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  • Documents on Democracy


On 25 May 1993, President Jorge Serrano Elías suspended Guatemala's constitution. As is described by Francisco Villagrán de León on pp. 117-24 above, the Court of Constitutionality and leaders of civil society played key roles in reversing this attempted presidential coup. Key documents issued by these groups are excerpted below:

Resolution of the Court of Constitutionality (25 May 1993):

We have examined the rulings issued by the president of the Republic today, which were broadcast on radio and television; through these rulings he announced that the dispositions contained in the Political Constitution of the Republic were no longer in effect, dissolved the Congress of the Republic, dismissed the Supreme Court, and assumed legislative powers for himself, acts which are embodied in a decree entitled "Provisional Regulations of the Government"....

4) The acts referred to above that were carried out by the president of the Republic, and the actions that have derived from them, not only transgress specific constitutional articles, but represent the disruption of the constitutional order, a situation that cannot pass unnoticed by this Court, whose essential function is the defense of the constitutional order. Consequently, we proceed to declare that the acts performed by the president of the Republic become null ipso jure, and therefore completely lack any juridical validity. Thus it is imperative for this tribunal to declare these [presidential] rulings without effect, and in this way to reestablish the juridical order that has been violated.

Declaration from a Group of Guatemalan Citizens (31 May 1992):

We the undersigned, civic leaders of the Republic of Guatemala, in view of the political crisis that is afflicting the country, declare:

  1. 1. That we repudiate the grave violations to the Constitution of the Republic that have been perpetrated by Mr. Jorge Serrano Elías, who by placing under his authority the three branches of the state, has become, in effect, a dictator.

  2. 2. That we recognize as legitimate and just the verdict of the Court of Constitutionality . . . .

  3. 3. That, in virtue of said judgment, the institutions which Mr. Serrano Elías seeks to dissolve continue in force, although it is evident that some deputies of Congress, as well as some of the magistrates of the Supreme Court, have lost all legitimacy in the eyes of the public as a result of their dishonorable acts.

Therefore . . . We demand:

  1. 1. The immediate and irrevocable resignation of Jorge Antonio Serrano Elías and Gustavo Adolfo Espína Salguero from the offices of president and vice president of the Republic, respectively.

  2. 2. The immediate and irrevocable resignation of the leadership of the Congress of the Republic, including first of all its president, José Fernando Lobo Dubón.

  3. 3. The immediate and irrevocable resignation of the Supreme Court, including first of all its president, José Rodil Peralta.

  4. 4. The issuing of a legislative decree by which the Congress of the Republic will expel those deputies who, as a result of their contemptible and dishonorable conduct, have lost all legitimacy to represent the Guatemalan people.

  5. 5. In strict adherence to the constitution that is in force, the Congress, once purged, should then select the authorities of the organs here cited and reestablish the complete operation of the State of Law.

  6. 6. The authorities, once legally and legitimately reestablished, should bring to justice those officials and ex-officials of the three branches of the state against whom there is reasonable evidence of illicit enrichment, in strictest accordance with the law.

United Nations

The UN World Conference on Human Rights, the first such gathering in 25 years, was hem in Vienna on 14-25 June 1993 to discuss and examine the status of international human rights. The conference's concluding statement, "The Vienna Declaration and Program of Action," which provoked some controversy in other respects, contained many more explicit references to democracy and democratization than had previous UN declarations. Selected paragraphs from this document appear below:

Democracy, development, and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms are interdependent and mutually reinforcing. [End Page 134] Democracy is based on the freely expressed will of the people to determine their own political, economic, social, and cultural systems and their full participation...