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Constitutionalism in the Hispanic World  

Jaime E. Rodríguez O.

The concept of a constitution, a political entity that determines how a people are governed, emerged in ancient times. The government of the Roman Republic (509–27 BC) influenced the Western world. Later, Romanized Visigoths adopted a charter, the Fuero Juzgo (654), in the Iberian Peninsula that integrated Roman and Visigothic legal systems. The document influenced regional political entities throughout the Middle Ages. In the 13th century, each of the realms of the Iberian Peninsula adopted individual rather than shared fundamental codes. In 1265, King Alfonso X established Castilla’s and Leon’s first constitution, the Siete Partidas. The New World obtained its own legal system, known as the Derecho Indiano (Laws of the Indies). Like the kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula, those of America created a compact between the monarch and the citizens of each realm rather than Hispanic America as a whole. These systems of uncodified legislation evolved to meet changing circumstances and societal norms. They provided corporations and individuals expanding opportunities for indirect and direct experience in self-government. In 1808, an unexpected upheaval transformed the Hispanic world. The French invaded Spain. Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte lured the royal family into France, compelled them to abdicate in his favor, and then granted the Spanish monarchy to his brother, José. The Spanish people did not accept the usurper king, José I. They formed the Junta Central to oppose the invaders. As the French continued to conquer the nation, they convened a Cortes, which met on September 24, 1810, in the port of Cádiz. Approximately 220 deputies, including sixty-five Americans and two Filipinos, eventually participated in the extraordinary Cortes of Cádiz. Deputies representing overseas dominions played a central role in developing the most progressive constitution of the 19th century. Despite the political chaos that surrounded the constituent congress, the delegates debated and eventually reached consensus on a modern, flexible charter that reconciled the competing interests of the multiplicity of areas and ideological positions represented at the assembly. They produced a constitution for the entire Hispanic world that made the executive and the judiciary subordinate to the legislature. It also increased the scope of political activity by establishing representative government at three levels: the city or town with a thousand or more inhabitants (constitutional ayuntamiento), the province (provincial deputation), and the monarchy (Cortes). The charter transferred political power from the center to the localities, and incorporated large numbers of people into the political process for the first time by redefining the concept of active citizenship (i.e., those eligible to vote). This fundamental document formed the basis for constitutional development throughout the Hispanic monarchy and for most charters promulgated in the nations that emerged after the breakup of that political entity.

Article

Hispanic Constitutionalism and the Independence Process in the Kingdom of Guatemala, 1808–1823  

Xiomara Avendaño Rojas

Unlike the French and North American revolutions, which fought against a monarchical power, the Hispanic political revolution began by evoking the memory of the beloved Ferdinand VII of Spain. The French invasion of Spain in 1808 had unimaginable repercussions; the government was reestablished in the name of the King, and the territories of the Americas that were convened in the Cortes participated in the development of a charter in 1812 that created a constitutional monarchy. In the Kingdom of Guatemala, the application of constitutionalism gave rise to tensions between elected officials and former royal appointees. By way of indirect elections, the isthmus took its first steps in the construction of a representative system, and worked its way up to local, provincial, and legislative power. The Declaration of Independence, which took place on September 15, 1821, along with the Plan of Iguala inadvertently brought about a type of “examination” in which the provinces, empowered by their sovereignty and autonomy, broke away from the metropolis but produced a dilemma: Mexico or Guatemala. Independent from the choice, they assumed full ownership of the government that originated from the 1812 Constitution of Cádiz. Few people called for a congress, and the traditional referent in the political community, the cabildos, chose the Imperio del Septentrión (the Northern Empire). After the fall of the monarch Agustín de Iturbide, in March 1823, a constituency was organized to decide on their future government as the Provincinas Unidas del Centro de América (United Provinces of Central America). The new republican project was issued in a second Declaration of Independence or absolute independence, signed on July 1, 1823.

Article

Democratizing Mexican Politics, 1982–2012  

Roderic Ai Camp

Mexico’s democratic transition provides a revealing case study of a semi-authoritarian political model evolving incrementally into an electoral democracy over two decades. One of the special features of that transition was its slow progress compared to its peers in Latin America, especially given its proximity to the United States, the most influential democracy in the last half of the 20th century. The first attempt to introduce fair, competitive elections occurred under the leadership of Miguel de la Madrid in 1983, but he reversed direction when he was opposed by leading politicians from his own party. His successor, Carlos Salinas (1988–1994), chose to pursue economic liberalization, opening up Mexico to greater competition globally, and negotiating an agreement with Canada and the United States (North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA), while maintaining an authoritarian presidency. During this era, proactive actors that fomented significant political change came from numerous sources. The following were particularly noteworthy in explaining Mexico’s shift to a democratic model: dissident elites who pushed for democracy inside the dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI); dissident elites who left PRI to form the most successful opposition parties in the 20th century, including the founding of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) in 1989; social and civic movements originating from government incompetence in addressing the results of the 1985 earthquake in Mexico City, the widespread fraud during the 1988 presidential election, and the Zapatista Army of National Liberation uprising in 1994; the altered composition of political leadership from the establishment and the opposition characterized by stronger backgrounds in local, elective offices, party leadership, and nonpolitical careers; new electoral laws reinforcing independent decision-making regarding electoral practices and outcomes in the 1990s; and the introduction of new political actors supportive of democratic change, such as the Catholic Church.

