Thursday, March 10, 2005

Bolivia and the Misadventures of Presidential Regimes

Hi class,

As I go over the Latin American newspaper before our class I was able to find several clips on the ongoing crisis in Bolivia. I could be willing to say that we are fortunate to have this crisis as a prime example of the problems and tensions that presidential regimes face and create due to their institutional design, if I were not haunted immediately by the idea of how costly are these kinds of situations for the region, and more costly for the poorest country of South America.

Part of the reason why presidential regimes are less efficient and more expensive, derives from the fact that in situations like the one Bolivia faced during the weekend and the first days of this week, the country as such enters in a cycle of social mobilization and protest that creates by itself too many problems: investment, production, planning, classes, are just a few examples of the kinds of problems that countries entering a crisis face.

The question, of course is, what could it happened if, facing the exact same type of situation Bolivia were a parliamentary regime? Fortunately, we have enough evidence from Europe during the 1970s and 1980s, to know how parliamentary regimes deal with situations of crisis.

Italy faced endless number of cabinet crises during the 1970s and 1980s. Several governments were created and ceased to exist as a consequence of such crises. However, the economy, the country as such, was able to keep working. Uncertainty was minimal, since the government, meaning the bureaucratic layers of it, was able to keep the show running with little or no interference, because of the provisions in the legal framework.

The problem with the crisis in Bolivia, on the other hand, as well as the crises that Argentina, Ecuador, and many other countries in the region have faced in recent years, is that once deadlock among political elites emerges, there is no way out. Then, the only possible solutions are (1) a clash of political forces, armwrestling to see who is able to put more people out in the streets (Bolivia and Ecuador); (2) the resignation of the President (Argentina, with president Fernando de la Rúa); (3) a coup d'Etat (Mexico in 1913 or Chile in 1973); (4) the president ruling by decree, with or without the support of the Congress (Colombia during the 1970s and 1980s, which creates much more tensions); or (5) an authoritarian regime like the one that existed in Mexico from 1934 to 2000, where deadlock was impossible because of the legal and meta-legal powers of the President.

As I mentioned in class and in my previous postings in this blog, it is impossible to assume that the experience of the United States is somehow replicable in Latin America, so do your best to detach yourselves from the relatively succesful experience of the U.S. and try to understand that Latin American economies are much more fragile, and that any political crisis inflicts severe damages to our economies.

Moreover, if you consider the information published so far about the kind of agreement that Carlos Mesa was able to reach with the Congress, you will be able to see that it has been extremely costly: almost six months in a deadlock, with continuous popular mobilization, deployment of police and army, uncertainty, erosion of an already battered economy.

Here I present you excerpts from Latin American constitutions on the issue of the resignation of the President.


Think also, that the presidents are not elected by the congresses, so the idea of resigning before the Congress is a last resort kind of thing. If you go over the Mexican Constitution, as an example considers the possibility of a resignation only in the case of:

SECTION 86. The office of President of the Republic can be resigned only for grave cause, which shall be passed upon by the Congress of the Union, to which the resignation must be presented.

That is all the instruction contained in the Constitution. There is no specific rule, and no clear definition of what constitutes a "grave cause".


The Constitution of Argentina offers no improvement:

SECTION 88. In case of illness, absence from the Capital City, death, resignation, or removal of the President from office, the Executive Power shall devolve upon the Vice-President of the Nation. In case of removal, death, resignation, or inability of the President and the Vice-President of the Nation, Congress shall determine the public officer who shall exercise the Presidency until the ceasing of the grounds of inability or the election of a new President.


The Bolivian Constitution is even more criptic when it comes to the issue of the resignation of the President. Here I use the Spanish original since there is no available translation (or at least I was unable to find it):

ARTICULO 93º I. En caso de impedimento o ausencia temporal del Presidente de la República, antes o después de su proclamación, lo reemplazará el Vicepresidente y, a falta de éste y en forma sucesiva, el Presidente del Senado, el de la Cámara de Diputados o el de la Corte Suprema de Justicia.

II. El Vicepresidente asumirá la Presidencia de la República si ésa quedare vacante antes o después de la proclamación del Presidente Electo, y la ejercerá hasta la finalización del período constitucional.

