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Default Mexico Celebrates an 'Activist' and Amended Constitution

Mexico Celebrates an 'Activist' and Amended Constitution
By Allan Wall - Feb 2, 2009

February 5th is Mexican Constitution Day, a National Holiday now celebrated on the first Monday of February.

The current Mexican Constitution, a product of the Mexican Revolution, was drafted and approved in the central Mexican city of Queretaro. It was signed on February 5th, 1917. (The text has since been amended hundreds of times.)

Mexico’s Constitution is much longer than the U.S. Constitution, and more detailed. For example, it spells out responsibilities of local officials, even going so far as to stipulate that the government of a municipio (city/county equivalent) is responsible to operate a packing plant to butcher and process livestock.

The U.S. Constitution was designed for a limited-government republic. In contrast, the Mexican Constitution of 1917 was designed for an activist state, entrusted with granting social justice to its citizens. Its social guarantees are pointed to with pride.

The Mexican Constitution spells out the same basic rights as found in the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution – freedom of speech, religion, petition, and legal rights.

But the Mexican Constitution goes farther, guaranteeing Mexicans the right to a good job (Article 123), and decent housing and health (Article 4). And Article 123 spells out workers’ rights in detail.

Nevertheless, as Mexican history has shown, just because you decree a right doesn’t mean it exists. The U.S. economy, without such rights, has done a better job of providing employment, health and housing than Mexico’s has. But since such rights are guaranteed in the Mexican Constitution, politicians are expected to deliver them.

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). But Mexican weapons laws are more restrictive than in the U.S. Needless to say, this hasn’t prevented Mexican criminals from bearing arms and using them, including automatic weapons, rocket launchers and grenades.

The Mexican Constitution recognizes freedom of religion (Article 24), but puts more restrictions on churches and clergy than does the U.S. Constitution. For example, church activities are generally restricted to legally recognized church buildings (Article 24). Clergymen aren’t allowed to hold public office (Article 130), and until recently they weren’t allowed to vote.

The Mexican Constitution clearly spells out the rights and duties of Mexican citizens, and non-Mexicans residing in Mexico. Foreigners are forbidden from getting mixed up in Mexican politics. Article 33 stipulates that foreigners who violate this principle can be expelled from Mexico. From time to time a foreigner will be expelled for participating in a protest march. (Quite a contrast with the U.S.A., where illegal aliens have been known to openly march in demonstrations.)

Article 25 of the Mexican Constitution stipulates that the Mexican government is responsible for national development, which makes the government responsible for the economy. Article 26 stipulates that the government plan the economy. Thus, the more socialist orientation of the Mexican economy is based on its Constitution.

Article 27 decrees 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, which has made it difficult to reform.

Mexican agriculture is regulated in Article 27, which spells out how large farms can be.

Article 123 spells out the rights of laborers.

For the most part, the Mexican Constitution is held in high esteem in Mexico, though few Mexicans study its details. Nevertheless, it has its critics.

Among them is noted Mexican pundit Sergio Sarmiento, who says that Mexico’s Constitution has impeded the country’s progress. According to Sarmiento, “We have a Constitution that is complex and excessively detailed: rather than concentrate in the establishment of general guarantees, it deals with matters best defined in secondary law.... Rights to health, housing and employment, for example, can hardly be state guarantees, especially when the same Constitution establishes economic rules that impede an adequate generation of prosperity…. Article 123 establishes a quite detailed list of rights of workers that, far from making them prosper, has caused unemployment and massive migration to the United States, a country with labor law supposedly less progressive than ours…. There are many reasons, of course, for the poverty and injustice that characterize our country. But there is no doubt that the Constitution is one of them.”

That’s Sarmiento’s analysis, which by no means is a majority opinion. But one thing about the Mexican Constitution is that, if the political will is there it can be revised. And it has been amended over 500 times since 1917!
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