COVID 19, human rights, Politics

ABUSO DE PODER EN MEDIO DE LA CRISIS

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credito: bbci.co.uk

El sábado 21 de marzo, en una extensa cadena de radio y televisión, el presidente salvadoreño Nayib Bukele decretó una cuarentena por 30 días, advirtiendo que quien no acatara la orden, en lugar de pasar la cuarentena en su hogar, con su familia, la pasaría encerrado en un centro de contención.  Para el día siguiente, domingo 22 de marzo, la Policía y la Fuerza Armada habían detenido en la calle a por lo menos 300 personas; sin embargo, el Gobierno, la Policía y el Ejército solo tenían claro el tema de las capturas, pero no el del resguardo de los detenidos, por lo que fueron trasladados hacia delegaciones policiales como cualquier delincuente, porque no existía ningún centro de contención habilitado.

Frente a este hecho, La Sala de lo Constitucional, de la Corte Suprema de Justicia emitió una resolución decretando que ni la policía ni el ejército pueden detener y encarcelar a alguien por incumplir la cuarentena domiciliar, porque viola derechos humanos establecidos en la Constitución; pero los abusos continuaron. Una nota publicada por el periódico español El País, lo expone así: 

Las denuncias de arbitrariedades y abusos de fuerza se cuentan por cientos. El presidente  (Nayib Bukele) ha respondido públicamente que no es momento de discutir si sus rigurosas medidas contra la pandemia son o no constitucionales, y el día 7 (de abril) dobló su apuesta legitimando el uso de la fuerza: “He dado la instrucción al ministro de Defensa y al ministro de Seguridad de ser más duros con la gente en la calle, la gente que está violando la cuarentena”, dijo. Tres días después, un policía disparó dos veces en las piernas a un joven de 19 años sospechoso de violar el confinamiento. El joven asegura que fue por negarse a pagar mordida (soborno) a los agentes; las autoridades lo calificaron en un comunicado oficial de “accidente.”

La actuación de la Policía y del Ejército, durante 30 días, estuvo amparada principalmente en  la “Ley de Restricción Temporal de Derechos Constitucionales Concretos para Atender la Pandemia COVID-19″ aprobada por la Asamblea Legislativa a medidos de marzo para una duración de 15 días, posteriormente se prorrogó por un periodo igual. Esta Ley caducó el pasado 13 de abril y a pesar que el Gobierno solicitó al Parlamento una nueva prorroga, esta no fue concedida, precisamente por las denuncias de las arbitrariedades cometidas y no fueron abordadas.

En ausencia de este marco legal que respalde la detención de las personas y su reclusión en un centro de cuarentena, el gobierno emitió el Decreto Ejecutivo Número 19 que establece medidas similares o más drásticas, a la anterior ley. Por ejemplo: se establece  que toda persona que circule sin justificación y que se catalogue como caso sospechoso, deberá permanecer en un centro de cuarentena por 30 días. Además si la persona infractora se traslada en vehículo, este será sometido a desinfección y quedará en deposito en los lugares establecidos, la persona detenida solo recuperará su vehículo despues de pagar el costo del estacionamiento, luego de la cuarentena.

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credito: elmundo.sv

También el Decreto Número 19 establece que toda persona está obligada a permitir el ingreso de los delegados del Ministerio de Salud a inspecionar su casa. Para la abogada María Silvia Guillén esta disposición es insconstitucional, pues las autoridades pueden ingresar a una vivienda por el consentimiento de quien la habita o por mandato judicial, exclusivamente. “Cuidado policías y militares que están pretendiendo entrar en las viviendas con una disposición de un decreto ejecutivo”. Escribió la reconocida abogada en su cuenta de facebook.

Por su parte, la Sala de lo Constitucional de la Corte Suprema de Justicia (máximo tribunal de justicia de El Salvador) emitió una nueva resolución en la que reafirmó que la Policía no debe detener arbitrariamente a personas para llevarlas a centros de contención ni proceder al decomiso de vehículos, entre otras medidas restrictivas. Ante este hecho el presidente Bukele dijo que no acataría tal resolución y que continuará aplicando el Decreto 19, al cien por ciento, no importando que las resoluciones de este tipo son de obligatorio cumplimiento.

