More risks than benefits if the restrictions on constitutional rights are extended

By Salvador Samayoa

[Adapted from a column published in El Diario de Hoy on April 12, 2020, published here with permission].

The Legislative Assembly recently passed a decree which temporarily restricts human rights. The deputies of the FMLN party, who did not vote in favor of it, and the deputies who voted to make changes in it, wanted to insure that people who were detained for being on the roads would be taken to their homes, and not to police stations or quarantine centers. This was a laudable purpose, and in tune with the decision of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court.

But what we have seen since its approval on March 14 is that the president has challenged and contradicted the letter and spirit of this decree, and has completely ignored the authority of the judiciary.  Since he has shown that he is unwilling to govern within limits, and with checks and balances, we should not extend the extraordinary powers that were given to him in the two decrees.

Such powers are given in emergencies, so that rulers can more effectively manage the crises, not so that they can take measures which are punitive instead of preventive, and which hinder efforts to keep more people from being infected.

Avoiding infections is the only legitimate reason for the authorities to detain a citizen on the roads. But if, instead of that, the aim is to punish those who do not obey the president, the measure is completely distorted, and the possibilities of infection are increased instead of reduced.

The president needs to understand that we need a government that's firm, but not arbitrary; leadership that's serious and consistent, but not arrogant; a ruler who, while having extraordinary powers and resources, respects the rule of law, and respects rather than defies the legislature and the judiciary. In short, we need a president who can exercise power with determination, but with maturity and restraint, and without boasting and outbursts.

The president's style of communication, his way and his words, could easily lead the army and police to feel empowered to act in arbitrary and thuggish ways. The people are depressed, grieving, heartbroken; they have serious problems and anxieties. The last thing they need is to feel a boot on their necks.

Now he's also talking about imposing curfews. We see more and more threats; more and more, the country is being militarized. The people should be able to feel that their leaders are guiding and protecting them, not menacing and mistreating them.

Given what we've seen in recent weeks, it would be more dangerous than helpful to allow this president to continue to have extraordinary powers. In any case, he doesn't need them. An emergency health law is sufficient. Hopefully the members of the legislative assembly will act with lucidity and courage when they decide whether to extend the current restrictions on constitutional rights.

[Salvador Samayoa was a member of the FMLN negotiating team in the peace talks that brought an end to El Salvador's civil war.  A political analyst, he is a columnist at El Diario de Hoy.]

Comments

Jefferson said…
OK, boomer.
Jefferson said…
El Salvador was a KLEPTOCRACY before Bukele was elected. A MF KLEPTOCRACY. Who do you think the extraordinarily small percentage of Salvadoran society that write this garbage represent?