Constitutional conventions

Did it ever occur to you that there are people whose job it is to write constitutions?  Well such a thing exists.  According to the Washington Post, a group of Spanish constitutional scholars have been instrumental in the latest round of constitutional referendums taking place in Latin America.

In all three cases, from the Venezuelan charter in 1999 to the new constitutions in Ecuador last year and Bolivia last month, a team of Spanish legal scholars influenced the conception, drafting or implementation of the documents, which have stirred domestic class tensions and harmed relations with the U.S. government. The leader is Roberto Viciano Pastor, an author and constitutional law professor at the University of Valencia whose technical, and some say ideological, assistance in writing the constitutions is generating new scrutiny across South America.

It makes sense in a certain way.  Because of poor education and troubled history, there is probably a paucity of constitutional scholars in most Latin American countries.  I know that after the invasion of Iraq in 2003 the Department of State imported a bunch of American PhDs to write the Iraqi constitution.  But that doesn’t mean its as it should be.  Bringing in scholars from the West to make your law for you seems to me like a challenge to national sovereignty.  The Post describes the Spanish legal community this way: “But an air of mystery still clings to the work of the group, which operates largely beyond the scope of the public debate, according to assembly members in Ecuador and Bolivia.”

Furthermore, for Chavez or Morales to bring in guys like these–and pay them up to $120,000–helps the Latin American leaders to monopolize the political/legal conversation.  But at the same time, they have written extensively liberal constitutions:

The final products are sprawling documents. While the U.S. Constitution has seven articles and 27 amendments, Venezuela’s constitution has 350 articles, Bolivia’s has 411, and Ecuador taps out at 444. Each document spells out a lengthy list of rights. The Bolivian constitution, for example, guarantees rights to food, water, free education and health care, sewer service, electricity, gas, mail and telephones, cultural self-identification, privacy, honor, dignity and a life free from torture and physical, psychological or sexual violence. There are special rights for children, old people, families and the disabled and 18 different rights for indigenous groups.

Ah, the complexities of populism!



Filed under Democracy, Latin America

2 responses to “Constitutional conventions

  1. abu max

    When everything is a right, nothing is a right. It’s just populist hot air, emitted so that poor, disenfranchised people legitimately resentful of the elites will think that 50% of nothing is something. Since these are countries that can’t feed, house or take care of their needs for energy, communications or much of anything else, the “right” to goodies is precisely nothing. No mention of property rights, I notice. The consequence: investment in Bolivia has fallen from about $1.5 billion before Morales took office to less than $200 million this year. As for the clever Lula, while he was protecting his left flank at the Social Forum, his foreign minister, finance minister and central bank president were carrying the torch at Davos. “There is greater demand for Lula than there is supply,” Foreign Minister Celoso Amorim told a Davos panel in explain the president’s absence. In the final analysis, these constitutions were all written during the greatest commodities boom in history. The well is now dry. When the populism turns against these guys who, speaking of entitlement, feel entitled to stay in office forever, it won’t be pretty.

  2. Max

    Ya Baba! As usual, you know more than I, and most people. You need your own blog. But can you really measure this in investment? The los Nativos have finally claimed power for themselves after five hundred years. Even with your market cynicism, you have to admit there’s something sweet about that.

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