By Erica Christoffer
Hilario Rodriguez knows about the increased violence in Mexico all too well.
A resident of Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, Rodriguez’ father lives in Michoacán, not far from Morelia, the state capital where Mexican Independence Day celebrations were terrorized when hand grenades were thrown into a crowd Sept. 15. Seven people were killed.
His father is safe, he said, but is concerned about citizens being targeted by warring drug cartel.
“They won’t stop until they’re given what they want,” said Rodriguez.
What they want, he said, is secure territory to move drugs, and a blind eye from government and police.
That’s why Rodriguez supports capital punishment.
“For me, it’s a better way to clean up the streets,” said Rodriguez, supporting the idea that the death penalty deters crime.
But the chances of government officials gaining enough support from Mexicans to legalize the death penalty are slim-to-none, he said.
“They won’t pass it; they definitely won’t pass it,” Rodriguez said.
There are currently two opposing views in Mexico, as illustrated by recent events. The Mexican government, currently led by the National Action Party (PAN), tried to halt the execution of Mexican citizen Jose Medellin on Aug. 5 in Texas. But on the other hand, in Mexico’s Green Party (PVEM), some politicians are proposing the death penalty in light of the attack in Morelia and influx of kidnappings and murders.
Mexican Congresswoman Gloria Lavara Mejía released a statement on the PVEM website calling for legalization of capital punishment, which was abolished in 2005, citing cases where the threat of the death penalty served as a deterrent to criminals. While Mexican President Felipe Calderon announced Aug. 7 he would seek stricter sentencing guidelines, including life sentences for kidnappers and murders, however he did not say he supports the death penalty.
“Our understanding is that the proposal to reintroduce capital punishment in Mexico has not been taken seriously by the political establishment,” said Piers Bannister, coordinator of Amnesty International’s death penalty team.
Amnesty International, a human rights organization based in London and operating throughout the world, opposes the death penalty in all cases.
“We believe that every execution is a violation to the most fundamental right: the right to life,” Bannister said.
It is unlikely that the government would try and resume capital punishment, Bannister said, pointing to Mexico’s history of opposing the death penalty at international level and the executions of Mexican citizens in the U.S.
Yet Michel Marizco, a Mexican news blogger and columnist, wrote that the political winds have changed in Mexico since the death penalty was abolished three years ago by President Vincente Fox. Citizens are becoming less and less tolerant of the violence and police corruption.
Honorina Alcocer, a native to Mexico who now resides in Chicago’s Little Village, said she is a recent supporter of capital punishment. She takes the recent discussion on stricter sentencing for criminals in Mexico as a positive sign.
“I think the people would want it because there are a lot of problems [in Mexico],” Alcocer said.
Bannister said there is always some support for the death penalty from the public because some believe it will stop crime. However, statistics have not proven that capital punishment serves as a deterrent to crime more effectively than other harsh punishments, he said.
What’s more, the Catholic Church is very powerful in Mexico, Bannister said, and has great influence over the PAN, the leading party, which is against the death penalty.
Mar Munoz-Visoso, assistant director of media relations at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the Church is opposed to capital punishment and supports restrictions against its use. However, no formal consultations with the Mexican Bishops Conference on the death penalty have occurred since the newfound debate started south of the border started this summer, she said.
And, despite the fact no legislative action has been taken on creating more stringent sentencing guidelines, the people of Mexico believe the violence will end, Rodriguez said.
“The people there think everything is going to change,” said Rodriguez. “They have hope.”