Mexican Political Party Backs Executions
Mexican Political Party Backs Executions
LISA J. ADAMS
Feb. 14, 2003
TOLUCA, Mexico (AP) _ Just weeks after Mexico asked the World Court to stay the executions of Mexicans on death row in the United States, politicians here are suggesting the death penalty may be the best way to stop skyrocketing crime rates at home.
The proposal has provoked an outcry among human rights groups, rival political parties and business groups _ and struck a raw nerve in a country where opposition to the death penalty has more than once strained relations with its neighbor to the north.
The former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, and the allied Green Party are sponsoring a nonbinding referendum on the death penalty Sunday in Mexico state a few weeks before local municipal elections.
People can vote by telephone, on the Internet or at 600 party-run polling places around the state, which loops around the west, north and east of Mexico City.
The referendum invites the state's 8 million adults to say whether they would like to see kidnappers, armed robbers, first-degree murderers and child abductors put to death.
It also asks whether life sentences should be imposed on rapists and on corrupt public officials, including police and judges.
Mexico state is the country's most populous and most diverse and it is often seen as a microcosm of Mexico as a whole _ a possible indicator for voter tendencies across the nation.
Mexico state PRI leaders say the poll is part of a broader plan to overhaul the state's justice system, and a response to calls from residents to stop soaring crime rates.
``We don't want the death penalty or life sentences at any cost,'' said the state's PRI president, Isidro Pastor. ``We want the citizens to decide. But in the polls we already have done, people are very much in favor of the death penalty.''
Opponents say the survey makes a legally impossible proposal that exploits people's frustrations. They argue that Mexico state's constitution does not allow the death penalty and approving it would violate international treaties against capital punishment that the country has signed.
``We shouldn't hold impossible polls,'' said Sen. Leticia Burgoa of the left-leaning Democratic Revolution Party. ``What we should do is put forth productive proposals ... and not just tap into people's desperation and rage.''
Victor Manuel Solalinde, president of the Mexico state chapter of Coparmex, a business group that tracks criminal issues, said the death penalty wouldn't make a difference in Mexico state.
The state already has some of the harshest penalties on its books, but corrupt police never catch criminals in the first place, he said.
In 2001, only 7 percent of reported crimes were prosecuted in Mexico state compared to a national rate of 13.7 percent, according to government statistics.
Pastor insists the poll takes that into consideration by asking whether corrupt judges and police should receive life sentences. He says the federal constitution _ which permits the death penalty _ overrides the state's constitution. And he argues that international treaties are not binding.
A death penalty would go against generations of Mexican history. While legally permitted for some crimes, it hasn't been implemented for decades. The nation's Supreme Court has ruled on several occasions that it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.
Mexican courts routinely refuse to extradite Mexicans wanted in the United States if they face the death penalty or life in prison. The government has hired attorneys to fight for those already on death row.
Relations were strained last August when President Vicente Fox canceled a visit to the Texas ranch of President Bush after Bush refused to halt the execution of a Mexican for the murder of a Dallas police officer.
Last month, Mexico asked the World Court at The Hague to stop the execution of 51 Mexicans in the United States, saying U.S. officials violated the Vienna Convention by not informing the prisoners of their right to contact their consulate after being arrested.
Fox's office has withheld comment on the poll, as have officials of his National Action Party _ and the national offices of the PRI.
The poll is a first for the PRI, which ruled the country for 71 years before Fox's victory in 2000. Pastor says crime and corruption have soared to such levels that it's time for the old party to take new steps.
Toluca resident Amanda Hernandez Labastida, 20, isn't entirely convinced. Herself an assault victim, she said she would be in favor of the death penalty for rapists ``because now I am afraid to walk alone in the streets.''
``But,'' she said, ``I also think that this proposal could be just another lie from the PRI.''
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