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After suffering authoritarian regimes and blood-shedding military dictatorships – in many of which human rights were seriously violated- Latin American countries have regained elected civil governments in the last two decades.

This democratic recovery took place in a context of misery, social distress, high infant mortality, low educational levels, closed and predominantly agricultural economies, low industrial development and important external debt.

There were great expectations of reaching economic development with social equality through the exercise of popular sovereignty.

As from the 90s, countries in the region have faced important economic changes. Free market, open economies, privatizations, structural reforms in the state (both in its size and in its intervention in economic processes), public expense adjustments, fiscal balance, etc, were predominant ideas at the time. The globalization process and foreign trade interdependence brought about a set of fresh ideas but also a widening gap between the rich and the poor .

The strong feeling of being facing a “re-founding” process raised debates about new institutional arrangements which were afterwards applied to procuring “better administrations” to reach those aims.

The main concerns were to achieve stable governments, to consolidate the basic premises of a democratic regime and to try to achieve greater efficiency in public officials’ performance. Needless to say, constitutional modifications differed according to the country. Even having a common pattern, dissimilar social and political realities in each country called for different constitutional amendments.

I will try to roughly point out some concerns common to these reforms and to outline the debate on types of government that have taken place along these years. I will then try to show the different ideals underlying those constitutional reforms, and finally draw some conclusions that will be necessarily provisional in a complex and changing context.


2002 SELA – Law as Object and Instrument of Transformation – Punta del Este, Uruguay

GilLavedraPaperSpanishSELA2002.pdf (101 kB)
Spanish Version