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Synthesis/Regeneration 15   (Winter 1998)

Ecologists in Uruguay: People Who Act

by Mabel Portillo, President, Party of the Sun: Ecological, Federal and Non-Violent

[Editor's note. The following analysis assumes knowledge of the Uruguayan military dictatorship and its highly centralized government. In order to prevent this from recurring, the author proposes to (1) strengthen civil society (as opposed to military institutions), and (2) disperse power from the central government to the regions. Thanks to Louise Donnell for assistance with translation.]

As in other countries, the environmental movement in Uruguay began growing several years ago. It was promoted by people wanting solutions to social and health problems which, at that time, were not recognized as environmental issues.

In the 1980's, a group of people concerned with problems affecting good health, family violence, mistreatment of animals and "sicknesses of civilization" (such as tobacco addiction, alcoholism, and legal and illegal drug use) founded what was known as the "Green Movement," creating nuclei of action groups in several parts of Uruguay.

At first, there were actions organized socially rather than on a political level. After evaluating the effectiveness of this apolitical position, we agreed to adopt a political profile. Uruguay is a highly politicized country. If there is not work on a political level, an issue appears to be unimportant.

The Uruguayan state is divided into three branches: the judicial, the legislative and the executive. It is obligatory for everyone over 18 to vote. Uruguay is divided into 19 departments [regions-ed.], whose governments are also voted on during the national elections; but in separate slates. It is possible to vote only for the national government or for the departmental government but it is not possible to vote for slates of different parties at the same time.

On the slate for the national government voters select the President, Vice-President, Chamber of Senators and Chamber of Deputies. On the slate of candidates for the departmental government, voters select the departmental governor and departmental legislature. Although the government of the national capital of Montevideo is highly centralized, the other 18 regions have greater autonomy over some policies such as health and administration.

Within this political panorama, members of the Green Movement, a non-governmental organization that worked with civil society for years on environmental themes, saw the necessity of adopting a political strategy for our actions. Therefore, in 1983, we founded the Green Party of Uruguay, the first environmental party in the history of our country.

In 1984, the Green Party obtained a percentage of votes in a national election which was historic for our country. It was the first time that a newly created political party received almost 2% of votes cast. Additionally, it was a party dealing with totally new political issues such as the defense of human rights, animal welfare, health effects of environmental problems, etc. It is also important to remember that Uruguay only recently left behind a military dictatorship which had lasted for over a decade.

Due to a lack of legislation regarding the formation of political parties, people outside of the Green Party managed to take the legally recognized name. Therefore, the original founders changed our name to the "Partido del Sol: Ecologista, Federal y Pacifista" -- Party of the Sun: Ecological, Federal and Pacifist. It has the same environmental principles as the original party, but with a vision strongly oriented to the federated system and non-violence. These are themes that are tied to the earliest history of our country, even though they have not been developed by the traditional parties. In order to clarify the political goals of our party, here are the first three articles of its platform:

Art. 1. The Partido del Sol, Ecologista, Federal y Pacifista is a fraternal association of free and equal persons which promotes world-wide ecology, a federalist model, and a culture of non-violence.

Art. 2. It is an organization which favors principles of democracy and pluralism and which defends Rule of Law. It will work for Latin American and planetary consciousness, striving to fulfill the basic necessities of life: sufficient food, basic housing, complete education, creative and productive work, health, liberty as an inalienable principle, and peaceful coexistence between individuals and nations.

Art.: 3. a. The Partido del Sol has as principles:

Ecology: Members of the Partido del Sol share the spirit of the letter that Chief Seattle sent to President Franklin Pierce when he offered to buy the lands where his people lived: "We recognize that the Land is our mother and all inhabitants are our brothers. We recognize that the Land belongs to no man; all humans belong to the Land. Furthermore, any harm that befalls the Land will be inflicted upon humankind because all things are interrelated. We are obligated to safeguard the delicate balances of natural systems and to use and develop human resources for the welfare of all people. We devote our energy and spiritual resources to the preservation of our habitat on behalf of all inhabitants of the planet."

Federalism: This organization works politically for the decentralization of our country into a federalist structure. We are opposed to the current model, wherein the capital gobbles up the economic, cultural and political resources of the entire country. We work for a federalist organization of the country, which would replace the existing political structure, which currently places the bioregions in a hierarchy. The Partido del Sol wants to resurrect the goals of Josť Artigas for a federally organized country, when Artigas said to General Paz in 1828, "I would like autonomy for the provinces, giving each state its own government, its own constitution, its own flag, and the right to select representatives, judges, and governors from among the residents of that state. This is what I had intended in my province and for these principles its citizens have proclaimed me its protector."

Pacifism. The Partido del Sol works for nonviolence on a national and international level. Our objective is to assure permanent peace in the world, so that our educational structure can devote its efforts to forming persons who respect human rights, the rights of animals and all natural habitats. We favor communities which devote their economic and educational resources to creating social structures for peace, where arming and preparing for war are replaced with cooperative farms and schools of solidarity and creativity. As Martin Luther King said in 1967, "The wisdom which is born from experience should tell us that war is outdated...Therefore, if we come to accept the fact that life is worth living, if we believe that the human species has a right to survive, then it is also necessary to find an alternative to war."

  b. The objectives of the Partido del Sol, Ecologista, Federal y Pacifista are:

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