Stricter criminal sentences supported in Mexico, death penalty discussed

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.”

One thought on “Stricter criminal sentences supported in Mexico, death penalty discussed

  1. Amnesty International is wrong.

    The Death Penalty: Not a Human Rights Violation
    Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters

    Some wrongly state that executions are a human rights violation. The human rights violation argument often comes from European leadership and human rights organizations.

    The argument is as follows: Life is a fundamental human right.  Therefore, taking it away is a fundamental violation of human rights.

    Those who say that the death penalty is a human rights violation have no solid moral or philosophical foundation for making such a statement.  What opponents of capital punishment really are saying is that they just don’t approve of executions.

    Certainly, both freedom and life are fundamental human rights.  On this, there is virtually no disagreement.  However, again, virtually all agree, that freedom may be taken away when there is a violation of the social contract. Freedom, a fundamental human right, may be taken away from those who violate society’s laws.  So to is the fundamental human right of life forfeit when the violation of the social contract is most grave.

    No one disputes that taking freedom away is a different result than taking life away.  However, the issue is the incorrect claim that taking away fundamental human rights — be that freedom or life — is a human rights violation.  It is not.  It depends specifically on the circumstances. 

    How do we know?  Because those very same governments and human rights stalwarts, rightly, tell us so.  Universally, both governments and human rights organizations approve and encourage taking away the fundamental human right of freedom, as a proper response to some criminal activity.

    Why do governments and human rights organizations not condemn just incarceration of criminals as a fundamental human rights violation?  Because they think incarceration is just fine.

    Why do some of those same groups condemn execution as a human rights violation? Only because they don’t like it.  They have no moral or philosophical foundation for calling execution a human rights violation.

    In the context of criminals violating the social contract, those criminals have voluntarily subjected themselves to the laws of the state.  And they have knowingly placed themselves in a position where their fundamental human rights of freedom and life are subject to being forfeit by their actions.

    Opinion is only worth the value of its foundation.  Those who call execution a human rights violation have no credible foundation for that claim.  What they are really saying is “We just don’t like it.”

    copyright 2005-2008 Dudley Sharp
    Permission for distribution of this document, in whole or in part,  is approved with proper attribution.

    Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
    e-mail,  713-622-5491,
    Houston, Texas
    Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS , VOA and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O’Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.
    A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.
    Pro death penalty sites (Sweden)

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