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A presidential divorce in Guatemala to clear way for a presidential bid

March 28, 2011 |  4:47 pm

 

Sandra 

 

You’ve heard of the king who gave up his throne for the woman he loved. In Guatemala, a woman is giving up the man she presumably loves for a shot at the throne. Or, at least, the presidential palace.

First Lady Sandra Torres is divorcing her husband, President Alvaro Colom, so that she can run for his job in elections later this year. The Guatemalan Constitution not only prohibits presidential reelection, as many constitutions in Latin America do, but it also bans close relatives of a sitting president from running as a candidate.

The constitution was written in 1985 when a right-wing military held sway, and the intention was to close the doors to the presidency, not widen them. Rather than attempt to change the constitution, an arduous task, Torres, who has served in Colom’s Cabinet, decided to make it so that she was not a close relative of the president. Divorce.

Public opinion was not kind, especially among the elites and other opponents of the leftist first lady. Torres was accused of having committed everything from fraud to an “assault on social dignity.” A straw poll by the Siglo 21 newspaper showed 86% of respondents condemning the divorce move.

Virgilio Alvarez, head of the FLACSO office in Guatemala, said that a kind of “Sandra-phobia” has developed in Guatemala, whereby a lot of people just don’t like her. Not that she doesn’t have considerable baggage. Accusations of misuse of public funds (in a nation of notorious corruption) and other dark shenanigans have long swirled around her and Colom’s government. A secret U.S. diplomatic cable dated 2009 and disclosed by WikiLeaks called Torres the “most able” member of the government and the “most abrasive.”

Colom speaks of his feelings about the deal in this video of an interview with Mexican television, what both he and Torres call a "sacrifice."  So far, Torres trails far in the polls, and her eligibility may yet be challenged in court.

-- Alex Renderos in San Salvador

Photo: Sandra Torres addresses a crowd in Guatemala in this undated photo. Credit: Prensa Libre

 

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