La desobediencia del presidente ha sido rechazada por un gran número de actores dentro y fuera del país. La Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (CIDH) instó al Gobierno de El Salvador “a cumplir las medidas ordenadas”. Así mismo, la Organización de las Naciones Unidas (ONU) publicó que en situaciones de emergencia el Estado de Derecho y el sistema de “pesos y contrapesos” son esenciales para asegurar los derechos humanos de las personas. Por su parte el congresista Jim McGovern, instó a Bukele a respetar los fallos judiciales, diciendo que el país necesita democracia y no a un gobierno autoritario, así mismo el líder del Comité de Relaciones Exteriores de la Cámara de Representantes estadounidense, Eliot Engel, lamentó el desacato de Bukele a la resolución de la Sala de lo Constitucional y urgió al presidente “a respetar los fallos judiciales de la Corte Suprema sobre el Covid-19” recalcando que “los líderes mundiales deben ser capaces de proteger tanto la salud como las libertades civiles”.

Pero todas estas recriminaciones y exigencias no parecen inmutar al presidente Nayib Bukele, ni a sus funcionarios de seguridad. Una nota recientemente publicada en el periódico digital El Faro, define la situación actual del país como una triple crisis: sanitaria, económica y democrática. La primera causada por un virus; la segunda por las medidas obligadas para combatir al virus; la tercera por un gobierno antidemocrático. 

Es necesario resistir, y sobrevivir, a las tres.

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credito: bbci.co.uk

ABUSE OF POWER IN THE MIDST OF THE CRISIS

On Saturday March 21, via an extensive radio and television network broadcast, Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele decreed a 30-day quarantine, warning that whoever did not comply with the order, instead of spending the quarantine at home with their family, would be locked up in a quarantine center. By the next day, the police and the armed forces had detained at least 300 people who had allegedly violated that order. The government, the police and the army were only clear on the issue of captures, and not on how to properly care for “detainees,” which meant that they were being transferred to police “lock ups” just like any other criminal, since there were no adequate quarantine centers built.

Faced with this fact, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice issued a resolution decreeing that neither the police nor the army can arrest and imprison someone for failing to comply with the domicile quarantine because it violates human rights established in the Constitution. Still the abuses continue.  A note published by the Spanish newspaper El País puts it this way: “The allegations of arbitrariness and abuse of force are in the hundreds. The president (Nayib Bukele) has publicly replied that this is not the time to discuss whether or not his rigorous measures against the pandemic are constitutional, and on April 7 he doubled down on his bid legitimizing the use of force: “I have instructed the Defense Minister and the Security Minister to be tougher on the people on the street, the people who are violating the quarantine,” he said. Three days later, a 19-year-old man suspected of violating the lockdown was shot twice in the legs by a police officer. The young man assures that it was for refusing to pay a bribe to the agents, while the authorities describe it as an “accident” in an official statement.

The 30-day activation of the police and the army was mainly protected under the “Temporary Restriction Law on Concrete Constitutional Rights to Address the Pandemic COVID-19”, which was approved by the Legislative Assembly in mid-March and expired on April 13. Despite the fact that the government requested a new extension from Parliament that was denied precisely because of the complaints of the unjustified actions being committed and not addressed, the abuses continue to occur.

Though a legal framework that addresses the detention of people and their confinement in a quarantine center is still lacking, the government recently issued Executive Decree No. 19 which established similar and more drastic measures than the previous law. For example: it established that any person who circulates without justification and who is classified as suspected for testing positive for COVID19, must remain in a quarantine center for 30 days. In addition, if the offending person is driving in a vehicle, that vehicle will be subject to disinfection and will be sent to a police impound, only to be released after a fee is paid and time is served.

Also Decree No.19 establishes that every person is obliged to allow Ministry of Health personnel into their homes. “Beware of police and military who are trying to enter houses with a provision of an executive decree,” well-known lawyer María Silvia Guillén writes, for her, the provision is unconstitutional since authorities can only enter a dwelling with the consent of the person who inhabits it or by a judges warrant. 

For its part, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice (the highest court in the land) issued a new resolution in which it reaffirmed that the police should not arbitrarily detain people and take them to quarantine centers or confiscate their vehicles, among other restrictive measures. President Bukele said that he would not abide by such a resolution and that he will continue to apply Decree No. 19, a hundred percent, regardless that such resolutions are binding.

