Lawmakers take first step to expand Constitution

Lawmakers took the unusual step Wednesday of approving a rewrite of the first article of the Costa Rican Constitution.

Some 46 lawmakers who were present voted unanimously to add the words multi-ethnic and multicultural to the article that now reads  “Costa Rica is a democratic, free independent republic.” In Spanish the proposal would read Artículo 1.- Costa Rica es una República democrática, libre, independiente, multiétnica y pluricultural.

The summary for the measure says “Today it is not only opportune to recognize the integration and multi-ethnicity of our nation, but it is necessary and an obligation. In addition, it amends an historical error that makes invisible the contribution of the groups that make up this country.”

The measure is widely seen as recognition of the black Costa Ricans who mainly live in the province of Limón.

One of the main supporters was Epsy Campbell Barr of the Partido Acción Ciudadana who paraphrased and expanded the words in the summary when she said “It appears  to us that this is the opportune moment to vindicate the fight that has been going on for decades in our country to make visible the situation in which we persons of Afro-descent in Costa Rica live.”

The summary of the bill also speaks of many years of hidden discrimination.

President Luis Guillermo Solís Rivera, in a statement, applauded the vote by lawmakers. The measure is No. 17150, and it was put forward for this special legislative session by the executive branch. The bill has been in the hopper since 2008.

Despite the widespread support, there is no summary of exactly what this change will do. And the addition of the words multi-ethnic and multicultural say nothing about Limón residents or discrimination. However, they provide an opening for people of all races, nationalities or cultural orientations to assert a constitutional challenge, if the measure passes.

Solís noted in his statement that the next step is to submit the proposed legislation to the Sala IV constitutional court for review. The court almost certainly will find the change valid because it is to the Constitution itself. If so, a second vote will send the measure to Solís for his signature. That may take as long as a month.

The summary notes that international treaties outrank the Costa Rican Constitution, and many of these recognize cultural groups. In addition, a bill that was approved to create the Día de las Culturas, which is known in the north as Columbus Day, addresses the multicultural makeup of Costa Rica.

The Solís administration also would like to change the Constitution to eliminate the favoritism there for the Roman Catholic Church.

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