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Monday, May 25, 2020

Red alert for pandemic as Assembly debates declare emergency | News from El Salvador

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The government raised alert level and reduced number of people who can congregate. It also sought an exception regime, but was not endorsed.

After several hours of a confinement of the deputies of the different legislative benches with lawyers and technicians, the Political Commission met at ten o’clock yesterday night behind closed doors to issue an opinion to decree a national emergency by the coronavirus, which, at the close of this note (00:20 a.m.) was still under discussion by the deputies.

Hours earlier, Bukele had ordered Civil Protection to declare a “red alert” throughout the national territory and suspend activities that bring together 200 people, as well as arrest anyone who tries to cross the border to enter the country through blind spots.


“We are going to see in the terms that the national emergency decree comes, that empowers to move funds from one state portfolio to another to guide it towards a national effort.”

Mario Ponce, president of the Assembly

The declaration of emergency includes protection for workers, so that they cannot be dismissed for being in quarantine. It also establishes that health workers from all over the country can be called to support the public system on an ad honorem basis if required.

The decree indicates that the Consumer Defender will establish top prices for products or services related to the prevention or treatment of the COVID-19 virus.

At the same time, they rejected a request from the Executive to establish a state of emergency that would limit fundamental freedoms and rights for at least 30 days (see separate box).

Regarding the declaration of emergency, another main point is to extend the suspension of classes in schools and universities nationwide from 21 to 30 days.

Damián Alegría, of the FMLN, advanced other reforms that were being considered to the national emergency decree, the only one that had yesterday votes to be approved. One of them is to put controls on the money transfers that the Executive asks to face the pandemic. In its request, the Government asked to empower the Treasury to make transfers without going through the legislative endorsement.


“The Legislative Assembly must first assess whether there is a reason for the rights to be suspended. We are talking about the need to review whether there is a coronavirus epidemic currently. ”

Eduardo Escobar, Citizen Action

Alegría explained that a fundamental change was to return to the Assembly the power to authorize the government to transfer money between state and private institutions. According to the efemelenista legislator, the Executive fully claimed that right.

The original document established in article 13 that the “Executive Body, in the field of Finance, was empowered to authorize, by means of an Executive agreement, transfers between budgetary allocations of different institutions of the non-financial public sector, in order to meet the needs generated in a timely manner. by the State of National Emergency ”.

“The Assembly takes up that function of the Assembly, in the sense of saying: the transfers of budgetary allocations between different institutions of the non-financial public sector with the purpose of opportunely attending to the needs of the State due to the national emergency will be known urgently by the Assembly, ”explained Alegría.

The presidential decree also states that the Executive Branch is empowered to make modifications to the budget structure, to “make monetary transfers to natural persons or private entities with resources from the General State Fund” or loans destined for disasters to facilitate the attention to sanitary measures and compensation to impacted economic sectors.


“As there are still no cases of coronavirus nor is there an epidemic that we have confirmation and the evidence that is being given within our country, constitutional guarantees cannot be suppressed.”

Marcela Galeas, A lawyer

Given this, Alegría said that all acts issued under the emergency decree will be subject to the principle of maximum publicity and also all institutions involved in the health emergency must submit management reports to the Assembly every 15 days.

The above modifications are some of those that were known until the closing of this note, since the Political Commission discussed behind closed doors the changes to said national emergency decree.

Attempt to decree an exception regime

In the inkwell last night was the partial exception decree that Bukele intends to be approved by the deputies to face the coronavirus. In that document, several constitutional guarantees are suspended.

This was criticized by legislators, lawyers, doctors and various sectors of Salvadoran civil society who saw it as unnecessary and inappropriate to restrict fundamental freedoms to face this disease, especially when, according to the government, there are no confirmed cases in the country.

This suspends the freedom to enter and leave the country, as well as to transit through it. Therefore, the immigration authorities and security forces may monitor the movement of people.

Also included is a provision that was strongly criticized: increasing the limit of administrative detention from 72 hours to a maximum of 15 days, that is, the deadline that the authorities have to present a detainee to a judge for failure to comply with the measures to tackle the virus.

The government clarified that freedom of expression, something that article 29 of the Constitution contemplates as a possible right to limit, was not considered in its request.

In the exception document, protection was also eliminated if the address was not changed and it was established that the government could cancel meetings between people, “ordering them to return to their domicile or residence.” To authorize cultural or religious gatherings, he said they must be notified with 10 days to obtain permission.

Lawyers criticize intention to decree state of emergency

Lawyers Enrique Anaya, Marcela Galeas and Eduardo Escobar, objected that as long as there is no confirmed case of coronavirus, guarantees cannot be suspended or the detention period can be extended for more than 72 hours, among other fundamental rights that decreeing a state of exception.

“The Assembly must first assess whether there is cause to suspend rights,” says Escobar, while Galeas believes that “as there is not yet a case or an epidemic (…) guarantees cannot be removed. They are going to remove rights that really should not be affected at this time. “


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