The president’s disobedience has been rejected by a large number of actors inside and outside the country who agree with the supreme court’s ruling. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urged the government of El Salvador to “comply with the ordered measures.” Likewise, the United Nations published that in emergency situations the rule of law and the system of “checks and balances” are essential to ensure that human rights are being upheld. For his part, US Congressman Jim McGover  urged Bukele to respect the supreme court’s judicial decisions, saying that the country needs democracy and not an authoritarian government. Likewise, the leader of the Committee on Foreign Relations of the US House of Representatives, Eliot Engel, regretted Bukele’s contempt of the Constitutional Chamber’s resolution and urged the president “to respect the Supreme Court’s judicial decisions on Covid-19” stressing that “world leaders must be able to protect both the health and freedom of civilians.”

But all these recriminations and demands do not seem to faze President Nayib Bukele, nor his security officials. An article recently published in the digital newspaper El Faro defines the current situation in the country as posing a triple crisis: health, economic and democratic.The first is caused by the virus, the second by the measures required to combat the virus and the third by an undemocratic government.

It is necessary to resist, and survive, all three.

 

 

International Relations, U.S. Relations

Sonia Sotomayor Visits El Salvador

Yesterday, August 15th, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor arrived in El Salvador for a week-long visit. Justice Sotomayor is visiting her close friend, Mari Carmen Aponte who is the U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador. During her stay, Justice Sotomayor will meet with Magistrates on the Salvadoran Supreme Court, as well as law students in San Salvador. She also plans to meet with students from Supérate, an youth program that seeks to improve opportunities for youth to develop their professional lives.

 

Justice Sotomayor and Ambassador Aponte, both Latinas with very successful legal careers, serve together on the board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund. The two have been so close that Justice Sotomayor swore in Aponte as Ambassador in 2010.

 

The visit comes less than a month after the resolution of the constitutional crisis that began on June 3rd when the Legislative Assembly and Executive branches tried to impede on the judicial independence of El Salvador’s Constitutional Court. This seems less of an official visit in response to that crisis, than two old friends getting together.

Sotomayor and Aponte in El Salvador
El Salvador Government, Mauricio Funes

The Debate Over Decree 743 Continues

Last week we posted two stories about Decree 743 – the controversial law that requires El Salvador’s Constitutional Court to make decisions by unanimous consensus instead of a four-vote majority as in the past. Due to the makeup of the court, decree 743 essentially renders the court powerless.

There has been a lot of movement around this issue since our last update – the following are highlights from the week’s developments. Despite all the statements from government officials, legal experts, civil society leaders, and others, there is still a lot that remains unclear about the politics behind the passage of Decree 743 and how the current debate over the law will play out.

Timeline:

Thursday, June 2

  • The Legislative Assembly passed decree 743 with the support of the PCN, PDC, GANA, and ARENA conservative parties. Left and centrist parties FMLN and CD legislatures abstained from the vote, meaning that they did not vote against the bill, but just didn’t participate.
  • President Mauricio Funes signed Decree 743 into law.

Friday, June 3

  • Decree 743 is published in the Diario Oficial, at which point it took effect.
  • Sigfredo Reyes, the FMLN President of the Legislative Assembly, called Decree 743 a “tragedy for democracy.”
  • By late afternoon, protesters had organized a demonstration in front of the Presidential Palace in San Salvador. Organizers used text messages and social media to spread the word of the protest and several hundred participated.

Saturday, June 4

  • In the morning civil society organizations met to discuss Decree 743 and to organize a movement against it.  They also agreed on organizing a larger protest at 3:00pm on Sunday at the Salvador del Mundo Monument, in San Salvador. They created a Facebook page and twitter accounts, and reached out to communities through phone calls and word of mouth.
  • The FMLN party issued an official statement denouncing Decree 743.

Sunday, June 5

  • Over five hundred people representing all sectors of Salvadoran society participated in the protest at the Salvador del Mundo. Civil society representatives used a pickup truck as a makeshift stage and a loud speaker to denounce the law and voice their opinions on the impact of Decree 743 if it is allowed to stand.

Monday, June 6

  • Civil society organizations met again at the University of Central America (UCA) to continue discussing their opposition and planning a strategy to challenge the new law.
  • President Funes responded to the objections of Decree 743, stating that it is constitutional and not a restriction of the judiciary. He argued that the law promotes democracy by requiring all of the justices to come to an agreement before making a decision on a case. President Funes also stated that the process for drafting and passing the law was transparent and not done under the table.
  • The Constitutional Court declared Decree 743 unconstitutional.

Tuesday, June 7

  • Thirty-five civil society organizations held a press conference in which they demanded that the Legislative Assembly repeal the law.
  • The Constitutional Defense Forum, a Salvadoran organization, filed a lawsuit with the Supreme Court against Decree 743.

