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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Latin America at the Crossroads: Peru

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Join CIPR for the third talk in the “Latin America at the Crossroads” series, this talk focuses on Peru. Voters rejected Keiko Fujimori, daughter of former President Alberto Fujimori, for president in the April 10, 2016 elections, but gave her party a majority in Congress. The election was marked by controversy and demonstrations, with many concerned that a win for Fujimori would mark a return to the human rights violations and corruption of the elder Fujimori’s presidency.

Dr. Cynthia McClintock, Professor of Political Science and International Afairs at George Washington University, will present on these recent events. Dr. McClintock is author of Peasant Cooperatives and Political Change in Peru (Princeton University Press, 1981) and Revolutionary Movements in Latin America: El Salvador’s FMLN and Peru’s Shining Path (U.S. Institute of Peace, 1998) and the co-author of The United States and Peru: Cooperation at a Cost (Routledge, 2003). A past President of the Latin American Studies Association, she has taught at the Catholic University in Peru, appeared on major U.S. and Peruvian news programs, and testified before the Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Afairs of the U.S. House of Representatives.

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For more information and to reserve your seat, please contact Sefira Fialkof at cipr@tulane.edu or phone 504.862.3141.

Hermes Mallea presenting Great Houses of Havana

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Hermes Mallea presenting Great Houses of Havana: A Century of Cuban Style
An insider’s tour of Havana’s exceptional houses built between 1860 and 1960 and their fascinating personal histories, alongside Havana’s architectural patrimony.

Lecture at 6:00 PM and book signing at 7:30 PM.
For more information visit www.nohhf.org

This presentation is sponsored by the NOHHF in collaboration with the New Orleans Museum of Art, Beatriz Ball, JW Marriott, Jahncke & Burns Architects, the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans, Ileana and José Suquet, Tulane School of Architecture-Master of Preservation Studies and Tulane University-Cuban and Caribbean Studies Institute

Teaching Haiti: K-12 Educator Workshop

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This educator workshop will explore the culture of Haiti, focusing on music and dance. This unique workshop focuses on an important, but often understudied area of the Caribbean, and will provide K-12 educators with exciting opportunities to diversify the classroom.

Participants will receive lunch, teaching materials and CEUs.

Check out LARC’s curriculum on Haitian Folktales or the Haiti part of the Day of the Dead Across the Americas to get ready for the workshop.

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La Hora del Cuento: Bilingual Story Hour at the Children's Resource Center

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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.

On April 10th at 4:30 PM we will be featuring the book Ada’s Violin, about an orchestra made of recycled instruments, and doing a craft.

Alumni & Friends of the Band Dinner

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Please join Barry Spanier, Director of Bands, Tulane University for the Alumni & Friends of the Band Dinner. The Tulane Concert Band 7th Annual Spring Concert will immediately follow at 7:30 pm in the Dixon Hall Theater. Explore the musical cultures of the Latin world. Feel the passionate rhythms and be transported by the sweeping melodies that have made this music beloved by audiences around the globe. Enjoy the repertoire of Latin composers and others: Malegueña, Amparito Roca, La Virgen de la Macarena, Libertango, Mambo, Danzon No. 2, Puebla de Los Angeles, El Camino Real and Bolero.

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Exhibition Opening- Beyond the Canvas: Contemporary Art from Puerto Rico

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Join us on the evening of April 26 to celebrate the opening of Beyond the Canvas: Contemporary Art from Puerto Rico.

The exhibition features the work of five Puerto Rico-based artists spanning several generations who have each developed a process-driven approach to painting. They challenge the notion of the canvas as a flat surface, focusing firstly on its materiality as a site for intervention and manipulation, and secondly as a substrate for painted images. Beyond the Canvas coincides with the 100th anniversary of Puerto Ricans receiving U.S. citizenship and the impending referendum on statehood. MORE >

  • 5:30 PM — VIP/members reception. To join or renew email museum@tulane.edu.
  • 6:30 PM — Lecture with curator Warren James in conversation with Dr. Monica Ramirez-Montagut, Director, Newcomb Art Museum, and Dr. Edie Wolfe, SCLAS Assistant Director for Undergraduate Programs, Tulane University
  • 7:30 – 9 PM — Public reception

Beyond the Canvas will be accompanied by an installation envisioned, curated, and designed by Tulane students from LAST 6961 “Women, Community and Art in Latin America: Puerto Rico.” Co-taught by Edith Wolfe, Assistant Director of the Stone Center for Latin American Studies, and museum director and exhibition co-curator Monica Ramirez-Montagut, the class asks how Puerto Rican socially-engaged art and artists address problems of gender, sexuality, and other issues affecting women on the island. The student-curated exhibition will document citizen-led projects, including a community-run educational center in a low-income, industrial area of San Juan that organizes a local “theater of the oppressed”; the collective decoration of houses in the hillside El Cerro neighborhood, aimed at increasing visibility of marginalized populations; the recuperation of lost artisanal traditions through intergenerational workshops known as Escuelas Oficios (Trade Schools); participatory urban design projects that are restoring blighted properties in Santurce, and the reclaiming of public space through feminist street art and performance.