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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Before Structuralism and Dependency: What did Latin America contribute to International Political Economy?

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Eric Helleiner, Profeesor and Faculty of Arts Chair in International Political Economy at the University of Waterloo, presents a talk titled “Before Structuralism and Dependency: What did Latin America contribute to International Political Economy?” on Friday, September 30 at 1:30 PM.

Dr. Helleiner holds a Ph.D. from the London School of Economics and researches international political economy, international money and finance, North-South economic relations, and the history of political economy. He is the author of over 100 journal articles and book chapters.

The talk is sponsored by the Tulane Political Science Department and the Murphy Institute

Assessing equitable care among Indigenous and Afrodescendant women in Latin America

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The Department of Anthropology and Tulane Anthropology Student Association (TASA) present a lecture by Dr. Arachu Castro, the Samuel Z. Stone Chair of Public Health in Latin America in the Department of Global Community Health and Behavioral Sciences at the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. Dr. Castro will present a lecture titled “Assessing equitable care among Indigenous and Afrodescendant women in Latin America” on Friday September 30, 2016 at 4:00 PM in Dinwiddie Hall 103.

Talk Abstract:
Health provider discrimination against Indigenous and Afrodescendant women is a primary barrier to quality health care access in Latin America. Discrimination is driven by biases against ethnic minority populations, women, and the poor in general. Discriminatory practices can manifest as patient-blaming, purposeful neglect, verbal or physical abuse, disregard for traditional beliefs, and the non-use of Indigenous languages for patient communication. These obstacles prevent delivery of appropriate and timely clinical care, and also produce fear of shame, abuse, or ineffective treatment, which, in addition to financial barriers, deter women from seeking care.

A light reception will follow the lecture

MARI Brown Bag: Eugenia Robinson "Utatlan, A Late Postclassic Guatemalan Highland Capital: MARI Collections Research"

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Dr. Eugenia Robinson, Professor of Anthropology at Montgomery College and a Research Affiliate of the Middle American Research Institute, will present a talk “Utatlan, A Late Postclassic Guatemalan Highland Capital: MARI Collections Research” on her recent research about highland Guatemalan sites from the collections of MARI.

For more information and a full list of Brown Bag talks, visit the Brown Bag Website.

Ixcanul Screening and Educator Reception

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The Latin American Resource Center and the Broad Theater are hosting a screening of Ixcanul, an educator reception, and discussion about the film. Ixcanul follows the life of a young Kaqchikel Maya woman as she grapples with problems in the modern world. The film was Guatemala’s entry in the 2016 Best Foreign Language Film Category at the Oscars. The discussion following the film will include a discussion of how to use the film in the classroom.

The event is FREE for educators who REGISTER below. The public may purchase tickets to attend the screening and discussion.

Please be able to show your school ID if requested to confirm educator status

Event Schedule:

4:30 Reception
5:00 Film
6:30 Discussion

Latin American Cinema Series

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In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, the Stone Center for Latin American Studies is collaborating with The Broad Theater to present the 1st Annual Latin America Cinema Series. The series will showcase a wide variety of shorts and features from Haiti, Cuba, Argentina, Guatemala, Peru, Mexico and Colombia. Titles include such film festival standouts such as THE APOSTATE, Martin Sheen’s latest film THE VESSEL, and IXCANUL, the first Guatemalan film shot in the Kaqchikel Maya language. The series will take place over two days, October 1st and 2nd, at The Broad Theater, 636 North Broad, New Orleans.

This film series is presented in partnership with WWNO and the Cine Institute in Jacmel, Haiti. All proceeds from the Haitian series will go to Cine Institute.

