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Column 020507 Wall

Monday, February 5, 2007

 

On Its Day, a Look at the Mexican Constitution

 

By Allan Wall

 

February 5th is Mexican Constitution Day.

 

The current Mexican Constitution was drafted and approved 90 years ago, on February 5th, 1917, in the city of Queretaro.  (Since then the text has been amended hundreds of times.)

 

Mexico’s Constitution is much longer than the U.S. Constitution, and more detailed.  For example, it spells out responsibilities of local officials, even going so far as to stipulate that the government of a municipio (city/county equivalent) is responsible to operate a packing plant to butcher and process livestock.

 

The U.S. Constitution was designed for a limited-government republic. In contrast, the Mexican Constitution of 1917 was designed for an activist state, entrusted with granting social justice to its citizens.  Its social guarantees are pointed to with pride.

 

The Mexican Constitution spells out the same basic rights as the U.S. Constitution — freedom of speech, religion, petition, legal rights — yet it goes farther, guaranteeing Mexicans the right to a good job (Article 123), decent housing, and health protection and care (Article 4). And the aforementioned Article 123 spells out workers’ rights in detail.

 

Nevertheless, as Mexican history has shown, just because you decree a right doesn’t mean it exists. The U.S. economy, without such rights, has done a better job of providing employment, healthcare and housing than Mexico’s.  But since such rights are guaranteed in the Mexican Constitution, politicians are expected to deliver them.

 

The right to bear arms is part of the U.S. Bill of Rights, and it is also guaranteed in the Mexican Constitution (Article 10).  But Mexican weapons’ laws are more restrictive than in the U.S. Needless to say, this hasn’t prevented Mexican criminals from bearing arms, including rocket launchers and grenades, as recent news reports demonstrate.

 

The Mexican Constitution recognizes freedom of religion (Article 24), but puts more restrictions on churches and the clergy than does the U.S. Constitution.  For example, church activities are generally restricted to legally recognized church buildings, and members of the clergy aren’t allowed to hold public office (Article 130) — plus until recently they weren’t allowed to vote. 

 

The Mexican Constitution clearly spells out the rights and duties of Mexican citizens, and non-Mexicans residing in Mexico. Foreigners are forbidden from getting mixed up in Mexican politics. Article 33 stipulates that foreigners who violate this principle can be expelled from Mexico.  From time to time a foreigner will be expelled for participating in a protest march.

 

(Quite a contrast with the U.S.A., where illegal aliens openly march in demonstrations).

 

Article 25 of the Mexican Constitution stipulates that the Mexican government is responsible for national development, which makes the government responsible for the economy.  Article 26 states that the government is to plan the economy.  Thus, the more socialist orientation of the Mexican economy is based on its Constitution.

 

Article 27 decrees that all natural resources are the property of the Mexican nation, whereas Article 28 forbids monopolies with the exception of those of the government.  This is the constitutional basis of PEMEX, the state oil monopoly, which Mexican politicians of all parties fear to privatize or even reform.

 

Mexican agriculture is regulated in Article 27, which spells out how large farms can be.

 

For the most part, the Constitution is held in high esteem in Mexico, though few Mexicans study its details. Nevertheless, it has its critics.

 

Among them is noted Mexican pundit and commentator Sergio Sarmiento, who says that Mexico’s Constitution has impeded the country’s progress. According to Sarmiento, “We have a Constitution that is complex and excessively detailed: rather than concentrate in the establishment of general guarantees, it deals with matters best defined in secondary law…. Rights to health, housing and employment, for example, can hardly be state guarantees, especially when the same Constitution establishes economic rules that impede an adequate generation of prosperity…. Article 123 establishes a quite detailed list of rights of workers that, far from making them prosper, has caused unemployment and massive migration to the United States, a country with labor law supposedly less progressive than ours…. There are many reasons, of course, for the poverty and injustice that characterize our country. But there is no doubt that the Constitution is one of them.”

 

Being a foreigner in Mexico, as per Article 33 I don’t meddle in Mexican politics.  It’s also true that different cultures produce different constitutions. However, I think Sarmiento’s constitutional criticism raises some important points, which Mexican legislators would do well to at least consider.

 

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Allan Wall, a MexiData.info columnist, recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq.  He currently resides in Mexico, where he has lived since 1991. He can be reached via e-mail at allan39@prodigy.net.mx.