Wednesday, June 8

  • The Funes Administration began to evaluate Decree 743 and the possibility of repealing the law.
  • Medardo Gonzalez, the Secretary General of the FMLN, demanded that the Supreme Court recognize Decree 743 as law (yes, in contradiction to the FMLN’s Saturday statement opposing the law). In addition, he called the controversial decisions by the Constitutional Court “rebellious and irresponsible” and said that they were motivated by ideological and political motives.
  • The right-wing ARENA party called for the repeal of Decree 743 and asked that the FMLN join them. Former president and ARENA leader Alfredo Cristiani stated that ARENA’s support of the decree was based on misinformation that the Court would abolish the Amnesty Law and the law the enables CAFTA.  He said now that he knew the Court will ‘defend’ the Amnesty Law, he will support the repeal of the decree.
  • The FMLN met in the afternoon to organize their stand on the law and their next steps.
  • Just before 4 pm, Salvadoran attorney Manuel Antonio Cortez Meléndez filed a claim with the Constitutional Court claiming that the Amnesty and CAFTA laws are unconstitutional. These cases had never been formally submitted to the Court prior to this point.
  • PDC officials motion to remove the four magistrates from the Constitutional Court for not complying with Decree 743 and declaring it unconstitutional.

Thursday, June 9

  • Civil society organizations organized another protest, marching from the Salvador del Mundo monument to the Legislative Assembly. Marchers demanded the repeal of Decree 743 and transparency in the process. One of the main complaints by civil society organizations is that the Legislative Assembly and President Funes were not transparent in passing the law or in discussing their justifications for the law. Once the marchers arrived at the Legislative Assembly, they demanded entrance but only a few were allowed in. Those who remained outside threw eggs at the entrance in protest. On the floor of the Assembly, Diputado Orlando Arevalo (an Independent) accepted a petition from the protestors.
  • Early in the day, FMLN representatives announced that they will not support ARENA’s efforts to repeal the law, stating that they have to work with the PDC, PCN, and GANA to “get themselves out of the mess they helped create.” They also refused to meet with civil society representatives, inciting the egg throwing.
  • Later in the day, representatives from the FMLN, PDC, and PCN stated that they would support repeal of the law, but only if the four magistrates from the Constitutional Court “demonstrated a change in attitude and don’t invade the functions of the Legislative Assembly.” Medardo Gonzalez stated, “the Court has to change, and if there is change, of course the FMLN will be the first to ask for the repeal of the decree.”
  • All five magistrates of Constitutional Court met with members of the Legislative Assembly for four hours in the afternoon. They insisted that they did not negotiate sentences or decrees, and simply clarified ‘misunderstandings’.
  • President Funes also released a statement expressing concern over the protests and further justifying his support of the law. His three arguments for supporting Decree 743 are: 1) The decree is constitutional in form and substance; 2) it was presented to prevent the judiciary and legislature from becoming embroiled in conflict; and 3) it does not prevent the Court from acting, and the magistrates are able to achieve consensus. He also stated that the ARENA declaration on Wednesday implies intervention and upon investigation could lead to the removal of any magistrates found negotiating with the Legislative Assmebly representatives.

Friday, June 10

  • President of the Supreme Court of Justice, Belarmino Jaime, publicly denies the existence of an agreement between the Court and either ARENA or Alfredo Cristiani.
  • The Secretaries General of both FMLN and PCN, Medardo Gonzalez and Ciro Cruz respectively, emerge from a multilateral meeting between the courts and the parties stating the willingness of their parties to sign on to a bill to repeal Decree 743.
  • ARENA denies the allegations by President Funes that an agreement was in place between them and the Court, and criticizes Funes for saying so.
  • The Archbishop of San Salvador urges the parties to work together to solve the crisis, expressing a wish for all sides to defend the people and the common good.

Monday, June 13

  • ARENA’s proposal to repeal Decree 743 received no response from the Committee on Constitutional Legislation and Legislative Assembly.
  • FMLN, GANA, PDC and PCN all declined to vote in favor of the repeal.
  • Medardo Gonzalez, Secretary General for the FMLN, now says the FMLN will not support the repeal of the decree in any fashion.

The debate over Decree 743 is far from over, and much seems unclear (at least from our vantage point). It seems that it is questionable whether the new law is even in force – last week four of the five Constitutional Court magistrates joined an opinion stating that it was not, which means that the repeal being discussed is not even necessary. It also remains unclear why Cristiani and some in the ARENA party are willing to support the repeal. Perhaps they see this as an opportunity to appeal to the wide sectors of Salvadoran society that oppose the decree in advance of the 2012 municipal and legislative elections.