III. Cuando la Presidencia y Vicepresidencia de la República queden vacantes, harán sus veces el Presidente del Senado y en su defecto, el Presidente de la Cámara de Diputados y el de la Corte Suprema de Justicia, en estricta prelación. En este caso se convocará de inmediato a nuevas elecciones generales que serán realizadas dentro de los siguientes ciento ochenta días de emitirse la convocatoria.


In Peru the situation does not change significantly:

Artículo 113º La Presidencia de la República vaca por:
1. Muerte del Presidente de la República.
2. Su permanente incapacidad moral o física, declarada por el Congreso.
3. Aceptación de su renuncia por el Congreso.
4. Salir del territorio nacional sin permiso del Congreso o no regresar a él dentro del plazo fijado. Y
5. Destitución, tras haber sido sancionado por alguna de las infracciones mencionadas en el Artículo 117 de la Constitución.

Artículo 114º El ejercicio de la Presidencia de la República se suspende por:
1. Incapacidad temporal del Presidente, declarada por el Congreso, o
2. Hallarse éste sometido a proceso judicial, conforme al Artículo 117 de la Constitución.


On the other hand, the Ecuadoran Constitution includes a more detailed explanation of the process, however, the basic arrangement is the same:

Art. 130.- El Congreso Nacional tendrá los siguientes deberes y atribuciones:
Presionar al Presidente y Vicepresidente de la República proclamados electos por el Tribunal Supremo Electoral.
  1. Conocer sus renuncias, destituirlos, previo enjuiciamento político;
  2. establecer su incapacidad física o mental o abandono del cargo, y declararlos cesantes.
  3. Elegir Presidente de la República en el caso del Art. 168, inciso segundo, y Vicepresidente, de la terna propuesta por el Presidente de la República, en caso de falta definitiva.
Art. 167.- El Presidente de la República cesará en sus funciones y dejará vacante el cargo en los casos siguientes:
  • Por terminación del período para el cual fue elegido.
  • Por muerte.
  • Por renuncia aceptada por el Congreso Nacional.
  • Por incapacidad física o mental que le impida ejercer el cargo, legalmente comprobada y declarada por el Congreso Nacional.
  • Por destitución, previo enjuiciamiento político.
  • Por abandono del cargo, declarado por el Congreso Nacional.
Art. 168.- En caso de falta definitiva del Presidente de la República, le subrogará el Vicepresidente por el tiempo que falte para completar el correspondiente período constitucional.
Si faltaren simultánea y definitivamente el Presidente y el Vicepresidente de la República, el Presidente del Congreso Nacional asumirá temporalmente la Presidencia y convocará al Congreso Nacional para que, dentro del plazo de diez días, elija al Preside nte de la República que permanecerá en sus funciones hasta completar el respectivo período presidencial.

Notice that the Ecuadoran Constitution includes provisions that ultimately put the President at the mercy of the Congress. This comes as a consequence of the impeachement process (enjuiciamiento político), which opens the door for any majority in the Congress able to gather enough votes to defrock the President.

If any of you needs a more precise translation of a any of these constitutional sections, I will be very happy to do it for you. We will continue this dialogue later.


Anonymous said...

You quote of the Ecuadorian constitution, as stating, "“Presionar al Presidente y Vicepresidente” [literally. “pressure the President and Vice-President”]. This is an exact quote of the Ecuadorian constitution as published. Nonetheless, it contains a typo.Other versions of this text state, “Posesionar al Presidente y Vicepresidente” [“inaugurate the President and Vice President”], which is what the text should have stated.

Thank you,
Madeline Rios, Legal translator

Anonymous said...

You quote of the Ecuadorian constitution, as stating, "“Presionar al Presidente y Vicepresidente” [literally. “pressure the President and Vice-President”]. This is an exact quote of the Ecuadorian constitution as published. Nonetheless, it contains a typo.Other versions of this text state, “Posesionar al Presidente y Vicepresidente” [“inaugurate the President and Vice President”], which is the logical intended meaning of the text.

Thank you,
Madeline Rios, Legal translator

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