In Colombia, ley seca is the temporary prohibition of alcohol meant to coincide with a national event such as an election. The law itself falls under the country’s Electoral Code, which came into force in 1986. It is unclear where the term “ley seca” (or “dry law” in English) comes from, as nowhere in Article 206, the section dealing with the restriction of alcohol, is the term mentioned.
The article states: “The sale and consumption of intoxicating beverages will remain prohibited from 6:00pm in the afternoon of the day before (an election) until all votes are verified on election day, until 6:00am the following day.”
You might be asking how a provision found within Colombia’s Electoral Code to prohibit the sale and consumption of alcohol during an election can be applied to a sporting event like the World Cup. Well, there’s no clear answer to that, but what is clear is that nothing in Colombian law or jurisprudence is clear, perfectly illustrated by the five-month long saga to remove Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro from office.
The embarrassing farce of a political drama saw Petro impeached twice, only to have those decisions overturned while competing courts and top legal officials overlapped and contradicted one another, as no one in Colombia seemed to know which court or official outranked another.
The same is likely true when it comes to ley seca. A city mayor, departmental governor or the president himself invokes ley seca during an election, or on the day of a Colombian football match. Ley seca was imposed for every one of Team Colombia’s World Cup matches except the first match against Greece. Because everybody knows there is a law on the books somewhere saying the country’s leader can do this, no one bothers to check and see if the law itself is limited to, say, elections.
The law also makes clear the time frame of the prohibition — 36 hours — and it also bans the consumption of alcoholic beverages as well as the sale. During at least two of the Colombia World Cup matches, the consumption part of the law was not imposed. And not one time did the ley secas follow the prescribed 36-hour time frame.
The result? People stock up on booze before the ban takes effect, get drunk while watching the football in their homes or brown-bagging it on the street, and then all the vandalism, robberies and violence the law is intended to prevent takes place anyway.
By Mark Kennedy
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