02 April 2008

Guatemala agrees to law on access to public information


Guatemala agrees to law on access to public information

President Alvaro Colom signs Declaration of Chapultepec


GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala (April 2, 2008)—Guatemala’s President Alvaro Colom last night added his signature to the Declaration of Chapultepec, and his government committed to enacting a law on access to public information, a bill for which is currently being debated in the National Congress.


Following a ceremony at the end of a legislative forum held here by the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) President Colom declared, “Freedom of the press is fundamental for the truth to emerge, a basic value for us to continue growing as a nation.”


Referring to the IAPA-sponsored document that he signed Colom said, “All we leaders should have this Declaration hanging in our offices,” adding that his government “has an organization of information under way so as to make military archives and public finance records available.”


The signing ceremony, in which Congress Speaker Eduardo Meyer, national members of Congress, political leaders, news media executives and journalists took part, was given particular importance locally on the issue of press freedom, in contrast to what happened at the IAPA’s Midyear Meeting in Caracas earlier this week, which did not have the support of the Venezuelan government.


After the ceremony at an improvised press conference Rep. Eduardo Meyer confirmed the political will of the National Congress to pass a number of bills for a law on access to public records currently under debate. “It is of vital importance for the country that this law be enacted and we are committed to that,” he said, adding that it would be “just one step.”


IAPA President Earl Maucker, senior vice president and editor of the Sun-Sentinel, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, said, “President Colom’s signature is a reconfirmation by this country of the basic values of human rights and liberty.”


The chairman of the IAPA’s Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Gonzalo Marroquín, editor of the Guatemala City, Guatemala, newspaper Prensa Libre, declared, “A new, major step has been taken in my country for consolidation of the system in recognizing press freedom and free speech as a fundamental value of democracy.”


Colom is the third Guatemalan president to sign the Declaration of Chapultepec. The first was Ramiro de León Carpio in 1994, followed by Alfonso Portillo in 2002.


In working panel discussions during the legislative forum the IAPA made a series of recommendations that the organization regards as essential to be contained in any law on access to public information. Among them were the need for the government to mount a campaign to raise public awareness of the procedures the people need to follow, as well as the penalties that should be applied to officials who refuse to make records available.