Roger Thayer Stone Center For Latin American Studies

Tulane University

Rules That Bind Us

By Ludovico Feoli

The standoff presently underway in Venezuela regarding the treatment of constitutional precepts in light of President Chavez’ illness poses a larger question for regional democracy and the rule of law: how much do rules bind us? The credibility of our laws hinges on the certainty that they will take precedent over individual whims and that, failing this they will be enforced by third parties. However, events underway suggest that the authorities entrusted with this responsibility may lack the necessary autonomy to carry it through, making the separation and balance of powers questionable. And Venezuela is not the only example. Honduras, El Salvador, and even Costa Rica have had recent constitutional crises that raised similar questions, although their resolutions varied.

Hugo Chávez, democratically elected by a significant majority of Venezuelans, was set to take power on January 10, 2013 but he lies ill in Havana and is unable to appear at his inauguration. While the Constitution establishes that in such circumstances the head of Congress should take over temporarily and, if the absence is permanent, call new elections, the Venezuelan Supreme Court of Justice interpreted that Chavez’ reelection established the “administrative continuity” of the Executive, rendering a new inauguration “unnecessary”. Hence, the Court effectively reinterpreted the election as a renewal of the previous administration, rather than the start of a new constitutional period. This brushes aside the question of whether the president’s absence is temporary or permanent. It also obviates due process, which first calls for the investiture of the president and then for the appointment of the cabinet. Rules do not seem to bind.

Last December, the Honduran Congress fired four of the five magistrates on its Constitutional Court. The proximate cause was a vote by the magistrates, which a congressional investigative commission decided was extemporaneous. However, critics argue that the magistrates were purged for their decisions, which being contrary to the interests of the executive angered the President and generated a reprisal. The removal, en masse, of Supreme Court justices because of the content of their decisions is a gross violation of the principle of separation of powers. Without respect, on the part of the Executive, for the principle of judicial autonomy, there is little hope for the rule of law. Rules do not seem to bind.

El Salvador suffered its own constitutional crisis last summer. Similarly to the Honduran case, Constitutional Court decisions angered political actors due to their effects on their interests. In the case of the Executive, a Court decision limited the use of unsupervised discretionary funds. In the case of political parties, another decision allowed candidates to run independently, weakening the authority of party structures. Political jockeying to control the balance of power in the Court led to a spate of nominations late in the congressional period that ended in April 2012. The Constitutional Court ruled these appointments unconstitutional on the basis that the law only allows each Congress the approval of a single set of justices per term. Rather than accepting the ruling, the majority coalition in Congress challenged it before the Central American Court of Justice, a body whose authority has long been subject to debate. The justices in question also sought to retain their seats, so that two groups of magistrates claimed to be the legitimate representatives of the Court, creating a situation of institutional uncertainty. The crisis was eventually resolved, fortunately, through political means, but not without damaging the credibility of democratic institutions. Neither Congress nor the questioned appointees were bound by the rules that make the Constitutional Court the ultimate arbiter of the Constitution.

A short-lived conflict also took place in Costa Rica during 2012 when legislators voted not to renew a Constitutional Court magistrate in his post. The act was not outside the purview of the legislature’s competence, although some procedural aspects remain open to question. What generated the crisis were remarks by some deputies that starkly showed the political intent of their decision. The legislature was seeking to “discipline” the Court, renowned for its activism, by signaling that it would punish those magistrates that refused to be compliant. Congressional representatives were not bound by the rules of judicial autonomy and the separation of powers. However, the outcry that emerged and the prompt resolution of the crisis drove the heads of the executive, legislative, and judiciary powers to issue a joint proclamation reaffirming the relevance of those very rules, reminding everyone of the principle that rules should bind us.

These examples show that formal rules are not enough in our region’s progress towards democracy. They must be subject to credible enforcement and they must be accepted and internalized by political actors.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  • Ludovico Feoli

    Executive Director - Center for Inter-American Policy & Research

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Univeristy of New Orleans Presents: Empire and Solidarity in the Americas Conference

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Empire and Solidarity in the Americas Conference
UNO – Latin American Studies

Friday, October 24, 2014: 3:30-6:00 PM
Saturday, October 25, 2014: 9:15 AM-3:15 PM

Milneburg Hall 351 – UNO Campus

The 2014 Empire and Solidarity in the Americas Conference explores the meanings, forms, histories, and futures of North-South solidarity in the Americas. What kinds of transnational ties have groups from both sides of the North-South divide established with each other? What kinds of strategies have they used, and toward what ends? How have these political projects varied across time and space? In what ways have cross-border solidarities shaped and been shaped by imperial power?