Article

Argentine Media Regulation, Fake News, and the Election of Mauricio Macri  

Mariana De Maio

November 2015 became a key date in the history of Argentina as former president Cristina Fernandez’ party lost the national elections by the narrowest of margins, less than 700,000 votes, to the right-wing candidate Mauricio Macri, ending a twelve-year run of one of the most progressive governments in the history of Argentina. Many analysts argue that large media conglomerates, especially the Clarín Group, played a significant role in the process leading to political change. Macri supporters in the city of Buenos Aires provided some reasons for their decision to vote for Macri and against Daniel Scioli, who ran on Fernandez’ party ticket. Their answers seem to be influenced by a series of fake news (misleading news articles) published by Clarín and La Nación, two leading news organizations in Argentina, during the months before the national elections. These misleading news stories were published in the front pages of those newspapers and at prime time in their affiliate TV and radio stations. Corrections and retractions rarely appeared in the front pages or prime time. Macri voters came to accept the initial news as legitimate and were influenced by them during the 2015 presidential election. Considering the insignificant margin of votes deciding the election, it can be argued that the two news organizations may have been instrumental in shaping the perceptions of just enough voters to swing the results in Macri’s favor. This suggests that dominant mainstream media have had a significant influence on voters’ attitudes and that this may explain in part the election’s outcome.

Article

The Independence of New Spain and the Establishment of the Mexican Republic, 1808–1824  

Jaime E. Rodríguez O.

The independence of New Spain was not the result of an anti-colonial struggle. Rather, it was a consequence of a great political revolution that culminated in the dissolution of the Spanish Monarchy, a world-wide political system. The movement was an integral part of the broader process that was transforming antiguo régimen societies into modern liberal nation states. The new country of Mexico that emerged from the break up of the Spanish Monarchy retained many of the shared institutions, traditions, and practices of the past. Although political ideas, structures and practices evolved rapidly after 1808, antiguo régimen social, economic, and institutional relationships changed slowly. Throughout this period of transformation, new political processes and liberal institutions merged with established traditions and practices. Two broad movements emerged in the Spanish World, a great political revolution that sought to transform the Spanish Monarchy into a modern nation state with the most radical constitution of the 19th century, and a fragmented insurgency that relied on force to secure local autonomy or home rule. These two overlapping processes influenced in a variety of ways. Neither can be understood in isolation.

Article

Digital Resources: Chile’s Centro de Investigación y Documentación (CIDOC) and Anti-Communism in the 1964 Elections  

Andrea Botto Stuven

The Documentation Center of the Contemporary History of Chile (CIDOC), which belongs to the Universidad Finis Terrae (Santiago), has a digital archive that contains the posters and newspapers inserts of the anti-communist campaign against Salvador Allende’s presidential candidacy in 1964. These appeared in the main right-wing newspapers of Santiago, between January and September of 1964. Although the collection of posters in CIDOC is not complete, it is a resource of great value for those who want to research this historical juncture, considering that those elections were by far the most contested and conflicting in the history of Chile during the 20th Century, as it implicted the confrontation between two candidates defending two different conceptions about society, politics, and economics. On the one hand, Salvador Allende, the candidate of the Chilean left; on the other, Eduardo Frei, the candidate of the Christian Democracy, coupled with the traditional parties of the Right. While the technical elements of the programs of both candidates did not differ much from each other, the political campaign became the scenario for an authentic war between the “media” that stood up for one or the other candidate. Frei’s anticommunist campaign had the financial aid of the United States, and these funds were used to gather all possible resources to create a real “terror” in the population at the perspective of the Left coming to power. The Chilean Left labeled this strategy of using fear as the “Terror Campaign.”

Article

Salvador Allende  

Steven S. Volk

Salvador Allende Gossens (1908–1973), democratically elected President of Chile in 1970, pledged to move Chile to socialism within a constitutional framework. A medical doctor by training, and a long-time member of the Socialist Party, Allende won a seat in the Chamber of Deputies in 1937 and the Senate in 1945. He campaigned for the presidency four times (1952, 1958, 1964, and 1970), always at the head of a coalition of left-wing parties. He was deeply committed to improving the condition of the country’s poor, workers, peasants, and women, insuring Chilean ownership of its natural resources, strengthening state ownership of the economy, and deepening popular democracy and worker control of industry. His program was undermined by the conservative opposition, conflicts within his own governing coalition, spontaneous revolutionary activism, and the unrelenting antagonism of the Nixon Administration. He died in a military coup on September 11, 1973, which initiated a 17-year long military dictatorship.

Article

Carlos Salinas de Gortari and His Legacy  

Stephen D. Morris

Mexico’s President Carlos Salinas de Gortari of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) came to power amidst crisis and controversy in 1988. Using a variety of old and new strategies and innate political skill, he largely surmounted the political crisis, gaining popularity and legitimacy for himself and support for the PRI, handing power off to his hand-picked successor six years later. During his six-year term, he implemented a series of neoliberal reforms, privatized state-owned enterprises, and overhauled and restructured the Mexican economy, turning the nation into a leading manufacturing exporter and one of the most open economies in the world. This included the historic signing of a free trade agreement with Canada and the United States in 1992. Yet many of the gains and achievements were tarnished by events in 1994. In the aftermath, Salinas would become one of the most reviled presidents in Mexican history.