Funes’ support for the law is also confusing, as well as lacking. The Constitutional Court is one of the only government entities that has been implementing the kinds of change that the President championed while campaigning in 2008-2009. His argument that the law prevents conflict between the legislative and judicial branches of government is wanting – such tension is common and a healthy element of the democratic process. Funes’ argument that Decree 743 is constitutional in both form and substance is circular – sayin’ it is, don’t make it so.

What seems very clear at this point is that civil society organizations did not have an opportunity to comment on Decree 743 until it was already signed into law. But judging by the the numerous statements made since the controversy began, politicians are concerned what civil society has to say and how the people might respond in 2012.

El Salvador Government

Some Support (or at least acceptance) for the Supreme Court Ruling on Independent Candidates

Two weeks ago, the Salvadoran Supreme Court handed down a decision that strengthens the right of citizens to directly vote for candidates instead of political parties. Their decision makes it possible for independent candidates to appear on the ballets during legislative elections.  The ruling was initially met with harsh resistance from the Legislative Assembly (see previous blog post), including threats to remove the Chief Justice and a last-minute draft of a constitutional amendment to prohibit independent candidatures.  In the past week, however, respect, if not support, has grown for the Court’s decision as several political leaders have stepped up to acknowledge that the decision must be recognized even if they do not agree with it.

On Monday, leaders from the GANA party said they would not support further action by the legislature to remove Justices from office or reassign them.  Without their votes, other opposition parties in the Legislative Assembly lack the simple majority required to pass a law. “We are not interested in removing or dismissing any government employees,” said party leader Nelson Guardado.  At the same time, Guardado affirmed that the party still sought to amend the Constitution to prevent independent candidatures (elfaro.net).  The change in position shows that while the party still disagrees with the Supreme Court’s ruling and hopes to reverse it, they are seeking less confrontational means to do so.

Eugenio Chicas, president of the country’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), later issued a call for all concerned parties to respect the Court’s decision even if they disagreed with it.  “The resolution might seem controversial, but it was handed down by the Court and, as such, it is not up for discussion, because it is an [established] sentence and one has to respect the Court’s decisions,” said Chicas in an interview with La prensa gráfica.

On Tuesday Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes, stated that he remains opposed to the Court’s decision.  Funes argued that independent candidatures could give organized crime an increasingly powerful role in elections.  “Criminal organizations would be perfectly able to sponsor a candidate and support him all the way to the Legislative Assembly, and that person, once in the Legislative Assembly, would not represent the people who voted for him, but instead the criminal organization that financed his campaign,” said the President.  Funes did not take a stand one way or the other on whether the Legislative Assembly should take action against the justices of the Supreme Court as a retaliation move, or the proposed amendments to the Constitution.  He also acknowledged the need for greater accountability within parties and asserted his support for legislation that would make party fundraising more transparent as a “control mechanism” (elsalvador.com).

Independent candidatures are already allowed in several Latin American countries, including Mexico, Chile, Venezuela, and Peru.  They are often seen as a fresh alternative when entrenched political parties fail to respond to voters’ needs.  Often, however, they face more obstacles than leading party candidates in order to reach the same levels of success, including the signatures needed to appear on the ballot and the funds required to run a successful campaign.  Because of these obstacles, the strength and influence of independent candidates varies widely from country to country.  Despite electoral success or lack thereof, independent candidates can often increase transparency and accountability in the democratic election process.

Without the necessary votes in the Legislative Assembly to remove justices, the opposition is running out of options to reverse the decision.  What initially seemed like a strong front against the Court’s ruling has lost substantial energy and officials and politicians take increasingly conciliatory positions rather than seeking a fight.  This means that the decision will most likely stand, at least for the 2012 municipal and legislative elections.  Although the Legislative Assembly is still trying to pass a constitutional amendment overturning the Court’s decision, any such proposal would not take effect until it received two-thirds approval from the 2012-2015 Assembly.  That Legislative Assembly, however, could potentially have new members elected as independent candidates in 2012, making passage of the amendment increasingly difficult.

El Salvador Government

Salvadoran Legislative Assembly and Supreme Court debate the Election Laws

On July 29, the Legislative Assembly and the Constitutional Branch of the Supreme Court began openly debating election reforms.  The Supreme Court issued a ruling that struck down clauses of the Election Code that required candidates to be members of a political party in order to run for office in the Legislative Assembly.  In the same ruling, the Court also said that the closed lists that political parties currently use on election ballots are unconstitutional.  Instead, the Court said, voters must be able to vote for individual candidates from each party.