Conference Program is attached to this email. This conference is open and free to the public. This is a workshop: papers are circulated and read before the conference. If you would like to access the papers, please send an email to: striffler@hotmail.com

INVITED PARTICIPANTS INCLUDE:

Marc Becker, Professor of History, Truman State University, and author of Indians and Leftists in the Making of Ecuador's Modern Indigenous
Movements.
Jonathan C. Brown is Professor of History at the University of Texas and is completing a book on how the Cuban Revolution changed the world.
Aviva Chomsky, Professor of History and Coordinator of Latin American Studies, Salem State University, and author of Linked Labor Histories: New
England, Colombia, and the Making of the Global Working Class.
Lesley Gill, Professor, Department of Anthropology, Vanderbilt University, and author of The School of the Americas: Military Training and Political
Violence in the Americas.
Eric Larson, Assistant Professor, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, and author of Jobs With Justice: 25 Years, 25 Voices
Elizabeth Manley is Assistant Professor of History at Xavier University where she is completing a book, The Paradox of Paternalism: Women,
Transnational Activism, and the Politics of Authoritarianism in the Dominican Republic, 1928-1978.
Teresa Meade, Florence B. Sherwood Professor of History and Culture, Union College, and author of A History of Modern Latin America.
William Schmidli, Assistant Professor, Bucknell University, and author of The Fate of Freedom Elsewhere: Human Rights in U.S. Cold War Policy Toward
Argentina.
Megan Strom is a PhD Candidate in Latin American History at the University of California, San Diego and will defend her dissertation on Uruguayan

Conference_Program

5th Annual South Central Conference on Mesoamerica

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5th Annual South-Central Conference on Mesoamerica is a conference which provides a venue for scholars, students, and the interested public from across the south-central U.S. to share ideas, information, and interpretations. The conference is free and open to the public, and we hope you will join us. Although the conference is free, if you plan to attend please register so we have an idea of how many people will attend.

The conference will be held October 24-26th on Tulane’s Campus.

Please visit the conference website for more information and be sure to check back for updates in the near future!

"Oye Tu: A Reading of Fiction About Cubans" a talk by Cecilia Rodriguez Milanes

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The lecture title is "Oye Tú: A Reading of Fiction about Cubans." The talk is open to the public as well as the Tulane community. The lecture, which will discuss the Cuban diaspora in the United States, was timed to coincide with the general interest that the Guantánamo Public Memory Project:, currently at Tulane, has generated. The time and location has been confirmed for Tuesday, October 28, 12:30-1:30 p.m. at the Greenleaf Conference Room, Jones Hall 100A. Refreshments will be provided.

Social and Environmental Safeguards, Policies and Practices in International Development: Discussion with Carlos Pérez-Brito

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Currently a social specialist from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Carlos Pérez-Brito is responsible for managing social and environmental safeguards in the public and private sectors projects. Before joining the IDB, Mr. Pérez-Brito was a human development specialist for the World Bank and USAID. He has a bachelor degree from Loyola University, New Orleans and a Masters in Latin American Studies from Tulane University with emphasis in international development. He was also a visiting scholar for the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

Mr. Pérez-Brito’s talk will describe the evolving practice of using social and environmental review criteria as conditions for bank-related projects.

Co-Sponsored with the Tulane Center for Inter-American Policy and Research (CIPR).

Event flyer can be found here.

Day of the Dead at the Ogden!

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Celebrate Día de los muertos at the Ogden! As part of the Ogden's After Hours Ruemba Buena will perform. Specializing in salsa and meringue, this band is made up of musicians who, pre-Katrina, played in groups like Los Babies and Los Sagitarios. It's the brainchild of percussionist Johnny Marcia. Kids craft table will feature Day of the Dead activities and delicious food will be available.

For more information please contact Jane Marie Dawkins, 504.539.9650, music@ogdenmuseum.org.

Sponsored by Tulane’s Stone Center for Latin American Studies, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, and the Consulate of Mexico in New Orleans.

The Guantánamo Public Memory Project

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The Guantánamo Public Memory Project is a traveling exhibit that examines the history of the U.S. naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, from multiple perspectives and raises questions about U.S.-Cuban relations, civil liberties, national security, and public memory in the past, present, and future.

For more information about the Guantánamo Public Memory Project, visit http://gitmomemory.org.

The exhibit will run from September 2nd to October 30th. All are welcome to stop by and see the exhibit during open hours of Jones Hall, or during one of the special events of the exhibit (to be posted).