MEXICO CITY – The cool kids. The usual suspects. The ones everyone knows about.
That’s how a law professor wryly describes the constitutions of South Africa, Canada and other countries commonly discussed as blueprints for democracy when a nation, like Chile this year, drafts a new one.
“Everybody looks at foreign examples; it’s a question of degree. Constitutions are pretty formulaic,” said the professor, David Law of the University of Hong Kong. Law, who studies constitutions around the world, said in an email: ″There’s a lot of peer emulation going on.”
On April 11, Chileans elect an assembly to write fresh governing principles and put them to a national vote in 2022. The goal? A more inclusive country and the erasure of a much-amended relic of military rule, the 1980 constitution.
If Chile looks close to home, Latin America has tips on framing fundamental rules and rights. Red flags as well.
New constitutions in Ecuador (2008) and Bolivia (2009) sought to expand rights, including for Indigenous people, but democracy is uneven. Colombia's 1991 constitution aimed to defuse conflict, though violence is still a scourge. In Guatemala, corruption threatens the constitutional court. Panama's bid to redo its 1972 constitution is contentious.
“The Chávez-led constituent assembly in Venezuela is the cautionary tale par excellence — and the conservative opponents to the process in Chile bring it up all the time,” said Alexandra Huneeus, a Chile-born professor at the University of Wisconsin who examines law and rights in Latin America.
Chile, a regional economic standout, is a far cry from Venezuela, where the late President Hugo Chávez oversaw the approval of a 1999 constitution that concentrated his powers and set the tone for ongoing crises and conflict.