Miami (September 14, 2008).—The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) hailed the passage by the Guatemalan Congress last night of a law on access to official records as “a decisive step in the defense and promotion of freedom of expression and the people’s right to know -- both fundamental principles for consolidation of democracy.”
The Law on Access to Public Information, passed by unanimous vote, will go into effect in January 2009. It will enable citizens to request and be given access to information concerning public institutions and “any individual or legal person, public or private, domestic or foreign of any nature, government institution, entity, agency or any other kind that handles, administers or executes public resources, assets of the government or acts of public administration.”
The chairman of the IAPA’s Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Gonzalo Marroquín, declared, “This signifies a decisive step towards consolidation of the country’s democratic system and a solid step forward in the establishment of the foundations of a culture of openness and transparency that will put behind us the old custom of government secrecy.”
Marroquín, editor of the Guatemala City, Guatemala, newspaper Prensa Libre, added that Guatemala had now elevated itself “to the level of those countries that have also decided to take a major step forward in the defense and promotion of free speech and press freedom by recognizing the public’s right to know as one of the keystone of democracy.”
Guatemala thus joined a number of Latin American countries that have adopted specific legislation on access to official information in the last five years – Chile, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and Peru. Canada, the United States and Jamaica already had this kind of legislation.
On April 1 Guatemala’s President Alvaro Colom pledged his support of this law, under debate at the time in Congress, during a forum held by the IAPA in the Guatemalan capital. In July, after the bill suffered setbacks in Congress, the IAPA renewed its call for its passage.
In resolutions and decisions adopted at its General Assemblies and Midyear Meetings the IAPA has been urging countries such as Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay to revisit stalled legislative bills for access laws.