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.


  • Ludovico Feoli

    Executive Director - Center for Inter-American Policy & Research






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Upcoming Events

Latin American Studies Pre-Professional Alumni Speaker Series

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Each year in association with LAST 4000, the capstone seminar for graduating seniors in Latin American Studies, we invite recent graduates to speak about their current employment and the path that took them there—and to give advice to students soon to hit the job market. We invite all students to attend these informal discussions.

Speakers will speak at 11:00 a.m. for 45 minutes to an hour. Out of courtesy for the speaker and the class, we ask that guests arrive on time and stay for the entire presentation. Speakers will also speak in the 9:30 session, but will begin later. If you would like to attend this section or would like additional information, contact Edie Wolfe at ewolfe@tulane.eduu

Thursday, September 17
William Faulkner (2009), Director, Flux Research, Monitoring and Evaluation; formerly i2i Institute and Plan Políticas Públicas, São Paulo, Brazil. Flux is a consultancy focused on research, monitoring and evaluation that links those spearheading social change with the social sciences approaches, methods, and services required to evaluta operations and impact. After graduating in 2009, Will completed at masters in Latin American Studies at the Stone Center and went on to work as a researcher and evaluation coordinator with a similar organization in São Paulo, Brazil.

Tuesday, October 6
Katie Gray (2013) formerly Accounts Representative, Latin America and Brazil accounts, Intralox. Intralox is the world leader of modular plastic conveyor belts located in Hammond, Louisiana. Katie worked for several years as their tri-lingual Spanish and Portuguese speaking Account Representative, providing service support to Customers in Latin and South America.

Thursday, October 8
Bianca Falcon (2013) Chief of Staff, Republíca LLC. República, LLC is a privately held national advertising, branding, promotions, digital media and public relations company headquartered in Miami, Florida. República is a minority owned and certified company that ranks among the Top 50 U.S. Hispanic Agencies

Tuesday, October 20
Allison Bakamjian, (2010) Program Services Manager, Shanti Project’s Women’s Cancer Program, San Francisco; formerly Peace Corps Education Specialist, Santa Marta, Colombia. Prior to her Peace Corps volunteership, Allison worked with AmeriCorps*VISTA as the Volunteer Supervisor working with New Orleans Outreach and local public schools.

Thursday, October 22
Christine Sweeney (2010), Cybersecurity Policy and Program Analyst, Office of Management and Budget, Executive Office of the President; formerly Program Officer, Latin America and the Caribbean, International Republican Institute. In her position with the IRI, Christine managed democracy and governance programs in Venezuela and Ecuador, helping to cultivate relationships with field-based and international implementing civil society partners and local political stakeholders to carry out the program objectives of promoting democratic transparency throughout the region

Tuesday, Nov. 17
Michael Murray (2010), Senior Consultant, FSG. FSG is a mission-driven consulting firm for leaders concerned with social change. Mike will discuss his work with the organization, including his research in Chile for a collaborative report on how local companies can increase competitiveness and profitability by helping to solve social problems such as poverty, education, and health.

Tuesday, Dec. 1 (To be confirmed)
Amanda Parker (2007), Project Manager & Trainer for Agriculture & Sustainable Land Use, World Wild Life Fund. Amanda works primarily in South America, specifically Paraguay managing and coordinating conservation projects in the Pantanal and Atlantic Forest Eco-Regions.

Thursday Dec. 3 (To be confirmed)
David Klauber (2008) Emergency Child Production Specialist, Save the Children. Most recently David worked as a volunteer program manager and grant-writer for the Unión de Agricultores Minifundistas, an association of organizations working on grass roots development de Guatemala in Guatemala City.. David will speak primarily about his experience with Save the Children in refugee camps on the Ethiopian-Somali border

Shango: Winter Music Festival

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Shango is a collaborative musical program featuring New Orleans’ own Bill Summers and Afro Cuban Master Dance Artist, Michelito Herrera Perez.

This event is free and open to the public. It is a collaboration between Xavier University’s African American and Diaspora Studies Program, XUTULAC and Tulane University’s Stone Center for Latin American Studies. For more information please contact Dr. Sarah Clunis at or call: 504- 520-5020.

Symposium: Venezuelan Elections

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Please join us for a symposium with three Venezuela scholars as they discuss the upcoming legislative elections in Venezuela. Lunch will be served.

On December 6, Venezuelans will vote in an election that will mark a turning point, no matter what its outcome. Polls suggest that the opposition could take the National Assembly, marking the first time in fifteen years that the socialist party founded by late-President Hugo Chavez has lost its legislative majority. But if the government does better than expected, keeping control of the legislature, it will likely generate accusations of fraud and protests in the streets. The situation has been complicated further by the Venezuelan government’s refusal to accept robust international observation. This symposium features three Venezuela scholars who will discuss current polling, electoral observations, and likely future scenarios.
Speakers include: Dr. Steven Ellner, Dr. Francisco Monaldi, Dr. David Smilde.
Click here to see the event flyer.

For more information contact

Photographic Exhibition "Precision"

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The Consulate of Mexico in New Orleans is proud to present a photographic exhibition, “Precision,” by Mexican artists Luis Arturo Chacon. There will be an opening reception on November 12th at 6 PM. For more information, visit the Consulate webpage.

Casa Borrega's 5th Annual Latin Jazz Fest

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Casa Borrega will host its Fifth Annual Latin Jazz Fest on Friday, December 11, 2015, from 7pm to 2am at the People’s Health New Orleans Jazz Market, 1426 Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard, a state of the art performance venue – ideally suited for this event. Deep roots connect the Crescent City with Latin America from Jelly Roll Morton’s “Latin Tinge” to newly formed musical entities that will be performing at this festival. Many longtime local musicians have made Latin Jazz a way of life and Casa Borrega celebrates this choice and artistry at its annual event. A new addition to the Fest is a multi-national ensemble of talented dancers who will perform throughout the evening.

7pm – Muevelo Tribute : Tito Puente & Celia Cruz
8:45pm – Javier Gutierrez & VIVAZ!
10:30pm – Alexis Guevara Afro Cuban Trio
12:15am – Latin Dance Party with DJ

  • Salsa dance demonstrations throughout *

Food by Casa Borrega & cocktails at the Bolden Bar
Tickets: $20 – available at
1/2 off for students with valid ID at the door

Hope to see you there! For further information please don’t hesitate to contact Linda Stone, 504.292.3705 or Hugo Montero, 210-392-9365 or email or visit

La Hora del Cuento: Bilingual Story Time at the Pebbles Center Uptown

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Join the Pebbles Center at the Children’s Resource Center branch of the New Orleans Public Library for bilingual story time.

Held the second Monday of every month at 5:15 PM, we will read a book and have a craft based on the book. Past books include Dear Primo, ‘Twas Nochebueno, and Call Me Tree/Llamame Arbol.

Story Hour Books
Oct. 12
Funny Bones by Duncan Tonatiuh
Celebrate Halloween and Day of the Dead with this story time!

November 9 ­
María Had a Little Llama by Angela Dominguez
Learn about Peru and the Andean highlands through the eyes of Maria and her llama!

December 14
Martín de Porres by Gary Schmidt
Learn about this important Saint and his role in helping the poor!