Editorials | Issues | February 2008
|Comparing and Contrasting the U.S. and Mexican Constitutions
Allan Wall - PVNN
February 5th is Mexican Constitution Day, commemorating the day it was signed - February 5th, 1917. Nowadays, the official observance is on the first Monday in February, which in 2008 is February 4th.
|Raising the Mexican flag on Constitution Day, in Mexico City Zocalo (David Sanger)
Both the Mexican and the U.S. Constitutions are products of the cultures which produced them and the times in which they were drafted.
The U.S. Constitution was drafted in 1787, with the Bill of Rights added in 1791. It was a product of the Anglo-American political tradition, incorporating principles which had been developing in England since medieval times, the political experiences of the colonial and independence periods in the U.S., and other influences the drafters incorporated. It was designed for a republic with a limited government.
The Mexican Constitution was drafted in the early 20th century, as a result of the Mexican Revolution. The government envisaged in the Mexican Constitution is an activist state, dedicated to bringing about social justice among its citizens.
The Mexican Constitution is longer than ours, for which there are several reasons. The Mexican Constitution spells out in detail many legal principles, including the responsibilities of local governments. For example, it stipulates that the government of a municipio (more or less equivalent to a county) has to operate a slaughterhouse for livestock.
Mexico has a European Civil law system, in which it's more necessary to spell out legal principles in the constitution. The U.S.A. has an English Common Law system, in which legal principles are dealt with in judicial precedents.
Legal guarantees in the U.S. Constitution are much more limited - basically they are the rights to expression (press, religion, speech, petition) the right to bear arms and basic legal rights of the Anglo-American legal system.
The Mexican Constitution stipulates similar rights, but also guarantees that Mexicans have the right to a good job and decent housing.
However, as subsequent Mexican history has shown, just decreeing rights doesn't make them a reality! But since they are in the Mexican Constitution, the demand for them does exist.
The right to bear arms is part of the U.S. Bill of Rights, and it is also guaranteed in the Mexican constitution (Article 18). Nevertheless, over the years, gun rights have been severely restricted. Needless to say, this hasn't prevented criminals from bearing arms, including rocket launchers and grenades, as recent cartel violence shows so well.
The Mexican Constitution recognizes freedom of religion, but puts more restrictions on churches and clergy than does the U.S. Constitution. Until recently, clergymen weren't allowed to vote and still cannot run for office.
The Mexican Constitution spells out the rights and duties of Mexican citizens, and non-Mexicans residing in Mexico. This was a result of the various foreign interventions in Mexican history. Foreigners are forbidden from getting mixed up in Mexican politics. Article 33 stipulates that foreigners who violate this principle can be expelled from Mexico, and this happens from time to time. As a foreigner residing in Mexico myself, I honor this principle and don't get mixed up in Mexican politics.
Article 25 of the Mexican constitution designates the Mexican government as the "rector" of national development. That means that the government is responsible for the economy. Article 26 stipulates that the government plan the economy. Thus, the more socialist orientation of the Mexican economy is spelled out in its constitution.
Article 27 stipulates that all natural resources are the property of the Mexican nation and Article 28 forbids monopolies with the exception of government monopolies. This is the constitutional basis of PEMEX, the state oil monopoly.
Mexican agricultural law has its basis in Article 27, which spells out the maximum sizes for farms.
Both constitutions have been amended, though it's much easier and faster to do so in Mexico. In the Mexican Constitution, amendments are made by changing the section that is to be modified. Amendments to the U.S. Constitution are added in a separate section that follows the original document.
The Mexican Constitution has been amended nearly 500 times since 1917, whereas the U.S. Constitution only has 27 amendments, and 10 of them, called collectively the Bill of Rights, were added at the same time.
To understand either the U.S. or Mexico, one must take into account its constitution. Not that either country completely follows its respective constitution, but it's the necessary reference point in understanding its political system and much else.
Allan Wall is an American citizen who has been teaching English in Mexico since 1991, and writing articles about various aspects of Mexico and Mexican society for the past decade. Some of these articles are about Mexico's political scene, history and culture, tourism, and Mexican emigration as viewed from south of the border, which you can read on his website at AllanWall.net.
Click HERE for more articles by Allan Wall.