Guatemala's First Couple To Divorce For Presidency

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The president and first lady of Guatemala have filed for divorce, so she can run for president later this year. According to the Guatemalan Constitution, someone cannot run for president if he or she is a relative of a current or past president. Host Robert Siegel speaks with journalist Julie Lopez about how this story is playing out in the tiny Latin American country.


According to the Guatemalan Constitution, someone cannot run for president if he or she is a relative of the current or a past president, which raises that old presidential jurisprudential conundrum: It depends on what the meaning of is is.

President Alvaro Colom and his wife, Sandra Torres, have filed for divorce. And that way, they figure she can run for president in September.

The main rightwing opposition party calls that a fraud, and the Guatemalan Constitutional Court now has its work cut out for it.

Joining us from Guatemala City is reporter Julie Lopez.

And, Julie Lopez, can you tell us first, is this a sincere divorce, or a divorce of convenience for the president and the first lady?

Ms. JULIE LOPEZ (Freelance Journalist): Well, both the president and the first lady have said that the reason why they are divorcing is to prevent their case going to the constitutional court because a divorce would make her qualify as a candidate.

SIEGEL: And the court that will hear this case, what do we know about it? Is it generally well-disposed toward the president and toward his wife?

Ms. LOPEZ: It's more or less divided. There isn't clear support within the magistrates for the president. However, once the divorce is final, the case could still go to the constitutional court because many attorneys and political organizations are claiming what they call a fraud of law, which would be committed if they divorced in order to avoid having their case be heard before the constitutional court.

SIEGEL: Tell us a bit about Sandra Torres. I mean, is she a very well-known or very popular political figure in Guatemala?

Ms. LOPEZ: Yes, she's very well-known, and she's popular both for good and bad reasons. Her mother used to be the governor of one of the largest departments in the country. Also, she's heading two programs that have been quite controversial.

So the main program involved handing remittances to poor families in exchange for them to sending their kids to school and to the doctor. The main purpose of the program is to prevent children being sent to work to increase their family's income.

And the reason it's been controversial is because there are several allegations that not all the funds are being directed to these programs but are being used for political campaign or for personal gain.

SIEGEL: And now if it comes down to a challenge based on this provision in the constitution against a relative of the president being a candidate, is there a lot of precedent there? Have there been cases at all like this one or relatives of past presidents who have been barred from running because of their connection?

Ms. LOPEZ: Yes, in 1989, the first lady, the wife of President Vinicio Cerezo was denied from participating in the elections for the same very reason. However, this wouldn't necessarily mean that Sandra Torres would be denied participation in this case.

SIEGEL: Julie, there are many Catholics in Guatemala. Divorce is not looked on kindly by the church. What do they make of a divorce of convenience, a tactical divorce in order to permit Sandra Torres to run for president?

Ms. LOPEZ: It does cause great uproar because some people are saying that their decision to get divorced in order to avoid the case going to the constitutional court is immoral and that it shows tremendous lack of respect for the institution of marriage.

So I guess one could say that of the groups that are criticizing the decision to divorce has two reasons: One, the moral implications of getting divorced. And the other one is breaking the law or committing a fraud of law by getting divorced to avoid going to the constitutional court.

SIEGEL: Well, reporter Julie Lopez in Guatemala City, thank you very much for talking with us.

Ms. LOPEZ: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Julie Lopez was talking about the news from Guatemala that the first lady, Sandra Torres, and the president, Alvaro Colom, are divorcing so that she can run for president despite a constitutional ban on relatives of a president or former president running for that office.

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