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Law & Ethics of Human Rights

Editor-in-Chief: Stopler, Gila

Editorial Board: Benvenisti, Eyal / Cohen-Eliya, Moshe / Macedo, Stephen / Rosenblum, Nancy

CiteScore 2018: 0.19

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2018: 0.118
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2018: 0.225

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Volume 12, Issue 2


Presidential Term Limits in Latin America: A Critical Analysis of the Migration of the Unconstitutional Constitutional Amendment Doctrine

David Landau
Published Online: 2018-11-29 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/lehr-2018-0013


Across a number of countries including Venezuela, Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Honduras, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua, incumbent presidents in Latin America have recently sought to amend their constitutions to eliminate or weaken presidential term limits. In some cases, these efforts to extend terms have been part of broader projects to consolidate power, weaken other state institutions, and tilt the electoral playing field in favor of incumbents. From a legal perspective, these cases are interesting because they highlight the limits of tools limiting constitutional change, such as eternity clauses and the unconstitutional constitutional amendment doctrine, to constrain potentially anti-democratic or anti-liberal forms of constitutional change. Although constitutional texts in most of these cases gave courts ample ammunition to reject attempts to eliminate term limits or at least to force those changes down more demanding paths, courts did not stand in the way of most of these efforts and in some cases even used the doctrines to eliminate rather than protect term limits. The case studies highlight the extent to which the “superficial” spread of doctrines controlling constitutional change may fail to block, and indeed may promote, forms of constitutional change that threaten liberal democratic constitutionalism. It also suggests possibilities for deepening the effectiveness of transnational dialogue on these issues.

Keywords: unconstitutional constitutional amendment doctrine; eternity clause; constitutional change; term limits

About the article

Published Online: 2018-11-29

Published in Print: 2018-11-27

Citation Information: The Law & Ethics of Human Rights, Volume 12, Issue 2, Pages 225–249, ISSN (Online) 1938-2545, ISSN (Print) 2194-6531, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/lehr-2018-0013.

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