Bernal, Reforms?

This Panagringo editor opines that one of Panama’s great legal controversies ought to be already settled as a matter of constitutional law. No discrimination on account of birth? That may be taken to mean, as it historically has, that there is no such thing as illegitimate birth in Panamanian law. But aren’t gay men and lesbians born that way? It’s not as if one day they decide to be attracted to people of their own gender. And it’s not the only congenital trait with behavioral manifestations — a baby doesn’t think about it and decide to pick up the rattle with her left hand and be a southpaw, either. So if gay men and lesbians are born that way, isn’t the denial of their right to marry a person of their same sex a form of discrimination on the basis of the circumstances of their birth, thus prohibited by Article 19 of the Panamanian constitution? The problem, of course, is that under the rule of a self-centered white oligarchy and a corrupt political caste Article 19 has largely become a dead letter. The political and legal systems need to be unrigged if already enumerated rights, and others that ought to be specifically added, are to have any meaning at all.

Reforms – what for?

by Miguel Antonio Bernal V.

Once more, the power brokers opt to keep the militarist 1972 constitution in effect. Once more, they decide to do this without any true participation of the citizenry. Once again, they turn their backs on the great strides of constitutionalism made in many places in order to shut themselves in with their idolatry of populist authoritarianism and autocracy.

It’s known, but worth recalling again, that constitutional law teaches us that to “reform” the constitution mean to alter something in its articles without changing its essential substance. The militarist constitution has been in effect for almost 47 years and has been reformed on four occasions, but its reforms have divested it of neither its authoritarian barracks origins nor its substantive opposition to citizen participation.

The so-called “good government” has quickly embraced the reform proposal made by the “Concertación” – which represents nothing. They had sought approval by two legislatures, and will seek, once the proposal is approved by the cabinet council, to bring it before the National Assembly for “their” deputies to approve it and send to a referendum.

}The reforms, taken together, are in no way innovative, modernizing, explicative or corrective. What they do contain is the expression of those who have hijacked democracy: they want to maintain absolute control of the government structure in order to impose their private benefits, perquisites and privileges. It’s a precise restatement that they seek to reproduce the oligarchy dominated by kleptomaniacs, that they don’t have the slightest disposition to cede the control that they have over political power, that they are even less interested in us having a democratic constitutional state that’s understood as such and seen to flow from the power of a popular constituent assembly.

No doubt they will use all of the propaganda and advertising paraphernalia. There will be media manipulation. The Electoral Tribunal magistrates’ muscle will put money on the yes campaign’s referendum platter. Even with all that they will not be able to convince.

The constitution needs to be reborn. There’s no way to rationally think about that other than by way of a participatory constitutional process that allows for the full exercise of civic power, the power of a constituent assembly.


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