Law 700: Animals used for Sacrifice in Bolivia and Religious Freedom

Alexandra Bueno

When walking down a mountain clearing in the streets of La Paz, Bolivia, one might find Kallawayas( medicine men) ,  curanderos (local healers or shamans), fortunetellers, and sorcerers crowding the cobblestone streets of an old quarter known for generations as the Witches’ Market. This witch market is known for selling traditional clothing’s, handbags, hats, jewelry, herbs, sacrificial animals and dried llamas for the use of witch craft and offerings to the Pachamama (Mother Earth).

By far the most sold product available at this market are the dried llama fetuses, which come in many shapes and sizes. Llama fetuses are buried in the foundations of new constructions or businesses as an offering to the goddess Pachamama. These sacrifices are thought to protect workers from accidents and bring good luck and flow of money to businesses. The fetuses are mostly used by the poor, wealthier Bolivians are expected to sacrifice a live llama to the Pachamama. Live sacrifices have long been a part of the indigenous Andean Culture, according to ancient traditions, sacrifices were believed to appease Pachamama who would grant blessings in return. One of Bolivia’s oldest pieces of archeological evidence is the Sacred Inca Table Located on Lake Titicaca’s Island of the sun. It was here that humans and animals were slaughtered with the belief that the island would be blessed with an abundance of rain.

In the last decade Animal Welfare has come to the forefront in the political sphere in Bolivia, especially in the main cities of La Paz, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz, where pushes for reform have been stronger. Ley 700 or Law 700 is the Animal Cruelty Statute of Bolivia, established in 2015, this law lays out rules for the defense of animals against cruelty committed by humans. Animals are considered part of mother earth, and therefore, their life has to be defended and respected. This law punishes physical, psychological, emotional and sexual mistreatment, and prohibits the breeding of domestic animals for commercial purposes. It also prohibits sport hunting and overworking animals, especially ones of older age. This law punishes the murder of an animals with penalties of two to five years in prison, which could be aggravated by a third if more than one animal is killed. It also punishes “cruel treatment” with six months to one year in prison, in addition it establishes a series of rights for domestic animals and obligations of the State, people, organizations and media to protect them and prevent abuse. On its face Ley 700 is forward thinking and a strong safety net for animals, it is one of Bolivia’s strongest domestic animal welfare protections. It calls for regulations for animals used for scientific experiments, domestic animals, working animals, military animals and farm animals.

However, this law excludes two things, one being wildlife and the other being animals used for sacrificial slaughter. This law “protects animals” while simultaneously allowing the use and sacrifice of animals in traditional medicine and ancestral rituals, this law puts a blanket protection on animals of all kind except “ for acts performed in traditional medicine, ancestral rites, which are governed according to the customs and practices of the original peasant peoples, which must be done avoiding unnecessary suffering and prolonged agony.” While sacrifices must be done avoiding unnecessary suffering and prolonged agony, the killing of animals for this purpose still take place. This law on its face is discriminatory against animals used for religious purposes and should be amended. Ley 700 should outlaw the practice of animal sacrifice and include these animals under the protected status given by Ley 700.  However, similar to the United States, Bolivia is a secular state which mandates religious freedom. Bolivia’s constitution much like the U.S. constitution mandates religious freedoms, and the government cannot suppress any religious groups. In Bolivia and in several other countries around the world religious freedom (in the context of animal sacrifices) and long held traditions overpower animal rights. In the United States, a case by the name of Lukumi Babaluwas taken all the way to the Supreme Court, where the city of Hialeah’s ordinance, prohibiting ritual animal sacrifices, violated the first amendment’s free exercise clause. Lukumi, set the misunderstood precedent that religious practitioners have a constitutional right to engage in animal sacrifice, while the case was not decided strictly on the animal sacrifice issue, and more on ordinances applicability to only the religious group of Santeria, it did set this harmful precedent.

The Bolivian government is allowing animal sacrifices due to the fact that these religious groups have the right to exercise the religion of their choosing, and with it the sacrifice of their choosing. Animal Sacrifice has long been a traditional element of the Bolivian culture, and it seems far-fetched to believe they will ever stray far from this practice. I believe that in order to step over the hurdles that Ley 700 places and actually have an animal welfare law that affects all domestic animals equally,  Bolivia will have to weaken their protection for religious freedom. But, will they? I truly question whether humans of any race, religion or belief will ever stop sacrificing animal rights for ideology.

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