Marriage in the Public Square: A Guatemalan Scandal
By Natalia Callejas
The decay of the institution of marriage in Latin America has been a slow (but sure) process. For hundreds of years, family values have predominantly prevailed in our countries for two main reasons: a strong catholic-Christian tradition regarding the importance of family, and the cultural evolution of strong principled Mayan and indigenous values. However, the threats to family as the primary and most fundamental institution in society are beginning to rise and shift the social structures we once held dear. Guatemala is no exception to this increasing threat of decay in marriage and family traditions.
In recent years, our marriage and family law has taken huge steps towards what many developed countries would call “modernization” and has started to devalue a social institution such as marriage to a mere contractual obligation. In 2010, the no fault divorce reform on our family law was drafted through a congressional reform, beginning a process that would accelerate the decay of our family traditions. Law is only an expression of our society’s view of family and the decay of our institutions was made evident in one of the most outstanding events of this 2011 presidential election year in Guatemala.
Our current president, Alvaro Colom Caballeros, started his presidential term as a happily married man. His wife, Sandra Torres de Colom was a faithful advisor and key political figure during his campaign and first three years in office. She was in charge of the development of many social programs, especially those devoted to providing food to those in need. Presidential terms in Guatemala last for 4 years, and reelection is not permitted under the Constitution. There are also specific prohibitions as to who may run for president in any elections. There are seven specific prohibitions contained in article 186 of our Constitution. These were specifically drafted because of historical abuses of power that governed our country for many years. One of these specific prohibitions is to direct relatives and family members of the President and Vice-President in turn, to prevent potential favoritism based on kinship, also known as nepotism.
Our president’s wife never hid her political aspirations from the media, and especially from those being benefited with the social programs. There was an ongoing campaign all throughout the first 3 years of her husband’s term in office. As time started closing in on the call for new elections, the big question was if the President’s wife was going to run for president and if she was, if our courts were going to uphold the Constitutional principles. It was a couple of months into 2011 and Sandra Torres had started her political journey towards a presidential campaign, despite the constitutional prohibition at hand.
On the 11th of March of 2011, Guatemalans ended the day with a huge surprise. The media had confirmed a rumor: the Presidential couple had filed for divorce. During the official press conference held by the former first lady, she stated that her divorce was a sacrifice she had to make so that she could now marry the Guatemalan people and run for president. Perhaps what struck our society the most was the fact that their marriage and the value of their family was of so little importance compared to a pursuit of power.
The institutional value and importance of marriage is of such low regard in Guatemala up to date, that it allowed such a highly influential couple in our country to degrade its value in one of the most shameful ways it has ever been portrayed in Guatemalan history.
Society is rooted and can only exist through the keeping of its most basic and fundamental institutions such as the family and marriage. Traditional values are being exchanged for modern concepts that are being imported and accepted because of international pressures for modernization and cultural acceptance.
The former Presidential couple made it evident to the whole world that marriage is mainly a contractual obligation only to be kept if the temporal and personal benefits exceed a cost of personal fulfillment. This idea is being rooted not only in Guatemalan society but all over Latin America, and it distorts the initial principles upon which all of our societies have been formed, mainly the importance of families.
It is in our best interest to reinforce what was once a fundamental structure of our civilization if we want to stop if from complete and utter decay. We must encourage the teaching of the importance of these most fundamental principles of commitment, love, forgiveness, liberty, and respect within our own families, so that as more generations are educated within these values, we will have warriors, defenders, and keepers of our society.
Natalia Callejas is 23 years old, a servant of Christ, and a Guatemalan law student at Universidad Francisco Marroquín, (www.ufm.edu) and was a Blackstone Legal Fellow for 2010.
Photo Credits: Photo of Álvaro Colom from wikimedia commons, originally photographed by sandstein. Photo of Sandra Torres from wikimedia commons and is in the public domain of the United States.