Ecuador’s 2008 constitution incorporated principles of Buen Vivir, an alternative concept of development drawing from Indigenous worldviews. Buen Vivir broadly refers to collective well-being among social groups in harmony with nature with an emphasis on reciprocity and solidarity. The concept informed Ecuador’s adoption of collective rights, where rights of nature, plurinationalism, and interculturalism have been mainstreamed throughout Ecuador’s policy landscape.
In response to decades of increasing inequality and entrenched poverty, social movements in Ecuador pushed for an alternative model of development to the neo-liberal system that took root in the 1980s and 1990s across Latin America. When Rafael Correra was elected President of Ecuador in 2007, he held a referendum on whether the constitution should be re-written, a move that was supported by 80 percent of the population. His campaign for reform promised to reorient state policy towards citizens’ demands, shifting away from international neoliberal pressures. The new constitution was written in consultation with multiple stakeholders, and an elected constituent assembly was formed to draft it. The concept of Buen Vivir was adopted as a guiding principle of the state development paradigm presented in the constitution, building on years of political organization and discourse among Indigenous groups in Ecuador and other countries in the region.1
Buen Vivir has multiple interpretations but broadly refers to a “community-oriented cultural paradigm of social organization based on a way of life that maintains a relationship of respect, harmony and balance with everything that exists.”2 Buen Vivir has three central dimensions: harmony with oneself (identity), with society (equity), and with nature (sustainability).3 The concept has roots in cultural traditions of Indigenous peoples of the Andean-Amazonian region, and has more recently been adopted in contemporary discourse, particularly in development studies, as an alternative to capitalist, eurocentric, and environmentally destructive development.4
Buen Vivir is not defined in the constitution but appears 25 times, including in the preamble, Section 2 (Rights to Buen Vivir), Section 6 (The Regime of Buen Vivir) and Section 7 (the Regime of Development).5 Article 3.5 articulates “the state’s duty includes planning national development, eliminating poverty, and promoting sustainable development and the equitable redistribution of resources and wealth to enable buen vivir.” 6 Buen Vivir principles are applied in the constitution to articulate rights to inclusion, equity, education, health, social security, housing, cultural diversity, sustainable development and biodiversity conservation among others. One of the most innovative institutional achievements of Ecuador’s constitutional reform was the legal recognition of the “rights of nature.” 7 The constitution also declares Ecuador a plurinational state, recognising ethnic, racial, gender, regional, sexual, dis/ability, migrant status and generational diversity.8
Extending from the constitution, the government of Ecuador adopted three national development plans integrating principles of Buen Vivir: National Development Plan 2007-2010, Plan Nacional para el Buen Vivir (PNBV) 2009-2013 and PNBV 2017-2021. These plans outline national objectives and associated public spending intended to work towards long-term structural changes in Ecuador that promote rights enshrined in the constitution. These plans “extend state capacity to ensure equitable change. [Buen Vivir] planning was accompanied by expanding policy architectures and initiatives which established new procedures, forms of redistribution, and state-citizen dynamics, with targeting measures.”9
The cost of constitutional reforms in Ecuador is not available and the policies and programs introduced as an extension of these reforms are too multifaceted to offer a precise cost estimate.
Reductions in inequality have been achieved since the introduction of the 2008 constitution. The share of national income held by the bottom 50 percent of the income distribution increased from 8.9 percent in 2007 to a peak of 13.2 percent in 2016.10 Over the same period, the Gini coefficient declined from 53.4 to 45, a significant sustained decline seen in few other countries. Access to early childhood education increased by a factor of 12, and education access among Indigenous peoples and Afro-Ecuadorians increased by 48 percent and 49 percent respectively between 2006-2016.11 Rural-urban inequalities fell slightly, social spending doubled in the initial years, more people were covered by social security, social services were decommodified, and the minimum wage rose 40 percent in real terms between 2007-2012.12 Multiple programs for people with disabilities were introduced including social protection transfers, medical treatments, equipment provision, and housing. From a political perspective, the period after the adoption of the 2008 constitution was one of the most stable in Ecuador’s history. Correa’s government remained in power from 2007 to 2017 following a period of high political turnover with seven presidents in the ten preceding years.13
The application of Buen Vivir principles have been inconsistent, with critics arguing that Correa’s government prioritized social investment over other principles, particularly environmental principles, and in conflict with the principles of harmony across all spheres.14 Counter to Buen Vivir, the government of Ecuador maintained a reliance on natural resource extraction, further centralized state power, and mounting external debt.15 This contributed to public discontent with policies enacted during Correa’s presidency.
- 1. Beling, A. E., Cubillo-Guevara, A. P., Vanhulst, J., & Hidalgo-Capitán, A. L. “Buen vivir (Good Living): A “Glocal” Genealogy of a Latin American Utopia for the World,” Latin American Perspectives, 48 no. 3 (2021): 17–34, https://doi.org/10.1177/0094582X211009242
- 2. Ibid.
- 3. Ibid.
- 4. Marchand, L., & Hérault, M., “The Implementation of Buen Vivir in Ecuador: An analysis of the Stakeholders’ DIscourses,” European Journal of Sustainable Development, 8 no. 3 (2019): 282-293, https://doi.org/10.14207/ejsd.2019.v8n3p282
- 5. Williford, B., “Buen Vivir as Policy: Challenging Neoliberalism or Consolidating State Power in Ecuador,” Journal of World-Systems Research, 24 (2018): 96-122, https://doi.org/10.5195/JWSR.2018.629
- 6. Ibid.
- 7. Beling, Cubillo-Guevara, VAnhulst, and Hidalgo-Capitán, “Buen vivir.”.
- 8. Radcliffe, S., “Tackling Complex Inequalities and Ecuador’s Buen Vivir: Leaving No-one Behind and Equality in Diversity,” Bulletin of Latin American Research, 37 no. 4 (2018): 417-433.
- 9. Ibid.
- 10. World Inequality database, “Ecuador,” https://wid.world/country/ecuador
- 11. Echavarría, R., Orosz, A., “Buen Vivir and Changes in Education in Ecuador, 2006-2016,” Latin American Perspectives, 48 no. 3 (2021), https://doi.org/10.1177/0094582X211009270
- 12. Radcliffe, “Tackling Complex.”
- 13. Williford, “Buen Vivir.”
- 14. Beling, Cubillo-Guevara, Vanhulst, and Hidalgo-Capitán, “Buen vivir,” Williford, “Buen Virir.”
- 15. Williford, “Buen Virir.”