Interview: Decolonization towards a well-being vision with Pablo Solon

 Interview: Decolonization towards a well-being vision with Pablo Solon

Pablo Solón politician (Bolivia)Activist in the social and nature field.


Pablo Solón was Bolivia’s Ambassador to the United Nations (2009-2011). He was behind the adoption by the United Assembly of several resolutions, including the recognition of the Human Right to Water and the declaration of international Mother Earth Day. He was responsible for Bolivia’s climate negotiations at the United Nations, then Executive Director in Bangkok of Focus on the Global South (2012-2015).

YPA: What does well-being mean to you?

PS: The concept of “Vivir Bien“, which can be translated to well-being, is a cosmo-vision, it is a way of life of indigenous communities coming from the Andean Region in South America. This cosmo-vision has different elements, one element is that it’s holistic, that says everything is interconnected, not only human life and nature but also whatever is in the cosmos, or under the ground and that there is no space without time. This vision also puts forward that time does not function in a linear way, but rather that time functions like a spiral. Therefore, for this vision the concept of progress, to always going somewhere more advanced than from the past, is really not true. So in anything in the future, there’s something from the past. There’s always complementarity between different aspects, for example, you cannot have happiness without sadness, so to think only of happiness is an illusion, pure happiness does not exist, it can only exist in a complimentary way, with its opposite sadness, and we can go on in the same vein with many other aspects of life and existence. The most important thing for humans is how do we bring balance between this whole that has different elements that are contradictory. So the purpose is not to grow forever or to advance and progress forever, but how do you bring a balance between these different elements, but you don’t bring about balance with getting rid of the other but by trying to see how you can create complementarities with the others, in order to have a whole. Because there is nothing more important than the whole, the totality, and a totality that is in balance.

YPA: How do you conceive the relationship between human beings and nature and the relationship among human beings considering the conception of Vivir Bien?

PS: The concept of nature was created to separate nature from human beings, we humans are part of nature and when we start speaking about nature we start to distinguish ourselves as different from nature. Therefore, we have to reconnect ourselves with nature because we are a part of nature, and everything changes if you assume these perspectives because you stop having an anthropocentric perspective. For Vivir Bien that is precisely the case, in reality you will not find a concept of nature as separated from human life. So when we speak about mother earth we are not referring only to nature, instead we refer to everything.

YPA: During the conference, you said that we have to accept that we are colonized in the way we think. Can you elaborate more on this?

PS: We have to decolonize, which means we to get rid of the process of colonization that we are all in. The colonization process is not only a problem of having some superpower that is colonizing us, this process in our time, is based on many values and beliefs that we repeat without having thought about it and analyzed deeply. So to decolonize means you have to begin to think with your own head and mind; you have to analyze and see with your own eyes because only if you have that ability will you be able to find new ways to balance the different elements of the whole.

YPA: According to your experience, which are the risks for the integration of Vivir Bien within the state’s politics?

PS: In my opinion, Well-being is mostly a cosmo-vision that come from the grassroots, it cannot be built by a top-down approach, it has to emerge from the local communities, socials movements. The role of the state should be to facilitate that process not to try to control it, nor use it or direct it. The role of the state is to accept that the state is not everything and that more important than the state is the self-organized society.

YPA: So I am guessing that it has to be dialectical because we cannot simply expect the state to give up power?

PS: No. It’ll be the pressure, the mobilization and initiatives of grassroots movements that will take spaces and power from the state, because in reality the more power society has the less power the state has. Of course, the state will try to defend itself and will react, whether the state is under the control of right-wing forces, or left-wing forces, that is why we have to a different approach to the issue of the state.

YPA: During your intervention, you said that development is the antitheses to well-being. Is it possible to have development without growth? In another world, can development be a component of well-being?

PS: The concept of development originally comes from the understanding of progress, to advance or to move forward, but in the vision of Vivir Bien we do not always move forward, nothing moves forward always. To think of development as always advancing is an illusion for this vision. Therefore, it’s not in the development framework, it’s a very different way of seeing life. For Vivir Bien the most important thing is a dynamic equilibrium, not development. In dynamic equilibrium some parts will have to grow whilst other parts will have to degrowth, there will be some kind of development in some areas and underdevelopment in other areas in order to achieve a balance in the whole.

YPA: Can well-being be realized in the current globalized society?

PS: Indigenous communities have practiced the Vivir Bien for centuries even before capitalism but if the question is “can it flourish and expand within the current capitalist system?”, no it cannot, it’s not possible. It will come into contradiction with the capitalist system because the capitalist system needs growth, if there is no economic growth capital cannot expand, it cannot have profit, therefore it will not exist. So, who wants endless economic growth? It’s capital. We have well-being on the other hand saying the opposite, so at some point between Vivir Bien and capitalism you will have a clash. So can this way of life be realized in globalized world that is dominated by capitalism everywhere? No. You can have it at some local communities, and local experiences, but even at a national level it is very complicated because all nations are part of this globalized world.

YPA: In your talk you where positive about the concept of well-being, in the same you mention weaknesses and limitations. Could you please explain on this?

PS: Vivir Bien is not the answer to everything, it is a vision that has some strengths and weaknesses, one of the weaknesses is that it does not know how to deal with patriarchy and we cannot imagine a new kind of society if we do not dismantle patriarchy. Furthermore, it is a vision that has not really theorized about the issue of the state, what I am saying is coming from my experience in the Bolivian government with Evo Morales. We did not have that perspective before. So the Vivir Bien has these weaknesses and therefore needs to be complimented by other visions like the commons, ecofeminism, degrowth and deglobalization and only by complimenting it with these other visions are we able to develop real systemic alternatives to our situation.

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