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23 May 2007
The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Jean Ziegler, issued the following statement:
The Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food has completed his official mission to Bolivia from 29 April to 6 May 2007 on the realisation of the right to food in that country.
The Special Rapporteur expresses his great appreciation to the Government of Bolivia for the full cooperation extended to him during his visit.
The Special Rapporteur had the honour to be received by the President of the Republic, His Excellency Evo Morales. He benefited from constructive dialogue with a number of Government Ministers, including the Minister for Rural Development and Agriculture as well as the Minister of Health, and senior staff of other ministries. He also met with representatives of the Constituent Assembly and with Waldo Albarracin, Bolivia’s ‘Defensor del Pueblo’. In addition, the Special Rapporteur held useful meetings with a wide range of UN agencies and non-governmental organisations as well as a variety of social and indigenous organisations, academics and individuals. He travelled widely to visit a number of communities in urban and rural areas in the Departments of La Paz and Oruro.
The Special Rapporteur is seriously concerned that one in four Bolivian children is chronically malnourished. As a result of a long history of colonial exploitation, marginalisation of indigenous peoples and the harsh structural adjustment and privatisation of the Bolivian economy under the previous government of ex-President Sanchez de Lozada, the Special Rapporteur found that 60% of Bolivians today live in poverty and at least 40% live in conditions of such extreme poverty that they cannot afford to feed their families. The Special Rapporteur was very concerned that Bolivia now has one of the highest levels of inequality in the world, a situation that is clearly contributing to rising social conflict. The great majority of the poor and hungry are indigenous peoples, including Aymara, Quechua and Guarani peoples, who have long been excluded and exploited. The Special Rapporteur was particularly concerned by reports of persistent conditions of semi-slavery or bonded labour in the latifundios of the Chaco region.
Bolivia is very rich in natural resources, including oil and natural gas, silver, gold and tin. Until now however, the vast majority of Bolivia’s people have not benefited from this natural wealth. The Special Rapporteur therefore welcomes the initiative of the new Government of His Excellency, the President Evo Morales, to renegotiate its contracts on oil and gas to seriously increase the revenues accruing to the Bolivian state. This new revenue will enable the Bolivian state to finance its far-reaching “Zero Malnutrition Programme” and programmes for food sovereignty and the social sectors. The Special Rapporteur particularly welcomes the Government’s “Zero Malnutrition Programme” which will address the chronic levels of malnutrition amongst Bolivia’s young children. He also welcomes the new focus of the Government on investing in small-scale agriculture that still provides a livelihood for millions of Bolivians.
The Special Rapporteur also welcomes the establishment of a Constituent Assembly which is drafting a new Constitution founded on equality for all Bolivians. He urges the Constituent Assembly to ensure that the right to food and the right to water are recognised as fundamental human rights in Bolivia’s new Constitution. Bolivia has already undertaken, at the international level, the commitment to realize these rights as party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
The Special Rapporteur will elaborate a preliminary note on his findings which will be presented during the next session of the United Nations Human Rights Council.