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

More

Upcoming Events

"Norm Diffusion from the Global South" a talk by Kathryn Sikkink

View Full Event Description

Kathryn Sikkink of Harvard’s Kennedy School

Thursday, September 25, 5:30 pm
Caroline Richardson Building, Anna Many Lounge
Refreshments will be served.? Everyone is welcome.

About the Speaker:
Kathryn Sikkink is the Ryan Family Professor of Human Rights Policy at HKS and the Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. Sikkink works on international norms and institutions, transnational advocacy networks, the impact of human rights law and policies, and transitional justice. Her publications include The Justice Cascade: How Human Rights Prosecutions are Changing World Politics (awarded the Robert F. Kennedy Center Book Award, and the WOLA/Duke University Award); Mixed Signals: U.S. Human Rights Policy and Latin America; Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics (co-authored with Margaret Keck and awarded the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas for Improving World Order, and the ISA Chadwick Alger Award for Best Book in the area of International Organizations); and The Persistent Power of Human Rights: From Commitment to Compliance, (co-edited with Thomas Risse and Stephen Ropp). She holds an MA and Ph.D. from Columbia University. Sikkink has been a Fulbright Scholar in Argentina and a Guggenheim fellow. She is a member of the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Council on Foreign Relations, and a member of the editorial boards of International Studies Quarterly,International Organization, and the American Political Science Review.

Footprints in Time. 5 Generations of Mexican Artists at the Parota

View Full Event Description

The Consulate of Mexico in New Orleans is pleased to invite you to the Art Exhibition of Mexican Masters entitled “Footprints in Time. 5 Generations of Mexican Artists at the Parota.” The exhibit will feature works by Mexican artists Jose Luis Cuevas, Leonora Carrington, Alberto Castro Leñero, Manuel Felguerez, Gilberto Aceves Navarro, Francisco Toledo, and Roger Von Gunten among other.

The exhibit will run from August 29th to September 26th at the Art Gallery of the Consulate of Mexico in New Orleans. An opening reception will be held on August 29th at 6 pm.

Information on La Parota:

The Fine Art Center “La Parota” was created in 1996, by the combined efforts of the Government of the State of Colima's Ministry of Culture and the National Council for Culture and the Arts. “The Parota” celebrates a long continuing artistic history, full of achievements and great national and international recognition. The participation of the most important Mexican Masters teaching production of printmaking workshops and Fine Arts have been carried out at this Centre with great success since its beginning.

“The Parota” has been an Institution for established masters and young talented artists. The exchange of knowledge, ideas and experiences given in the workshops have driven new etching techniques, while developing a new generation of Fine Art Printmakers.

With the passing of the years, the Fine Art Center of Colima “La Parota” has generated a wealth of artistic production with the most important artists of Mexico, while simultaneously producing some of the nation's most outstanding young artists.

Exploring Immigration and Identity in the K-12 Classroom with Américas Award Books

View Full Event Description

Américas Award K-12 Workshop

In celebration of the 2014 Américas Award, CLASP and Teaching for Change are hosting a K-12 teacher workshop “Exploring Immigration and Identity in the K-12 Classroom with Américas Award Books.”

This hands-on workshop will explore issues of immigration and identity using children's literature. The workshop will feature the work of this year's Honorable Mention book, Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote by Duncan Tonatiuh and Commended Title Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick your Ass by Meg Medina. Both authors will be in attendance to work with teachers on activities and strategies to best engage young readers with the complexity of immigration as it relates to family, education, and identity. Teaching for Change will highlight additional resources to incorporate teaching Social Justice and Human Rights.

All participants will receive breakfast, teaching resources, and a book (a choice of one of the two featured titles, please indicate whether you’d prefer the picture book Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote or the Young Adult title, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass). Participants are also invited to attend the Américas Award Ceremony to be held at the Library of Congress from 3:00 – 5:00 PM. Also, a month-long exhibit of the original artwork from Parrots Over Puerto Rico will be on display at the Young Readers Center in The Library of Congress.

The Américas Award is sponsored by CLASP and coordinated by the Stone Center for Latin American Studies at Tulane University. Additional funding is provided by Florida International University, Stanford University, The Ohio State University, University of New Mexico, University of Utah, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and Vanderbilt University.

For more information contact Denise Woltering (dwolteri@tulane.edu) (504.865.5164)

Download the printable Flyer.

Day of the Dead and the Arts: A Workshop for K-12 Art Educators

View Full Event Description

The Stone Center for Latin American Studies at Tulane University and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art are sponsoring a K-12 teacher workshop to celebrate Day of the Dead!

The workshop will focus on how to provide students with information about Day of the Dead, Day of the Dead traditions, and celebrating Day of the Dead in the classroom. The workshop will involve hands-on activities, including activities which will translate into the classroom!

All participants will receive light refreshments and teaching materials. One teacher will have the opportunity to use a Day of the Dead altar kit, provided by the Latin American Resource Center. The kit has everything you need to celebrate Day of the Dead in your classroom!

Tentative Schedule:
5:30 – 5:45 PM
Introductory Remarks (Denise Woltering-Vargas, Tulane University; Ellen Balkin, Ogden Museum)

5:45 – 6: 30 PM
Altar Viewing and Discussion (Cynthia Ramirez, Southern University of New Orleans)

6:30 – 7:15 PM
Day of the Dead in the Artist’s Classroom (Denise Tullier-Holly, Southeastern University Lab School)

7:15 – 7:30 PM
Day of the Dead at the Ogden – Activities (Ellen Balkin, Ogden Museum)

Celebración Latina

View Full Event Description

Join us for our annual family festival as we celebrate 10 years of the festival! Please join us at the zoo to explore and celebrate the rich diversity of Latin America. Celebración Latina at the Zoo's Capital One Stage and Field will offer a true taste of the Latin American culture with live music, children’s activities and authentic Latin cuisine prepared and sold by local restaurants. Local artisans will sell hand made crafts, and local social service, health and education organizations will offer wellness, education and social service information.

Check out pictures from the 2012 and 2013 festivals!

Celebración Latina is presented by the Stone Center for Latin American Studies at Tulane University. Contributing sponsors include Pan-American Life Insurance Group and Jefferson Financial Credit Union.

Celebración Latina is free with Zoo admission. No outside food or beverages please!

For more information please visit the Audubon website.

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

Registration will Open Monday, September 22, 2014.