High court boots Sandra Torres out of Guatelmala's presidential race

The former first lady divorced President Alvaro Colom to sidestep Guatemala's ban on presidential dynasties. But a ruling from the country's highest court still determined her ineligible.

Jorge Dan Lopez/Reuters
A supporter of Sandra Torres, Guatemala's former first lady and presidential candidate for the center-left National Unity of Hope party, cries after hearing the rejection of Torres' candidacy appeal outside the Constitutional Court in Guatemala City on Monday.

In what should be the final ruling on the matter, Guatemala's Constitutional Court affirmed the rulings of the Supreme Court and the Supreme Electoral Tribunal that said former first lady Sandra Torres may not run for president (BBC, Prensa Libre).

Torres divorced President Alvaro Colom earlier this year to sidestep the constitutional ban on presidential relatives running for office. Various authorities have said that the divorce amounted to an act of fraud.

Step back and think about this for a second. Guatemala is a country notorious for weak institutions and a lack of the rule of law. Latin America as a region has seen presidents regularly alter, bend, or break the constitution in order to extend their mandates. Yet, the Guatemalan election and judicial institutions held their ground on this issue. The fact institutions worked as they should and the rules were followed is rather unexpected. If you had asked me to make a bet on the institutions halting an illegal candidacy six months ago, based on the track record of Guatemala and Latin America in general, I would have placed money against it.

The only recent similar example I can think of is when the courts blocked Colombian President Alvaro Uribe from running for an unconstitutional third term by changing the constitution again. Otherwise, the region's presidents and their parties have won almost all of the recent disputes on whether candidacies are legal.

I'm sure cynics will claim the rejection of Ms. Torres's candidacy has nothing to do with institutions. Rather the subversive forces working against Torres were simply stronger than the government's ability to push her illegal candidacy. But until proof of that comes to light, I'm going to take the optimistic view that the institutions held their ground. I can only hope this trend spreads to other issues in Guatemala where the institutions must hold their ground against the corrupt forces of various political and parallel powers including organized crime.

The government now has to decide what candidate to support in the election. They must also decide how much political capital to spend protesting this decision versus how much to focus on supporting a candidate who can defeat Otto Perez, who now has a very large lead over other competitors.

And, of course, from the tabloid perspective, it will be interesting to watch if the president and first lady will remarry given that the divorce didn't work out so well.

--- James Bosworth is a freelance writer and consultant based in Managua, Nicaragua, who runs Bloggings by Boz.

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