Another week of constitutional crisis

The stand-off between El Salvador's National Assembly and the Constitutional Chamber continues.   The dispute spilled over into the streets, and foreign diplomats urged the parties to look for a way to solve this impasse.

Protesters for and against the court marched through the streets of San Salvador on Thursday.   When the opposing sides met, there were small skirmishes leaving some 14 people hurt.   At least one report said that ARENA had bused in supporters to march in support of the court, but I had seen numerous messages on Twitter and Facebook among civil society groups calling for people to dress in white and march in support of the Court.  There is a video news report on the demonstrations from La Prensa Grafica at this link, and a gallery of photos here.

Not helping the situation in the country was José Luis Merino who gave a radio interview on Wednesday asserting that the Constitutional Chamber was out to get the FMLN.   Merino, a hard-line leftist and part of the FMLN's political commission, claimed that the Constitutional Chamber was prepared to rule that the formation of the FMLN was illegal.   It was a transparent attempt to rally the party faithful against the court.   The Constitutional Chamber issued a statement Friday dismissing Merino's claims and stating that the court did not have any proceedings before it regarding the status of the FMLN.

Diplomats spoke out about the crisis and urged the competing branches of Salvadoran government to reach a resolution.  US Ambassador Mari Carmen Aponte had a surprise meeting with the president of the Supreme Court and leader of the Constitutional Chamber, Belarmino Jaime.   The US position was voiced by Roberta S. Jacobson, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs: 
[W]e really do urge in the strongest terms possible that the two sides of this dispute really try and come together and resolve it. And I think that’s important. It is a Salvadoran dispute to resolve; it is not ours to opine on how it gets resolved. We would just like to see it resolved.
The Secretary General of the Organization of American States,  José Miguel Insulza, also urged the interested parties to seek resolution, while repeating that the issue was an internal one for El Salvador.

There seems to be sufficient support in the National Assembly to re-elect the 2006 judges to comply with the Constitutional Chamber rulings.  There is also support for a constitutional amendment to clarify when and how judges to the Supreme Court should be elected by the National Assembly to avoid this dispute in the future.  ARENA, however, which purports to want compliance with the court rulings, is refusing to support the re-election of all of the 2012 judges who were first elected last April.   ARENA wants a different group of judges.   Election of a judge requires a 2/3 vote of the National Assembly, so both ARENA and the FMLN have enough votes to block a judge if they desire.

The union for the court employees has taken possession of the Supreme Court facilities again.   They plan to make sure that Olvidio Bonilla (one of the 2012 judges whose election was invalidated by the Constitutional Chamber) can take possession of his seat on Monday as the president of the Supreme Court in replacement of outgoing president Belarmino Jaime.  

Although Dr. Jaime will end his three year term as president, he still has six years remaining as a Supreme Court magistrate.   The political parties in control in the National Assembly want Jaime out of the Constitutional Chamber, and when voting in April 2012, the National Assembly voted to transfer Jaime out of the Constitutional Chamber.   The Chamber, however, takes the view that the National Assembly has no right to transfer a magistrate out of the Constitutional Chamber when the legislature does not like his opinions.

The Central American Court of Justice says that it does not yet have a date when it plans to issue its final ruling on the conflict between the El Salvador's Supreme Court and its National Assembly.

And president Mauricio Funes was silent all week on the topic.


Carlos X. said…
Tim, it seems as though this week, the crisis settled in to the usual pattern of partisan allegiances while also reaching a new level of hyper politicization. On the one hand, the FMLN and ARENA seem to have become the major instigators in the standoff. There are notable outliers, like the popular FMLN mayor of Santa Tecla, Oscar Ortiz, who favors heeding the court's orders, and the historical (and very colorful) communist leader cum commentator Dagoberto Gutierrez, who follows most of civil society in supporting the "rule of law" position. But because the adrenalin is flowing, prompted by a very visible infusion of ARENA and FMLN fuel to the fire, the discourse surrounding the standoff has gotten more course and polarized, with the recycling of old political accusations (that ARENA wants to the court to obey business interests, that the FMLN is deliberately trying to erode democratic institutions, etc.) What appears to be missing is anyone to mediate the conflict, with most institutions (the OAS, the U.S., other regional governments) saying (at least, publically) that it's a Salvadoran problem. If only the Central American Court were not in the middle of the dispute, this might have been a good conflict for SICA or PARLACEN to attempt to arbitrate.