The Court stated that sections of the Electoral Code were unconstitutional because they diminish voter autonomy and effectively eliminate direct elections, which is a right protected by Article 78 of the Salvadoran Constitution. Warned in advance of the Court’s impending decision, the Legislative Assembly passed several constitutional reforms, one of which completely banned independent candidates from participating in municipal and Legislative. The last minute reforms, some of which were passed at 1 am the night before the Court published its decision, were clearly intended to create conflict with the Supreme Court.

The Court found that the current system of electing Legislative Assembly representatives (diputados) unconstitutional because citizens vote for a party and not individual candidates. Following an election, the leaders of the party that received the most votes chooses the representatives. The judges argue that because citizens can only vote for a party and not a candidate (the ballot actually has the logos for each of the parties and not the names of a candidate), the system violates their right to direct elections. The decision will take affect immediately, long before the 2012 legislative elections, during which citizens will vote for specific candidates and not political parties  for the first time. The names of presidential candidates and municipal officials already appear on ballets, so the decision will not affect those elections. The Judges said that they hope their ruling will bring candidates closer and more accountable to voters by decreasing the influence of the political parties. They also requested that the Legislative Assembly rewrite sections of the Electoral Code dealing with independent candidates to save El Salvador from a legal vacuum on the issue.

Immediately after the decision was announced, leaders from the FMLN and ARENA parties met with Judges to persuade them not to sign the decision. According to elfaro.net, the Judges refused and the party leaders threatened to remove the Chief Justice from Court – one of the strongest powers the Constitution grants the Legislative Assembly. Other politicians, including President Mauricio Funes, brushed off the threat as unlikely.

Since the ruling was handed down it has received criticism from across the political spectrum.  The Legislative Assembly has taken action to prevent it from ever taking effect and threatened to take even stronger measures, including removing multiple Justices from the bench.  On August 1, the FMLN party (which currently holds the presidency) questioned the decision, particularly as it relates to the integrity of political parties in elections, and worried that the Court overstepped its bounds in issuing such a ruling.  Officials from other parties have not taken a clear position but seem tentatively critical of the ruling. Instead they are waiting for the Court to sign the decision and officially send it to the Legislative Assembly before staking out their positions. President Funes has asked for prudence and sensitivity as the Judicial and Legislative branches face off. He has also acknowledged that the laws governing elections are in need of improvement and clarification.  He stated, “I am not going to judge whether the decision of the Supreme Court is advisable or not, but it is a ruling that has to be observed by the Legislature or [the Assembly] would be in contempt of court.” (La prensa gráfica).

One concern over the Court’s ruling is that making legislative elections more direct could allow for greater influence and control by organized crime and drug traffickers. Norman Quijano, the mayor of San Salvador, expressed his doubts that individual candidates can be truly independent.  He fears that if diputados are if not chosen by party leaders, they are likely to be influenced by a variety of interests (La prensa gráfica).

The Catholic Church, however, was quick to defend the Court’s action. Last week, Monsignor José Escobar Alas, Archbishop of San Salvador, expressed his support for the Court’s ruling, saying that it supported democracy in the country.  In a public statement, he asked the Legislative Assembly to respect the ruling. He stated, “In the democratic process, it’s completely valid to have independent candidatures, as in many Latin American and European countries, it’s a step forward for democracy, because the more participation there is, the better. The people are the true winners” (Diario CoLatino).

Despite the heated rhetoric, the Legislative Assembly will have a difficult time getting around the Court’s decision. Amending the Constitution is not easy. Once the Legislative Assembly passes amendments, the next Legislative Assembly must ratify them by a two-thirds vote. According to Rómulo Rivas from the Independent Pro-Electoral Reform Movement (MIRE), the Congress is unable to do anything.  “If they try to pass a Constitutional reform, it would be very difficult, because the following legislature would have representatives elected under the new system, which would make it difficult to get the 56 votes necessary for a Constitutional reform” (Diario CoLatino).

No matter the outcome, the next few weeks are shaping up for a show down as the Legislative Assembly and the Supreme Court face off.  So far, both sides have proved themselves unwilling to compromise on the issue, but more than willing to take action to defend their position.  Because the next national election is not until 2012, and the Constitutional reforms require approval during the next session of the Legislative Assembly, there is still much time for the debate to develop as each side refines its position.