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Date: Fri, 16 May 97 19:25:25 CDT
From: rich@pencil (Rich Winkel)
Subject: El Salvador: Proceso: The Pro-life demagogues

/** reg.elsalvador: 35.0 **/
** Topic: Proceso 755: 30 April 97 ** ** Written 7:33 AM May 11, 1997 by in cdp:reg.elsalvador **
From: CIDAI/UCA El Salvador <>

Center for Information, Documentation and Research Support (CIDAI) Central American University (UCA)
San Salvador, El Salvador
Apdo. Postal (01)575, San Salvador, El Salvador
Tel: +503-273-4400 ext. 266 Fax: +503-273-5000

Constitutional amendments

Processo, No.755, 30 April 1997

After the culmination of an intense electoral effort, a number of hastily-devised constitutional amendments captured the attention of the political world in El Salvador. As we saw before (cf. Proceso 754), discussions around the constitutional amendments began during the second week of April, when the FMLN announced its first proposals to modify the financial system and the Electoral Code.

Meetings between FMLN leaders and President Armando Calderon Sol, in which the FMLN put forth its proposals, sparked a series of debates among the nation's different political groups about ways to define the future shape of the Constitution. The issues touched upon were many and varied, ranging from the most relevant (passage of a new Penal Code) to those which received least mention (passage of a Code of Military Justice and Army Regulations), and including a petition to respect life from the moment of conception, environmental reforms, the derogation of a statute of limitations on force disappearances, and others.

According to one newspaper report, there are 65 articles of the Constitution up for amendment, 24 of these at the request of the FMLN, 20 at the request of ARENA and the remaining 21 at the request of other institutions, including the National Council on the Judicial Profession (CNJ), FESPAD, CODEFAM, PUNTO and the National Ecological Union (UNES).

The obvious question which comes to mind given this avalanche of reform is: why launch such a delicate project just days before the end of the legislative session? The fact that 65 articles are up for modification means that one-fourth of the Constitution is about to be amended; now, if in a democratic system the laws are the fundamental pillar of the social structure, the fact that political parties and other sectors of society choose to run against the clock to amend the body of constitutional law is frankly upsetting. In the first place, this reveals the ineffectiveness, slowness and lack of political will of a system which, having three years to carry out its role, leaves for the end a legal restructuring, the scope of which would demand a serious and conscientious study which would guarantee that the reforms were carried out with the sole purpose of improving the Constitution and bringing it more in line with current needs. In the second place, it leads one to suppose that this pillar upon which society is founded -or claims to be founded- is not only not as solid as we thought, but is in fact far from being so.

The deluge of amendments which has recently taken over all political discussion, and has flooded the desks of legislators who are on the verge of leaving office, looks more like a horse race than a series of amendments aimed at improving the body of Salvadoran law. Instead of coming to an agreement to study carefully the deficiencies of the Constitution and possible ways of correcting them, the nation's political and civil sectors appear to have visited more than one "amendment fair," in which any petition is accepted as long as it fulfills the single requisite of being introduced a week before the legislative session is concluded.

The series of amendments, which are being so hastily studied by our now-overworked deputies, are not a systematized set of proposals by political parties and social sectors, but instead are a conglomerate of individual efforts -even if well-intentioned- which are trying to leave their marks one by one on the legislative work which is being wrapped up.

Whether or not this amendment race could bring something positive to the nation, the fact that our incipient democracy could admit such inopportune activity in trying to amend what constitutes its essence is more than discouraging. It means, then, that our nation's laws can be shaped at the whim and pace of its political and social actors, and that as a result, instead of forming a rigid structure which can hold up the weight of social dynamics, they have become a slack cord which swings along with their caprices and interests.

But if that were not enough, this hasty spate of amendments was joined by a cynical pretension -fed somewhat by the media- to highlight the supposed "consensus" behind it. ARENA and the FMLN appear to be in agreement on several aspects of the amendments. Who knows how much of this conciliatory spirit will remain when the majority parties are forced to negotiate problems other than the length of electoral terms or the Supreme Electoral Tribunal's independence from party interests -like, for example, privatization.

When it comes to hastily-passed laws, El Salvador has the recent experience of the Transitory Crime Law. It was not long ago-and this was expected from the start- that the inconsistencies of this law came to light: seven of its articles were proven to contain unconstitutional errors. What then can be expected from the amendments under discussion today, if the articles under modification reflect one-quarter of the Constitution and require answers is a shorter time-frame than the one offered the previous law?

Despite the optimistic winds blowing following the March 16 elections, the majority political parties -followed closely by certain sectors of civil society- decided to place a last-minute wager on a new Constitution drawn up in a few short days, and not only did they try to do it as nonchalantly as possible, but also under the guise of carrying out good, arduous work based on consensus. According to this questionable attitude, we are supposed to believe that what is being done to the Constitution is not only normal and unsurprising, but also that it is being done well, because that means that the road to consensus decisions about the future of the nation is wide open.

This shameless posture leads one to the conclusion that, just as it is impossible to be blase about modifying one-fourth of the Constitution in a few hours, so is it hard to accept that this hasty and sudden act could lead us to hope that our society is on the road to consensus. It is worthwhile reminding all the political and social actors involved in this "amendment fair" that, in the words of the old popular refrain, nothing is left of the road but the weariness. The danger lies in that not only the outgoing legislators will end up wearied, but also the nation in general.

Centro de Informacion, Documentacion y Apoyo a la Investigacion de la Universidad Centroamericana "Jose Simeon Can~as" (CIDAI-UCA)
Apdo. Postal 01-575
San Salvador, El Salvador
Tel: +503-273-4400
Fax: +503-273-5000