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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The Traveler and the Ethnographic Ethos in the work of Juan José Saer and Bernardo Carvalho

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Anderson da Mata, an Assistant Professor of literary theory at Universidade de Brasília, will give a talk entitled “The Traveler and the Ethnographic Ethos in the work of Juan José Saer and Bernardo Carvalho.” The talk will be given in Portuguese.

Anderson da Mata is an Assistant Professor of literary theory at the Universidade de Brasília and author of O silêncio das crianças: representações da infância na narrativa brasileira contemporânea (Londrina: EDUEL, 2010).

Sponsored by Newcomb-Tulane College and the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. For more information please contact Rebecca Atencio (ratencio@tulane.edu).

"The Media Operations and Communication Policies of Latin American Leftist Leaders: The Cases of Argentina and Uruguay"

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Ivan Schuliaquer, a visiting student scholar from Argentina working on his doctoral dissertation, will present a talk entitled, “The Media Operations and Communication Policies of Latin American Leftist Leaders.”

The leftist governments of Frente Amplio in Uruguay and of the Kirchners in Argentina share the viewpoint that large media conglomerates play an oppositional role in their respective countries. However, there is significant variation in the ways that both governments have organized their media operations and established communication policies. The presentation develops a comparative analysis of the two cases to explore the factors that shape the relationship between media and political leaders in the region.

For more information please contact Ivan Schuliaquer, ischulia@tulane.edu.

This event is sponsored by the Stone Center for Latin American Studies.

Bruno Bosteels speaks at Loyola University

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The Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at Loyola University presents: “Politics and Violence in Latin America: Democracy in the Criticism of Arms,” a talk by Bruno Bosteels, Professor of Romance Studies at Cornell University. Bosteels is the author of Badiou and Politics, Marx and Freud in Latin America, and The Actuality of Communism, among other works.

For more information on this event, please contact Josefa Salmon at salmon@loyno.edu.

This event is sponsored by the Center for Latin American Studies and the Caribbean, The Languages & Cultures Department at Loyola University, Rev. Scott Youree Watson, Gregory F. Curtin & Rev. Guy Lemieux SJ SAK Distinguished Professorships.

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The Pebbles Center turns 10!

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The Pebbles Center is celebrating its 10th Anniversary! The 10th anniversary falls on Dia, a celebration of children and reading. To celebrate, the Pebbles Center is hosting renowned children’s book author Jorge Argueta. Mr. Argueta was a guest at the inauguration of the Pebbles Center 10 years ago. See photographs from Mr. Argueta’s previous visit here. He will present an interactive presentation based on some of his most recent books.

Jorge Tetl Argueta is a celebrated Salvadoran poet and writer whose bi-lingual children’s books have received numerous awards. A native Salvadoran and Pipil Nahua Indian, Jorge spent much of his childhood in rural El Salvador. He feels that everybody is capable of writing, especially young children who are natural poets! Argueta has written a series of delicious cooking poems perfect for reading while cooking or incorporating food into the classroom. Come out and celebrate with us!

Children and parents will be able to enjoy a wonderful reading and a workshop highlighting the delicious foods found in his books. We will be of course providing snacks as well as be able to distribute a handful of bilingual books donated by the New Orleans Public Library.

El 30 de abril es una fecha muy significativa para los niños. Se celebra el día de los niños y de los libros. Esta celebración se conoce como El día de los niños/ El día de los libros, y celebra la alegría y las maravillas de la infancia y la importancia de los libros en nuestra vida. Ven a celebrar con nosotros el día con autor salvadoreño Jorge Argueta.

Para una lista con la dirreción de todas las bibliotecas, por favor visite la página de web de la biblioteca pública de la Nueva Orleáns.

For more information or if you have questions please contact the Latin American Resource Center at crcrts@tulane.edu or check our Facebook page.

Sponsored by the Stone Center for Latin American Studies, and the New Orleans Public Library.

Photo by Nina Menconi.

Art Syncopation

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The Consulate of Mexico in New Orleans and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival are pleased to present an art exhibit of renowned artist Angel Gonzalez de la Tijera entitled “Art Syncopation.” An opening reception will be held on April 22nd at 6 PM. The exhibit will be on display through May 20th.

Angel Gonzalez de la Tijera is an important Mexican Painter and one of the most significant contributors to contemporary figurative Mexican art. His work primarily focuses on figures and portraits in conjunction with music. His art reveals form and substance in a realistic manner.

Gonzalez de la Tijera was born in Mexico City in 1958. He developed his painting style, figurative realism, as a student of master painter Santiago Carbonell.