More Judicial Overreach: Supreme Court Declares National Budget Unconstitutional
In a pair of new decisions, the Constitutional Chamber of the El Salvador’s Supreme Court continued its ongoing judicial destabilization by directly targeting the country´s already unstable finances. While these types of decisions are nothing new, they reflect a serious escalation that directly threatens the government’s ability to meet its obligations both internally and to external creditors. The Chamber has been consistently and loudly denounced by the left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) as well as the Salvadoran social movement for its efforts to undermine democracy, the 1992 Peace Accords, and to maintain the privileges of the country´s oligarchic elite.
The first Constitutional Chamber decision temporarily suspended a recent reform of the Social Security Trust (FOP) meant to temporarily shore up the country´s finances and prevent another default like the one that happened earlier this year. The reform would have raised the government´s borrowing limit from privatized pension funds. Certainly, this reform would not solve the country’s long-term financial problems, but it would have allowed the government space to push for a sustainable reform to the failing pension system. The Court, once again riding to the rescue of private interests, declared this reform unconstitutional on the grounds that it would illegally limit the ability of the AFPs (private pension funds) to invest pensioner’s money. This decision not only pushes the government drastically closer to default, but also politically weakens the government’s ability to advance changes to the neoliberal model that the pension system is run on.
On the heels of this decision, the Constitutional Chamber declared the 2017 National Budget unconstitutional on the grounds that it was not entirely funded. In effect, this decision is a declaration of Judicial Austerity; the country will have to revert to last year’s budget, essentially ending all new spending and projects as well as substantially limiting the budgets of government agencies. The decision is part of ongoing attempts by the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) opposition party and its allies in the Court to paralyze the FMLN government in the lead up to the 2018 mid-term elections and 2019 presidential elections.
These decisions are especially troubling for the functioning of the democratic system of checks and balances. Through the Chamber’s decisions, the judiciary has assumed a unilateral veto power over state functions. By using dubious logic to strike down FMLN-backed legislation, the Court has elevated its own power and taken over functions that belong to the legislative and executive branches. Following the ruling, Constitutional Magistrate Rodolfo González said, “You have to understand that any decision the President makes is subject to the Constitutional Chamber.”
The Chamber’s decisions have provoked widespread outrage and protest. At a recent protest, Marielos de Léon of COMPHAS (Popular Concentration for a Country without Hunger and Security) stated: “These resolutions of the Chamber seek to drown the government finances as well as the poor, who are supported by the [government’s] social programs. We believe that these decisions are part of an agenda dictated by the ARENA party to benefit the dark interests of organized crime, this judicial system carried out through the dictatorship of the four magistrates who do not respond to the needs for justice of the most vulnerable sectors of the Salvadoran people.”