Friday, October 2, 2009

Constitutional Metatext

Talking of Constitutions (I was, anyway) I recently mentioned that the Constitution of Honduras is an interesting document. It looks as though it was written with some understanding of what people will do to get power, and what they will try to do with power once they have it. Having seen what has happened around them over the decades, they are right to worry. That they have been able to produce something that states its intentions clearly, and puts the individual ahead of the state, is a considerable achievement. Constitutions are as Constitutions do, as my grandmother used to say, but the spirit is right. It starts like this:

"We, elected representatives by the sovereign will of the Honduran people, meeting in the National Constitutional Assembly, calling on the protection of God and the example of our great leaders..., carrying out the aspirations of the people who entrusted us with our mandate, approve this Constitution; may it strengthen and safeguard a State of Rights to ensure a society that is politically, economically and socially fair... and favours the conditions for the development of each person to their full human potential... in justice, freedom, safety, stability, pluralism, peace, representative democracy and the common good."

I like the feel of it, not only because of what it says, but because the way it is expressed suggests to me not horse-trading and obscurity, but a genuine common understanding of what a country should be, and a clarity of purpose.

It continues:

"Sovereignty vests in the people, from whom all the powers of the State proceed. The State exercise power only by representation.

The supplanting of popular sovereignty the usurping of the constituted powers are tipified as acts of treason... confirmed actions of this kind are invalid. The people are entitled to resort to armed resistance in defence of the constitutional order.

The possibility of alternating the Presidency of the Republic is obligatory."

It was these points they got Zelaya on. He tried to change the Constitution other than by the established mechanisms in an attempt to prolong his term of office.

The EU Constitution/Lisbon treaty is a dog's breakfast, the product of negotiations between bickering bureaucrats, worthless on its own terms as a document by which to govern the countries of the Union, and less than worthless in its contempt for democracy, freedom, justice or even just the practicalities of the Civitas.

The new Bolivian Constitution, just passed by referendum, is more poetic, but does not inspire in me any confidence for the future of that country, especially since Evo Morales remains in power. Try a few lines of the preamble:

"In days long gone and forgotten mountains were raised, rivers ran, lakes were formed. Our jungle, our woodlands, our highlands, our plains and valleys were covered with greenery and flowers. We filled our Mother Earth with different faces, and we understood the plurality of all things and the diversity of creatures and cultures...

Fulfilling the mandate of our people, with the strength of our Pachamama [a kind of mother goddess] and giving thanks to God, we refound Bolivia. Honour and glory to the martyrs of the liberation and foundation..."

It is pompous, florid, self-important and, despite a few nods to the will of the people, it is clear that it was written by people who think they know best and intend to do things their way. We shall see which nation is, in the end, better served by its bits of paper.

No comments: