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

Repression and Street Protests: Behavioral Underpinnings of Backlash Movements

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The Tulane University Political Science department presents a talk entitled “Repression and Street Protests: Behavioral Underpinnings of Backlash Movements” by Susan Stokes, the John S. Saden Professor of Political Science at Yale University and Director of the Yale Program on Democracy.

Dr. Stokes research interests include democratic theory and how democracy functions in developing societies; distributive politics; and comparative political behavior. Her co-authored book, Brokers, Voters, and Clientelism (Cambridge, 2013) won best-book prizes from the Comparative Politics (Luebbert Prize) and Comparative Democratization sections of APSA. Among her earlier books, Mandates and Democracy: Neoliberalism by Surprise in Latin America (Cambridge, 2001), received prizes from the APSA Comparative Democratization section and from the Society for Comparative Research. Her articles have appeared in journals such as the American Political Science Review, World Politics, and the Latin American Research Review.

Sponsored by the Political Science department and the CIPR (Center for Inter-American Policy and Research.

For more information please contact Virginia Oliveros (

MARI Brown Bag: Evan Parker "The Middle Preclassic of the Puuc Maya: Preliminary Excavations at Paso del Macho, Yucatan, Mexico"

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MARI is pleased to present the fifth brown bag of the 2015-2016 year. Evan Parker, a Graduate Student in the Department of Anthropology, will present a talk about his recent research on the Preclassic Maya of Yucatan, Mexico entitled “The Middle Preclassic of the Puuc Maya: Preliminary Excavations at Paso del Macho, Yucatan, Mexico.”

M.A.R.I.‘s Brown Bag talk series is meant to provide a venue for students and faculty focusing on topics related to Mesoamerica to discuss their latest research in an informal and friendly setting. If you are interested in presenting, please email Marcello Canuto ( for more information. For the current speaker list of this talk series, please click here.

Workshop: Applying for Grants and Fellowships

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This workshop targets SLA graduate students who are new to grant writing and submission. The workshop will provide tips on searching for funding opportunities and writing an award winning proposal. Grant writing is a significant intellectual activity that is in high demand in many academic fields, economic sectors, and firms and organizations. For academics, grant writing not only raises one’s research visibility but can increase opportunities for writing and national and international presentations. For non-academics, grant writing can open doors to consulting, collaborative research, and entrepreneurial opportunities in the private sector and nonprofit world.

Kevin Gotham will discuss the basic elements and strategies of submitting proposals to the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), Social Science Research Council (SSRC), and other federal agencies. He will describe the process and criteria by which federal funders like the NSF and the NEH review proposals, proposal development strategies for individual investigators, the qualities and merits of an award-winning proposal, and federal funding opportunities for researchers. Kevin is a former NSF program director, occasional NSF panelist and reviewer, and a current NSF awardee.

Chris Rodning will discuss why applying for grants is important for graduate students and how grant writing can enhance student career prospects. He will describe the strategies students can use to develop proposals, the importance of working with faculty mentors in preparing proposals, and various skills students can develop to score funding for their research. He will also provide recommendations for how students can seek out and apply for diverse sources of funding, including internal and external sources. Chris has experience reviewing grant proposals for National Geographic Society (NGS), National Science Foundation (NSF), and the American Philosophical Society. He has also been a co-P.I. on NSF and NGS grants; and a P.I. for a Board of Regents Grant.

The workshop will also include short presentations from Katherine Johnston and Patrick Rafail, assistant professors in sociology. Katie and Patrick are past winners of NSF Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant (DDIG) awards. Patrick is a current NSF awardee. They both have much experience as grant writers and will speak about the grant review and evaluation process for graduate student proposals and offer advice and suggestions for developing an award-winning proposal.

The workshop is targeted toward all graduate students in SLA interested in pursuing external funding to complete their dissertations and enhance their professional skills. The format will be interactive, allowing for audience questions and participation. Please RSVP to Kevin Gotham Please also submit a few sentences describing your research interests or an abstract of your dissertation.

Bate Papo! Practice Your Portuguese

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Bate Papo! Practice your Portuguese and enjoy some Brazilian Treats.

Que Pasa Fest 2015

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Cervantes Fundación Hispanoamericana de Arte (Cervantes Hispanic-American Arts Foundation) and Hispanic Flavor Productions are proud to announce the fifth annual Que Pasa Fest 2015. With the support of sponsors and businesses, this festival is an extension of the Latin cultural TV show, “¿Que Pasa New Orleans? (What’s Up New Orleans?) and celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month highlighting exciting Latin music and Hispanic heritage and culture.

Que Pasa Fest 2015 is scheduled to be a six-day festival filled with music and dance and will be held at various locations throughout the Greater New Orleans area. Festivities will begin Monday, October 5 at the New Orleans Mexican Consulate and culminate with its FREE outdoor festival for the whole family on Saturday, October 10, at the Al Copeland Meadow Concert area in Lafreniere Park, in Metairie, Louisiana. All of the other events during the week will also be FREE for the community.

The artist line-up for this year includes local Cuban artists, Piky Mendizabal (visual arts), Alexey Marti (Latin Jazz), Javier Olondo (classical guitar), AsheSon (Cuban traditional music), William Sabourin (filmmaker) and Tomas Montoya (ethnologist and curator). Other local artists include New Orleans’ KARMA, AsheSon, Aurelio Gonzalez & Dance Group Raices, Dile Que NOLA, Lisbeth Pedroso, Jee Yeoun Ko, Michael Pellera, Hector Gallardo, Pupi Menes, Jose “Pepe” Coloma, Tony Dizant, Johnny Marcia, and Jorge Perez. International artists include Jorge Luis Prats, Descemer Bueno and Timbalive.

For more information and a detailed schedule, visit the festival website.

Celebración Latina 2015

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Join us for our annual family festival as we celebrate 11 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 these pictures of past celebraciones latinas!

Celebración Latina is presented by the Stone Center for Latin American Studies at Tulane University. Contributing sponsors include Pan-American Life Insurance Group, Marathon Petroleum Co., and Jefferson Financial Credit Union. Children’s artwork on display provided by 1st Grade students in the ReNew Cultural Arts Academy Expanded Day Program.

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

For more information please visit the Audubon website.