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 1

  • 12:30 pm – Haitian Shorts (100 mins.) A selection of Haitian narrative shorts will be screened as part of a partnership with the Cine Institute in Jacmel, Haiti.
  • 2:45 pm – Tierra y Sombra (97 mins.) Colombia. Alfonso is an old farmer who has returned home to tend to his son, who is gravely ill. He rediscovers his old house, where the woman who was once his wife still lives, with his daughter-in-law and grandson. The landscape that awaits him resembles a wasteland. Vast sugar cane plantations surround the house, producing perpetual clouds of ash. 17 years after abandoning them, Alfonso tries to fit back in and save his family.
  • 5:00 pm – Ixcanul (100 mins.) Guatemala. On the slopes of an active volcano in Guatemala, a marriage is arranged for 17-year-old Maria by her Kaqchikel parents. “Ixcanul” provides a window into a culture that we rarely see. Film will be presented with a special introduction by Professor Judith Maxwell and Kaqchikel Maya language Scholar, Ixnal Cuma Chávez. The Latin American Resource Center- welcomes all educators to a special reception preceding the screening. Reception is free with registration. For more information about this special reception, please register here.
  • 7:10 pm – The Vessel (110 mins.) United States. Ten years after a tidal wave destroys a small-town elementary school with all the children inside, a young man builds a mysterious structure out of the school’s remains, setting the town aflame with passions long forgotten.
  • 9:15 pm – Embrace of the Serpent (133 mins.) Colombia/Venezuela/Argentina. The story of the relationship between Karamakate, an Amazonian shaman and last survivor of his people, and two scientists who work together over the course of 40 years to search the Amazon for a sacred healing plant.

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 2, 2016

  • 12:00 pm Ixcanul (100 mins.) Guatemala.
  • 4:30 pm Unfinished Spaces (86 mins.) Cuba. Cuba’s ambitious National Art Schools project, designed by three young artists in the wake of Castro’s Revolution, is neglected, nearly forgotten, then ultimately rediscovered as a visionary architectural masterpiece. In 1961, three young, visionary architects were commissioned by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara to create Cuba’s National Art Schools on the grounds of a former golf course in Havana, Cuba. Construction of their radical designs began immediately and the school’s first classes soon followed. Dancers, musicians and artists from all over the country reveled in the beauty of the schools, but as the dream of the Revolution quickly became a reality, construction was abruptly halted and the architects and their designs were deemed irrelevant in the prevailing political climate. Forty years later the schools are in use, but remain unfinished and decaying. Castro has invited the exiled architects back to finish their unrealized dream. Unfinished Spaces features intimate footage of Fidel Castro, showing his devotion to creating a worldwide showcase for art, and it also documents the struggle and passion of three revolutionary artists.
  • 9:00 pm The Apostate (80 mins.) Uruguay/Spain. A man at a crossroads in his life (Alvaro Ogalla) wishes to fully excommunicate himself from the Catholic Church, but is faced with baffling bureaucracy from his decision in this absurd comedy-drama from director Federico Veiroj.

More information can be found at thebroadtheater.com, in the Events section. Tickets for the series will go on sale Friday, September 23rd. Tickets for each screening will be $10 with a two-day pass available for $40. For more information please contact the theater at mgmt@thebroadtheater.com or 504-218-1008.

Day of the Dead Teacher Workshop at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art

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In collaboration with the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the Stone Center presents the annual K-12 teacher workshop exploring the cultural and artistic elements of Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. All participants will receive light refreshments, 2 free tickets to Ogden After Hours, teaching materials and CEUs. The workshop will focus on the Ogden Museum’s altar exhibition, celebrating the life Allen Toussaint, on view from Oct. 4 – Nov. 8. The event will discuss altar traditions and how to integrate altars into the classroom.

Check out the event website for resources and other information about teaching Day of the Dead.

Workshop Schedule

5:30 – 5:45
Welcome and Introduction
Denise Woltering Vargas, Tulane University
Suzanna Ritz, Ogden Museum of Southern Art

5:45-6:00
Day of the Dead Altars: Allen Toussaint
Cynthia Ramirez, Southern University of New Orleans

6:00 – 6:15
Day of the Dead Altars in the Classroom: the ISL Altar to Benny Andrews
Suzanna Ritz, Ogden Museum of Southern Art

6:15 – 7:00
Hands on Activities for the Classroom: Building Altars and Retablos
Suzanna Ritz, Ogden Museum of Southern Art

7:00 – 7:30
Discussion and Evaluation