Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Why the Mexican Constitution is worth celebrating

February 5 is an important day in Mexico’s political history — and a public holiday — as it marks the enactment of Mexico’s constitution, officially known as the Constitution of the United Mexican States.

Enacted on Feb. 5, 1917, after the Revolution, it is one of the world’s oldest constitutions still in effect.

Since its inception, the constitution has become essential to the country’s legal framework. It established a new social, economic, and political system to create a modern and democratic state and is the primary legal source for court decisions, rulings and laws. 

In other words, it is Mexico’s supreme law.

Today’s story will help you understand how the Constitution helped shape the country you know today, and how it reflects Mexico’s current reality and the direction in which it is heading towards the future. 

What was the political and social context at the time of the Constitution’s creation?

When the Constitution was enacted, Mexico was in the midst of the last years of the Mexican Revolution, an internal conflict that began in 1910 to overthrow President Porfirio Díaz’s 35-year dictatorship during a time of extreme social inequality.

Following Díaz’s resignation, the nation went through a turbulent period electing a new president while trying to address the social issues faced by the indigenous people and peasants. These groups were brought together by Emiliano Zapata’s well-known slogan, “The land belongs to those who work it.”

Finally, in 1917, Venustiano Carranza became president and enacted the Constitution, setting the base for Mexico’s new era as a democratic country. 

This Constitution not only set the path to change the country, but was also revolutionary worldwide, as it was the first to include social rights in its text.

What were the key principles and rights the constitution recognized?

The Carta Magna, as it is often referred to in Mexico, was the result of two significant constitutions which came together after the Revolution — that of 1857 and 1917.

The constitution of 1857 laid down the principles of equality, freedom and property ownership. It abolished slavery and ensured freedom of religion. It also expanded various freedoms such as education, work, thought, association, commerce and printing. 

The same constitution also established Mexico as a federal republic with three branches of power: executive, legislative and judicial.

Meanwhile, the 1917 constitution, which was built upon the foundations of the 1857 one, incorporated the social demands of the Revolution. These demands included the concept of more autonomy for municipalities, addressing workers’ rights, and implementing free and mandatory education.

One of the most important additions to the 1917 constitution was the agrarian reforms, which aimed to distribute land to farmers, provide them with legal ownership of their workspace, ensure food access and grant them organizational autonomy.

The lasting impacts of the agrarian reforms are still alive and regulated under a special commission called Agrarian Commission, and a special branch of law called Agrarian Law. 

What are some recent big changes to the Constitution?  

Mexico’s constitution constantly evolves to respond to current issues and social demands. 

One of the most significant changes in modern history was the constitutional reform of 2011 in the field of human rights law. This reform recognized that human rights are not granted by the state; rather, individuals are inherently born with certain rights that the state must acknowledge and respect.

To align with this international notion, the Constitution replaced the term “individual guarantees” with “human rights.” The amendment also integrated the rights outlined in international human rights treaties into the Constitution.

Other recent modifications include the right to free development of personality; sexual and reproductive rights (which includes the legal termination of pregnancy); mobility; and other economic, social, cultural, electoral, and environmental rights. 

These changes can tell us about Mexico’s current social and political context, and where it is heading in the near future. 

The juicio de amparo is frequently mentioned in Mexican news. What is its relationship to the Mexican Constitution?

The juicio de amparo (amparo trial) is a trial that anyone can access to, to protect their human rights enshrined in the constitution. 

In Mexico, the juicio de amparo is the most important defense mechanism available to anyone — whether a person or a company — who believes the Mexican government is violating their rights. This legal process allows individuals to act against the responsible authorities, whether due to their acts or omissions in carrying out their official duties.

A juicio de amparo can also be triggered by a foreigner, as was the case of French national Florence Cassez, who was convicted of helping her boyfriend run a kidnapping ring and later released. Her case is now a Netflix series.

The juicio de amparo can also protect someone from the effects of a new law, as happened last year with the anti-smoking law

Who interprets the Constitution?

Like in the United States, Mexico’s Supreme Court of Justice (SCJN) interprets the country’s constitution. 

While there are several ways that the SCJN can get involved in a case, the most common one is when it takes on a juicio de amparo that it considers relevant to Mexico’s public life. 

The SCJN’s verdict sets the direction for how authorities in all other branches of power should apply the Constitution.

How many times has the Mexican constitution been amended?

According to the Legal Research Institute of Mexico’s National Autonomous University (UNAM), until February 2023, the constitution had been subject to 252 reform decrees, which means 748 article changes.

In contrast, the Constitution of the United States of America, which has been in effect since 1790, has undergone some 30 revisions and updates. These changes are primarily the result of interpretation (or case law), by the Supreme Court and other judicial bodies.

It’s important to note that in Mexico, constitutional reforms are just a first step toward changing how laws affect the average person.

To become a reality, a constitutional reform requires the creation of laws and regulations that enforce the provisions of the new text. Therefore, it can take months to years for the effects of a constitutional reform to become visible in the public sphere.

Gabriela Solís is a Mexican lawyer based in Dubai turned full-time writer. She covers business, culture, lifestyle and travel for Mexico News Daily. You can follow her life in Dubai in her blog Dunas y Palmeras


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