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Guatemalan first lady's divorce creates uproar

By Rafael Romo, CNN Senior Latin American Affairs Editor
Sandra Torres, presidential candidate for the Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza (UNE) and Gran Alianza Nacional (GANA) parties, delivering a speech in San Marcos on April 8.
Sandra Torres, presidential candidate for the Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza (UNE) and Gran Alianza Nacional (GANA) parties, delivering a speech in San Marcos on April 8.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Impeachment calls for president after wife divorces
  • Her action frees her to run for president
  • Congressman says swiftness of divorce is suspicious
  • Opposition calls it electoral fraud

(CNN) -- It's final. Five weeks after announcing that she would seek a divorce from her husband, Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom, Sandra Torres is no longer Guatemala's first lady. A family court in Guatemala City has granted the divorce petition. It's a controversial case that has created uproar in the mostly conservative and Catholic Central American nation.

The 51-year-old former first lady announced in early March her intention to succeed her husband as president at the end of his term in January 2012. There was one problem, though: Close relatives of the president, including spouses, are constitutionally barred from running for office. Her solution? Filing for divorce. That's exactly what she did the week after her announcement.

Edwin Escobar, a spokesman at the court, confirmed the divorce decree issued by Judge Mildred Roca Barrillas, is final. "Because the divorce was filed voluntarily and nobody closely related to the couple objected to it, the court ruled in favor of granting the divorce request," Escobar said.

A total of 15 individuals, organizations and political parties filed motions in an effort to block the divorce petition, calling it a "political move." But according to Escobar, the court chose to leave those matters to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, the Guatemalan institution that oversees elections. The court ruled that the divorce petition was "a civil, individual, private and voluntary case" and that's why only the petition filed by Torres was considered, Escobar said.

The tribunal wouldn't consider the allegations on the couple before May 2, when candidates can file to run for the presidency.

President Colom has repeatedly said his former wife has the right to run for the presidency. When announcing her candidacy, Sandra Torres said she was divorcing her husband and "getting married to the Guatemalan people. ... I have the legitimate right to participate. I have the constitutional right, human right, political right and also the people who have asked me to participate have the right to be represented by me as a presidential candidate and also in the next administration," Torres said.

Colom leads the social-democratic National Unity of Hope (Spanish acronym UNE), a political coalition under which his former wife would also run for the presidency.

As expected, the opposition is crying foul. Congressman Gudy Rivera of the Patriotic Party says the couple's motives are purely political. "This is not a divorce. This is electoral fraud," Rivera said. "The Guatemalan people are worried because they have realized that President Colom and Torres are conspiring to violate the constitution."

Rivera also questioned the swiftness with which the divorce was processed. "There are currently 600 divorce petitions in the system that had been waiting prior to this decision," he said. He suggested the couple had used their influence to quicken the process. "They would do anything to perpetuate themselves in power," Rivera said.

A group of former legislators who were responsible for writing the 1984 constitution that includes the ban against close relatives of the president running for office is calling for impeachment against Colom under the charge of conspiring to violate the constitution.

The presidential elections in Guatemala will be held on September 11.

 
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