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

BLOG AUTHORS & RECENT POSTS

LATEST SITE UPDATES

PEOPLE

BLOG POSTS

EVENTS

NEWS

More

Upcoming Events

2014 Tulane University Study Abroad Fair

View Full Event Description

The Office of Study Abroad is hosting the annual Study Abroad Fair on Wednesday, October 22nd from 2:00-5:00PM in the LBC Qatar Ballroom. The Stone Center for Latin American Studies will be promoting its Summer in Latin America programs and its semester at CIAPA (Costa Rica) programs, and the Cuban & Caribbean Studies Institute will be promoting its Summer in Cuba program.

Over 100 opportunities in more than 20 countries will be on display from Tulane and non-Tulane institutions to study, intern, volunteer, and travel. Talk to past participants, professors, administrators, and program representatives.

Sponsored by:

The Office of Study Abroad
studyabroad.tulane.edu

Latino Film Series at the 2014 Annual New Orleans Film Festival

View Full Event Description

The 25th Annual New Orleans Film Festival is proud to present its Latino Film Sidebar Series at the 2014 NOFF, presented by the New Orleans Film Society.

This year two feature length films and five short films by Latino filmmakers have been selected to premiere at the New Orleans Film Festival 2014.

For the complete festival schedule, film and event info plus online tickets, please visit the New Orleans Film Festival website.

The screening schedule for these films is as follows:

Of Kites and Borders
Follows four children living in Tijuana as they help their families to make ends meet, capturing what the U.S.-Mexico border looks like from the other side. The everyday routines and encounters collected here demonstrate how the border’s very existence — the possibility of crossing, the of America — shapes the lives of those who live alongside it, whether or not they ever leave Tijuana. Director: Yolanda Pividal. View a trailer here.
Saturday, October 18: 3:15pm at Canal Place Cinema
Thursday, October 23: 12:00pm at Canal Place Cinema

Triples (Trillizos) – documentary short screens just prior to each screening of Of Kites and Borders
Lorenzo, Leonel, and Luis are gifted 16-year-old triplets who live with their family in a two-room informal house in Tijuana, Mexico. Through discipline and resolve, they find alternatives to the limited opportunities available in conditions of structural poverty. Director: Itzel Martinez del Canizo

Penumbra
A rural Mexican couple — poor and decades past their prime — carry about their ritualistic, day- to-day lives, awaiting the inevitable, in this pensive film. Penumbra appreciates stillness and likes to linger — oftentimes at length — on beautiful imagery. Shot almost exclusively during the magic hour, right before the sun settles into night, the film examines the quiet twilight of one couple’s life and finds the beauty in that transitional period from life to death. Director: Eduardo Villanueva. View a trailer.
Sunday, October 19: 3:45pm at Canal Place Cinema
Monday, October 20: 6:00pm at Canal Place Cinema
Tuesday, October 21: 6:30pm at New Orleans Mexican Consulate (901 Convention Center Blvd. Suite #119 — 504.528.3722) — Special reception and talk with the Director of the film and the Mexican Consulate (Free and open to the public)

Mirza the Miraculous
This lo-fi, sci-fi tale of outer space, mystics and carnivals centers around a fraudulent shaman known as The Great Bazandini and his daughter, Mirza, who really does have special powers. Originally shot in 1999 along the Mexican border, this is a film 15 years in the making. Featuring Paul Soileau (Christeene) and an original score and sound effects by New Orleans’ own Quintron. Director: Brent Joseph
Sunday, October 19: 9:00pm at Prytania Theater (uptown)

Gloom (Perfidia)
A servant obsesses over the daughter of his recently deceased boss. Turns out the dead boss’ relationship with his daughter had an obsessive side as well. Director: David Figueroa Garcia
Saturday, October 18: 1:30pm at Canal Place Cinema
Tuesday, October 21: 2:00pm at Canal Place Cinema (FREE)

The Great Adventure (La Gran Aventura)
A thesis film from Cuban documentary film students, this short profiles the loneliness of a radio soap script writer. As her life is projected onto the character she is creating and sharing with a listener, she connects two different worlds which seek, through fiction, to make sense of the daily adventure of life. Director: Cassandra Oliveira
Sunday, October 19: 4:00pm at Canal Place Cinema
Thursday, October 23: 3:30pm at Canal Place Cinema (FREE)

Tonita’s
A portrait of the last Puerto Rican social club in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NYC. The 30-year- old Caribbean sports club has witnessed the transformation of South Williamsburg from a Hispanic neighborhood ravaged by gang violence and drugs into one of the hippest and most luxurious places in New York City. Director: Beyza Boyacioglu, Sebastian Diaz
Sunday, October 19: 4:00pm at Canal Place Cinema
Thursday, October 21: 3:30pm at Canal Place Cinema (FREE)

***

Tickets for all screenings may be purchased online and/or at any of each film’s theater box office, as well as in person at the NOFF HQ Box Office inside the main lobby/atrium of the Contemporary Arts Center located at 900 Camp Street, New Orleans, LA, 70130.

Connecting Day of the Dead Traditions Across the Americas: Haiti

View Full Event Description

Learn about Day of the Dead traditions in Haiti in this teacher workshop. The teacher workshop will be followed by an optional class on Traditional Haitian Folkloric Dance. Monique Moss, adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Theater and Dance at Tulane University, will lead a teacher workshop about Day of the Dead traditions in Haiti. Day of the Dead traditions in Haiti have their roots in Haitian Vodoo and hence show both similarities and differences to Day of the Dead traditions in other areas of Latin America. The workshop will focus on the performance of Day of the Dead as well as connect the tradition through to New Orleans.

Teacher Workshop
9:00 AM – 12:00 PM

Traditional Haitian Folkloric Dance Master Class
1:00-2:15 PM
Taught by Menahem Laurent

For a more detailed schedule, please visit the workshop website.

Registration Fee is $10 and includes lunch, teaching materials, and admission to afternoon Haitian dance class.

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

View Full Event Description

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

View Full Event Description

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

View Full Event Description

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.