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 Chavezâ’‘¬’“¢ 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 Chavezâ’‘¬’“¢ reelection established the â’‘¬Å“administrative continuityâ’‘¬Â of the Executive, rendering a new inauguration â’‘¬Å“unnecessaryâ’‘¬Â. 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 presidentâ’‘¬’“¢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 legislatureâ’‘¬’“¢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 â’‘¬Å“disciplineâ’‘¬Â 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 regionâ’‘¬’“¢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

    Permanent Researcher and CEO, CIAPA, Executive Director - Center for Inter-American Policy and Research at Tulane University

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Teaching and Understanding Women's Activism in the Face of Violence

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(Description via Vanderbilt CLAS)

Join Vanderbilt CLAS and the Stone Center for Latin American Studies at Tulane University for a teacher workshop about incorporating topics of social justice and gender equality in the curriculum. In 2019, Amalia Rubin and Parker Benedict joined forces to create She Stands Up, a project that aims to spark meaningful conversations in high school classrooms about the power of women’s activism in the face of violence. While the project’s lesson plans focus on social mobilization in Latin America, where reporting of violence against women has been steadily increasing in recent years, She Stands Up creators hope to inspire teachers and students alike to tackle relevant and difficult topics in the classroom. In this special workshop, Amalia and Parker will take us through the research behind the project, introduce us to their website (full of resources!), and lead us in an activity from one of their lesson plans. Current and aspiring high school educators are encouraged to attend, and all educators are welcome.

Data across the Disciplines: Notes from Field Research in Latin America

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This discussion will focus on how Latin Amercanist scholars use data in their research. Marcello Canuto (Tulane University) will present on the use of Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) and other geospatial methods in his work in Maya archaeology. In a discussion moderated by Claudia Brittenham (University of Chicago), we will then discuss benefits and challenges, helpful tools, and various approaches to implementing new technologies into field research. This event workshop is for students in any field who are thinking about the possible uses of spatial imaging and other types of technology-collected data in their own research.

Marcello A. Canuto is Director of the Middle American Research Institute and Professor of Anthropology at Tulane University. He has undertaken archaeological excavations in the Maya region, South America, India, north Africa, and the northeast US. His primary research interest in the Maya area has been on the integrative mechanisms that the ancient Maya used to build and maintain a socio-politically complex society throughout both the Preclassic and Classic periods. He now co-directs a project in the understudied Northwest Peten, Guatemala where he investigates the construction of social categories and the mechanisms by which complex socio-political organizations develop and were maintained.

Claudia Brittenham is Interim Director of the Center for Latin American Studies and Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Chicago. Her research focuses on the art of ancient Mesoamerica, with particular attention to the ways that the materiality of art and the politics of style contribute to our understanding of the ontology of images. Her current book project, Unseen Art: Vision and Memory in Ancient Mesoamerica, explores problems of visibility and the status of images in Mesoamerica. Ranging from carvings on the undersides of Aztec sculptures to Maya lintels, and buried Olmec offerings, it examines the distance between ancient experiences of works of art and the modern practice of museum display.

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Sponsored by the Roger Thayer Stone Center for Latin American Studies at Tulane University and the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Chicago, under the auspices of the Tinker Field Research Collaborative.

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A Discussion of Obscuro Barroco: "Imaginaçoes de Carnaval"

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Join Drs. Ana López, João Luiz Vieira, Leslie Louise Marsh, and Catherine Benamou for a discussion of the documentary film Obscuro Barroco.

Obscuro Barroco is a documentary-fiction film about the dizzying heights of gender and metamorphosis in Rio de Janeiro. Following the path of iconic transgender figure Luana Muniz (1961-2017), the film explores the different quests for the self, through transvestism, carnival and political struggle. In turn, it asks questions about the desire for transformation of the body, both intimate and social.

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Special thanks to the Department of Spanish and Portuguese and the PORTulane community, the Department of Communication, and the Howard Tilton Memorial Library for co-sponsoring this project.

Kaqchikel/K'iche' Language Table: K'iche' Language Learning

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Join fellow students, teachers, and native speakers to practice your Kaqchikel language skills and deepen your understanding of Kaqchikel culture. This event is held on the last Thursday of each month for the duration of the Spring 2021 semester.

The April 29th session will focus on K’iche’ language learning with guest speaker Nela Petronila Tahay Tzay. It will be facilitated by Ignacio Carvajal.

Global Read Webinar Series Spring 2021

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The Stone Center for Latin American Studies coordinates the annual CLASP Américas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature and is excited to collaborate with other world area book awards on this exciting online program. Join us this spring 2021 as we invite award winning authors to join us in an online conversation about social justice, the writing process and an exploration of culture and identity across world regions. This annual Global Read Webinar series invites readers of all ages to join us as we explore books for the K-12 classroom recognized by world area book awards such as the Africana Book Award, the Américas Award, the Freeman Book Award, the Middle East Outreach Council Book Award, and the South Asia Book Award.

Each webinar features a presentation by an award-winning author with discussion on how to incorporate multicultural literature into the classroom. Be sure to join the conversation with our webinar hashtag #2021ReadingAcrossCultures.

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SPRING 2021 SCHEDULE – Read more about the program here.
All webinars are at 7:00 PM EST.

  • January 12 – The Américas Award highlights the 2020 Honor Book, The Moon Within by Aida Salazar
  • February 3 – The Children’s Africana Book Award highlights the 2020 book award winning, Hector by Adrienne Wright
  • March 11 – The Middle East Outreach Award presents 2020 Picture Book award winner, Salma the Syrian Chef by Danny Ramadan, illustrated by Anna Bron
  • April – Freeman Book Award, a project of the National Consortium for Teaching Asia will present a book TBD.
  • May 13 – South Asia Book Award presents The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani

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All sessions are free and open to the public. All times listed refer to Eastern Standard Time (EST). Sponsored by the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs, the South Asia National Outreach Consortium, the Middle East Outreach Council, and African Studies Outreach Council, The National Consortium for Teaching about Asia.

Reading Latina Voices Online Book Group for High School Educators

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This spring 2021 we invite all K-12 educators to join us once a month in an online book group. This past year has been a challenging one for everyone but especially K-12 educators. Sign up and join us as we explore the stories of women confronting identity as Latinas in the United States. Tulane University’s Stone Center for Latin American Studies, AfterCLASS and the New Orleans Public Library partner to host this online book group. The books selected are recognized by the Américas Award and focus on the Latina experience. The group begins with the work of award-winning author and poet, Elizabeth Acevedo who will speak in a unique online format on March 23rd presented by Tulane University’s Stone Center for Latin American Studies and Newcomb Institute.

  • B) Free – you find your own copies of the books at your local library.

REGISTRATION DEADLINE IS JANUARY 29, 2021

Reading Schedule – Thursdays at 6:00 PM CST

  • February 11 – Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
  • March 18 – The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
  • April 15 – American Street by Ibi Zoboi
  • May 13 – The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano by Sonia Manzano

Sponsored by AfterCLASS and the Stone Center for Latin American Studies at Tulane University and the New Orleans Public Library.