Divorce 'ploy' costs former Guatemalan first lady her presidential ambition

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The Independent US

A presidential bid by former first lady Sandra Torres has been derailed by a Guatemalan court, which ruled that her divorce from President Alvaro Colom was a political ploy rather than a genuine separation.

The unanimous ruling, upholding judgments by lower courts, apparently puts an end to a saga that has gripped the troubled Central American nation since March, when Ms Torres tear-fully announced the split, claiming she was putting her love for Guatemala above her love for Mr Colom.

Article 186 of Guatemala's constitution prohibits close family members of sitting presidents from running for the country's highest office. This was intended to end the decades of corrupt and often brutal right-wing oligarchic rule that has blighted the country. Ms Torres, 52, and Mr Colom, 60, are both social democrats with strong ties to former left-wing rebels.

The constitutional court has still to publish the 60-page ruling in which it explains its reasons, but court president Alejandro Maldonado told journalists that Article 186 "covers spouses of the president of the republic throughout the entire period of the presidency". There is no right of appeal.

Ms Torres appeared before the court last week to argue her case. "I am no one's wife," she told the hearing, as crowds of supporters gathered outside. "I have no kinship with the President. I am a single mother with four children."

Ms Torres, often viewed as the political mastermind behind her husband's presidency, attacked the impartiality of the two lower courts that had previously ruled her presidential campaign unconstitutional, saying they "are at the service of an economic power that does not pay nor has paid taxes but which imposes rulers on the people".

She also warned that the earlier judgments prohibiting her from running in the September poll "destroy aspirations for a free and democratic election" by frustrating the political will of more than a million Guatemalans who, according to polls, would vote for her.

The presidential divorce, concluded in April, has been hugely controversial in Guatemala. The conservative Patriot Party described it as electoral fraud while another presidential candidate, Adela Camacho, warned that allowing the former first lady to run in would amount to a de facto revision of the constitution. Just weeks before he and his wife announced that they would be splitting, even Mr Colom admitted that such a tactic would be "immoral".

Elected on his promise of helping the poor, Mr Colom has had problems financing his social programmes. His government has also been overwhelmed by escalating gang warfare and the violence from drug cartels that use the country as a staging posts from the Andean backwaters where coca is grown to the US where cocaine is consumed.

Ms Torres was trailing her right-wing rival, retired general Otto Pérez Molina, of the Patriot Party, whose poll lead has been as wide as 30 points.