world, governments have introduced Rights of Nature into their national Constitutions and citizens are actively working to protect these rights and speak out on behalf of nature. 


-- Imagine that the economic and monetary systems (including specific investment instruments and also the whole way that money flows through our lives) are modified to support the regeneration of our Earth's biosphere, the full development of positive human potential and a fair and just global civilization.  (This is the theme of Norie's other book project—Book Two in "The Eleanor Chronicles.")


-- Imagine that a vast portion of humanity has now come together in a new way to envision and create a peaceful, healthy, prosperous, sustainable, just global civilization, living in harmony with nature….


-- And, imagine that YOU have helped to make a critical difference in this, and that we and your children and grandchildren are all feeling deep gratitude to you for being part of this greatest transformation that humanity has ever gone through.

Here is a link to the Quito-based Pachamama Foundation’s description of our lawsuit:


http://www.pachamama.or/news/first-successful-case-enforcing-rights-of-nature-in-ecuador]]

We need monetary help to bring this affair to an ethical and appropriate conclusion. 


Donors will be automatically added to our mailing list.  Scroll down to find our Paypal donation button. 


If you cannot donate at this time but would like to be informed, please join our mailing list here. 

If you'd like to know the date and time of the CBC's TV program, please join our mailing list and we will send you this information when it is available.

Before flood

After flood

After recent

dirt delivery

WHO WAS

ROSA PARKS?

Rosa Parks was the African-American woman credited with starting the civil rights movement in the US, in Alabama (1955) when she sat down in one of the front seats of a public bus and, told by the driver to move to the back of the bus, refused.  At that time in the segregate south, only whites could sit at the front of the bus. 

BEFORE

AFTER

Yes! I want to support the Garden of Paradise in carrying out this historic lawsuit.  Count on me as a member of the Team!

International attention on our lawsuit

BEFORE

AFTER

Meanwhile, here's the short story of how we won the first lawsuit in Ecuador—and the world—that defends the Rights of Nature, as well as the current situation as of October 2012—and why we need your help.

We need your help!

We need monetary help to bring this affair to an ethical and appropriate conclusion. 


Donors will be automatically added to our mailing list.  Scroll down to find one of our Paypal donation buttons. 


If you cannot donate at this time but would like to be informed, please join our mailing list here.