San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Arias Administration Calls For Constitutional Reform

The Arias administration will push for a Constituent Assembly to change Costa Rica’s nearly 60-year-old Constitution and alter the interplay between the branches of government.

Calling the country “ungovernable,” Presidency Minister Rodrigo Arias said that local government should wield more authority and the Executive Branch should have more power vis-a-vis the Legislative Assembly.

“We have been mulling over this idea for some time,” President Oscar Arias said in a statement released Tuesday. “People have thousands of rights but no responsibilities, and that makes the country unable to function. …The country cannot progress at the speed demanded by modern times.”

The Legislative Assembly can make minor changes to the 1949 Constitution with support of a two-thirds majority. But substantial reforms can be made only by a Constituent Assembly, which would consist of elected officials nationwide and can be convened either by the Legislative Assembly or through a national referendum.

Marvin Carvajal, a law professor at the University of Costa Rica (UCR), said a constitution overhaul could erode social guarantees that have helped Costa Rica achieve greater social progress than its neighbors. He also said the Constituent Assembly members might weaken provisions that have kept abuses by the executive in check.

“Furthermore, if politicians haven’t been able to agree in the Legislative Assembly and other forums, what makes you think they can reach accords in a Constituent Assembly?”

Still, Legislative Assembly president Francisco Antonio Pacheco warned that without substantial reform, the political system could fail.

“It’s preferable to reform the Constitution in a calm, peaceful manner than to wait until a conflict breaks out – a very big conflict,” he said, hinting at the possibility of another civil war, such as the one in 1948 that ended in the drafting in 1949 of the current Constitution.

–Gillian Gillers


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