NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Fiddling With Constitutions In Latin America

August 30, 1998

Some critics say that tinkering with their countries' constitutions is the national pastime of politicians in Latin America. As a politician assumes power in a country, he is likely to impose a constitution tailored to his own needs and recruit jurists willing to bend to his will.

Observers report that the process fills the average citizen with apathy and cynicism.

  • The Dominican Republic has had 32 different constitutions in just over 150 years, and Haiti has had 24 since 1804.
  • Venezuela is South America's champion, with 25 separate charters in 187 years.
  • In Central America, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua have each had 14 constitutions since splitting with Spain early in the 19th Century.
  • Colombia appears to have been the most stable -- but it still changed the rules 12 times since 1810, last adopting a new constitution in 1991.
Often the change is prompted by the desire of the head of state to remain in office. Over the past five years, the heads of Peru, Argentina and Brazil have all sought, and gained, constitutional changes that allowed them to seek re-election.

Panamanians will go to the polls today to vote on a measure that would allow their president to seek a second consecutive term next year. That country's current constitution has 322 articles.


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