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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Diverse Roots of Migration in Latin America & the Caribbean: A K-12 Educator Workshop in Washington DC

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Join us to explore the roots of migration and its effects on the family in Latin America and the Caribbean. Highlighting the 2017 Américas Award titles, this workshop will prepare K-12 educators and librarians to engage students with topics of migration, family, and the socioeconomic barriers within Central America and the Caribbean today. The Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs presents the 2017 Américas Award teacher workshop hosted by American University’s International Training & Education Program. Speakers will include 2017 Américas Award winning author of The Only Road Alexandra Díaz, as well as Reyna Grande, author of The Distance Between Us, an honor book, and Nadia L. Hohn, author of Malaika’s Costume, another honor book. These authors, along with a curriculum specialist, will engage participants with teaching strategies to accompany the books.

To learn about this year’s 2017 Américas Award winners, please view the video announcement here.

Participants will receive dinner, a book, and a certificate of completion with registration.

Register BEFORE SEPTEMBER 7 at a special rate of $25. AFTER SEPTEMBER 7 registration increases to $35.

AU ITEP students may register for $10 BEFORE SEPTEMBER 7.

For more information, please visit claspprograms.org/americasaward

The program is sponsored by CLASP and American University. It is coordinated by Tulane University and Vanderbilt University with generous support provided by Florida International University, Stanford University, University of Florida, University of New Mexico, University of Utah, and the University of Wisconsin –Milwaukee.

Celebración Latina at Audubon Zoo

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Join us for our annual family festival as we celebrate 13 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 is set for Sunday, October 15, 2017 and 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 crafts, and local social service, health, and education organizations will offer wellness, education, and social service information.

Celebración Latina is included with Zoo admission or Audubon membership. No outside food, beverages, or tents please!

Check out these pictures from past celebrations!

For more information, please visit the Audubon Zoo website.

Call for Papers: Association of Academic Programs in Latin America and the Caribbean 2018 Conference

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The Association for Academic Programs in Latin America and the Caribbean (AAPLAC) seeks session proposals for its 29th Annual Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, February 21-24, 2018, hosted by the Stone Center for Latin American Studies at Tulane University.

This year’s theme, “Study Abroad: Meeting the Challenges of Cultural Engagement,” includes a variety of paper topics, including:

  • New Orleans after Katrina: The impact of the growing Hispanic population which came to help with rebuilding and has since stayed on
  • Interdisciplinary Institutional Content Assessment: How to best track what students are doing overseas and the benefits for our campuses
  • Global Partnerships through Peer Collaboration: How we can better work with institutions in Latin America and the Caribbean
  • Research Collaborations – U.S.-Latin America: Faculty led/student participation in on-site studies
  • Anglo-Hispanic Challenges: Cross-cultural understanding through experiential learning and study abroad
  • Strategic Partnerships: How we can enhance protocols between our schools in the US and those in Latin America and the Caribbean
  • Strengthening AAPLAC Relationships through Inter-Organization Mentoring: How we can enhance protocols amongst our schools in the US
  • Latina Empowerment: More women on study abroad programs: How we can take advantage of this bond between women of the North and the South
  • Rethinking Mobility: How is the student’s identity compromised/enhanced abroad?
  • Community-Based Partnerships: How students can learn as they engage with local communities in working type environments
  • Crossing Borders: The eternal quest for a global space as students interact with the other
  • Global Xenophobia on the Rise of Brexit/Trump? What is our role?
  • Cuba: Future U.S. Relations – Impact on Study Abroad

Please visit the Call For Papers web page to download the proposal template, timeline, and more information about the conference.

For questions, please contact Laura Wise Person at 862-8629 or lwise1_at_tulane.edu.

La Hora del Cuento: Pebbles Center Bilingual Fall 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 and New Orleans Public Library for bilingual story time.

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, Mango, Abuela, and Me, and Arroz con Leche. Readings are free and open to the public. Recommended ages 0 – 5 and parents!

Story Hour Dates/Themes TBA

Maya Symposium Teacher Workshop

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The Stone Center for Latin American Studies, in collaboration with the Middle American Research Institute, will present a teacher workshop in conjunction with the 15th Annual Tulane Maya Symposium on March 9, 2018.

Since 2002, Tulane University has hosted a weekend of talks and workshops dedicated to the study of the Maya civilization of Mexico and Central America. This yearly meeting has called upon scholars from a wide spectrum of specialties—archaeology, art history, cultural anthropology, epigraphy, history, and linguistics—to elucidate the many facets of this fascinating Mesoamerican culture. In developing a broad approach to the subject matter, the conference aims to draw the interest of a wide ranging group of people—from the expert to the beginner.

For more information, visit the Middle American Research Institute website.