Guatemalan government may suspend liberties under state of emergency

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Álvaro Colom, President of Guatemala.
Image: Agência Brasil.

As part of a state of emergency declared on Thursday when the first case of H1N1 flu virus was confirmed in Guatemala, President Álvaro Colom proposed the suspension of rights guaranteed by the constitution of that country. The state of emergency, which must be ratified or rejected by the Congress of Guatemala by Wednesday, would limit the effect of the articles of the Constitution of Guatemala which provide for the liberties of expression and movement.

Representatives of opposition parties have criticized the measure, asking whether it is necessary to impose limits on freedom of expression in the country, where the third case of H1N1 was confirmed yesterday. Rosa María de Frade of Bancada Guatemala said, "We understand that the executive branch has to take preventative measures, but under no circumstances can we restrict the opinions of citizens, and the actions must be specifically targeted at resolving the crisis." ((Translated from Spanish))Spanish: ‍Entendemos que el Ejecutivo tiene que tomar medidas de prevención, pero en ningún caso se puede limitar la opinión de los ciudadanos, y las acciones deben ser específicamente orientadas a combatir la emergencia.

Roxana Baldetti of Partido Patriota compared President Colom's plan with the calamitous 1993 decision of former President Jorge Serrano Elías to suspend the constitution in the name of fighting corruption. Bereft of support, President Serrano Elías resigned a week later, taking up exile in Panama.

In a Friday press conference, President Colom insisted on the necessity of the measures: "In a case like this, we have to get behind the authorities, and I'm the elected authority in this country, and authority must be imposed in these times of crisis in order to avoid that someone, anyone, takes an attitude which might not benefit people's health, that's all." ((Translated from Spanish))Spanish: ‍En un caso de estos, todos tenemos que alinearnos a una autoridad, y la autoridad electa en este país soy yo, y la autoridad en estos momentos de crisis se tiene que imponer para evitar que alguien, algunos, etc., tomen actitudes que no vayan en beneficio de la salud de la gente; eso es todo.

The state of emergency, if ratified, would dilute the legal force of the rights recognized in Articles 5 and 26 of the Constitution of Guatemala. Article 5 provides that no person may be "persecuted or harassed for their opinions." Article 26 refers to the liberty of movement.

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