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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New Orleans con Sabor- Latino Exhibit: A Showcase of Latin Foodways in New Orleans

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The opening for the “New Orleans con Sabor Latino” exhibit will take place Tuesday, May 2 at 6PM at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum on Oretha Castle Haley. The permanent exhibit, produced by Sarah Fouts’ Food, Migration, and Culture course, showcases oral histories conducted by students with chefs and cooks that represent the Latinx foodways in the city. The exhibit also features an interactive station that displays menus from different Latin restaurants in the New Orleans area, a local map of the restaurants, a hemispheric map of the Americas, along with photographs and audio clips produced by the students. The project is supported by the New Orleans Center for the Gulf South, the Roger Thayer Stone Center for Latin American Studies, and the Center for Public Service.

Light refreshments will be served
6-730PM
1504 Oretha Castle Haley
For more information email sfouts@tulane.edu

The Tulane Culture Workshop: Movements and Ethnoracial Rights in Latin America

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Join the Tulane Culture Workshop for a discussion of Movements and Ethnoracial Rights in Latin America with Tianna Paschel, University of California- Berkeley, African American Studies and Sociology.

Workshops function on a different model from lectures. In a workshop the paper is distributed so that people can read the paper beforehand. The author gives only a brief introduction to the article, to contextualize the piece. The workshop itself amounts to an extended Q&A on the piece. In this workshop, we will discuss Dr. Paschel’s ongoing ethnicity-based social movements research in Latin America. The discussion will provide her with feedback and give participants an inside view of the craft of scholarship with one today’s leading thinkers.

For more information click here or email idiaz5@tulane.edu.

"Becoming Black Political Subjects: Movements and Ethno-Racial Rights in Colombia and Brazil"- A talk by Dr. Tianna Paschel

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Dr. Tianna Paschel, professor in the Department of African American Studies at UC Berkeley, will present on her book “Becoming Black Political Subjects: Movements and Ethno-Racial Rights in Colombia and Brazil” on Wednesday, May 3 from 1-3:30 in the Greenleaf Conference Room. This book examines the shift from colorblind state discourses to the adoption of ethno-racial policies in Colombia and Brazil in the 1990s, as well as the impact this shift has had on political institutions and broader socio-cultural change in these countries. This event is co-sponsored by the Center for Inter-American Policy and Research and the Department of Sociology. After the event, at 3:30, Dr. Paschel will workshop her new document “Movements and Ethnoracial Rights in Latin America”.

Marisol Blanco Barrios: Cuban Folkloric Dance Workshop

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The Tekrema Center for Art and Culture presents: Marisol Blanco Barrios: Cuban Folkloric Dance Workshop.

The week-long conference will featuring intensive dance workshops, panel discussions, performances, and exhibits in June. The conference showcases local, national and internationally acclaimed dancers from Louisiana, The Caribbean, and Africa. This year, the conference will launch the book and choreographic work by Greer E. Mendy, Black Dance in Louisiana – Guardian of A Culture.

Tekrema is a cultural arts organization located in New Orleans, Louisiana in the area geographically described and affectionately known as “The Lower 9th Ward”. The mission of Tekrema’s mission is the maintenance, development and perseverance of African and African Diaspora art and culture.

Conference Schedule

  • Tuesday May 2 at 6 PM: Afro-Cuban: The Orichas
  • Wednesday May 3 at 7 PM: Cuban Traditional Ballroom Dance: Cuban Rumba and Son
  • Thursday May 4 at 7 PM: Afro-Cuban: The Orichas
  • Saturday May 6 at 10 AM: Panoramic International Dance: Children’s class

Workshop fee schedule class fee- $10 per class. Tekrema Youth- Free.

La Hora del Cuento: Pebbles Center Bilingual Spring Reading Series

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Celebrate and learn about Latin America with your kids through the Stone Center’s Pebble Center at the Algiers Regional branch of the New Orleans Public Library for bilingual story time.

Second Tuesday of every month at 10:30 AM. All books are read in English and Spanish and readings are followed by an activity based on the book. Past books include Counting Ovejas, Drum Dream Girl, and Mango, Abuela, and Me. Readings are free and open to the public. Recommended ages 0 – 5 and parents!

Story Hour Dates/Themes

March 21 – TRANSPORTATION
The Wheels on the Bus Illustrated by Melanie Williamson and Written by The Amador Family

April 11 – ANIMALS
Los Pollitos by Susie Jaramillo

May 9 – LATIN AMERICAN CHILDREN’S SONGS
Elefantitos by Susie Jaramillo

Call For Papers- Haiti: Paradoxes, Contraditions, Intersections in the Making of a People

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CALL FOR PAPERS: Haitian Studies Association’s 29th Annual Conference

The Haitian Studies Association will hold its 29th Annual Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, a site that offers scholars a look at how the “making of the people” occurs outside of the geopolitical spaces associated with a nation-state. Indeed, the Haitian Revolution of 1791-1804 forced not only the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, but also the migration of slaves, slave owners, and free blacks and mulattos between the two former French territories. These movements of people led to the creation of new spaces where migrants linked to an emergent Haiti would become part of a new North American dynamic also characterized by inequalities and exclusion.

The Haitian Studies Association seeks a diverse set of scholarly interrogations of these themes from disciplines across the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. We are especially interested in fully constituted panels, and will prioritize panels that speak directly to our themes and attempt an interdisciplinary dialogue.

Panel and roundtable proposals are to be no longer than 500 words, clearly listing the individual paper titles and authors. Individual paper abstracts should be around 250 words. Presenters are expected to register for the conference in advance to ensure their names are in the program.

Proposals with be accepted until June 1st, 2017. Fore information regarding the conference and guidelines for proposals, click here.