A Snapshot of Constitutionalism in Latin America

Highlighting and Commenting upon the Findings of Two Scholarly Articles and One Expert Commentary

By Dr. JEAN-PAUL GAGNON | 26.09.2011


“This review explores the major contributions of three recent scholarly arguments on constitutionalism in countries of the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region. The papers stress the ongoing transformative constitutional challenges in the region and caution that international organizations should take these into account.”


constitutionalismAs the Latin American region (inclusive of the Caribbean) continues to grow in political, economic and social significance, it will attract considerably more attention from members of the social sciences academy internationally. The Texas Law Review has recently released works that have taken Latin American constitutionalism as their central theme. Three highly relevant pieces for practitionersin the LAC have been chosen for review. Although these papers were published by a North American institution, at least two of the authors are Latin American (Rodrigo Uprimny and Gabriel L Negretto). Although not directly from Latin America, Professor Jonathan Hartlyn is a leading expert in Latin American studies and is especially concerned with democratization in the region.


Based on an analysis of constitutional reforms in the LAC from 1978 to 2010, the three papers highlight the following:

  • the various commonalities in constitutional reforms found in the LAC, namely perpetuating state ideologies and the responsibilities of the citizenry (Uprimny, bottom of page1591)
  • the increased advocation of pluralism over singularity (Uprimny, second paragraph of page 1587)
  • The papers note various uncertainties in the constitutional reform processes in the region:
    • uncertainty as to whether constitutional reforms have been complementary or contradictory: this can have negative effects on the quality of governance and law in the region (Negretto, pp. 1777-1778)
    • uncertainty concerning the effectiveness of constitutional reforms (Negretto, 1778; Uprimny, 1592)
  • It appears clear that recent changes in LAC constitutions have not led to a clear path forward for better politics: rather they have led to the opportunity for more reform with that end goal in mind (Hartlyn, pp. 1982-1983)
  • Political parties are considered to have “weak programmatic links with voters” in the LAC (Negretto, 1805)
  • It appears that the authors recommend:
    • Practitioners to observe constitutional reforms with an eye toward their effectiveness or ability to solving challenges inherent to a given society affected by the constitution in question


In brief, this set of three papers gives us the wider realization that a country is not a nation-state but a ‘state of nations’ and that it is the appreciation of differences with a common end in mind that will lead to the ‘better society’.

In relation to other work on the subject (see Albert Weale, 2007, Democracy 2nd edition for more) these works engage the theory and place of constitutions which is constantly in question as there is tension between aggregating homogeneous cores, and how that is done, with the advancement of heterogeneous movements and how these replace, modify or conflict with established cores in constitutional form.

These papers, and the major arguments made within them, have strong implications for practitioners involved with governance, democratic development, and the growth of civil society, public policy formation, and public administration in the LAC.

 Dr. Jean-Paul Gagnon is a social and political theorist with a Ph.D. in political science. He completed his doctorate at the Queensland University of Technology under the aegis of Australia‟s prestigious Endeavour Award.

** To read these articles in greater detail see: Jonathan Hartlyn, “Constitutional Structure in Latin America”; Gabriel L. Negretto, “Shifting Constitutional Designs in Latin America”; and Rodrigo Uprimny, “The Recent Transformation of Constitutional Law in Latin America: Trends and Challenges,” all in the Texas Law Review, June, 2011.

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