Death penalty debate grows in Mexico
By Stephen Gibbs
BBC News, Mexico City http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7866811.stm at 14:30pm on Wed 4 February 2009
The Green Party is planning on keeping the posters up for months
Billboards can reveal a lot about a country.
They tend to show what advertising executives and politicians think are the desires and fears of the people they target.
The skyline of Mexico City is a case in point.
It is dominated by the usual alluring, aspirational adverts for products like Bacardi rum, cheaply financed cars and lipstick.
But scattered among them are huge black posters calling for the reintroduction of capital punishment.
"Because we care about your life - death penalty for murderers and kidnappers," they demand in bold yellow letters.
The campaign, somewhat incongruously, is paid for by Mexico's Green Party. The organisation's mascot, a large toucan against a green backdrop, appears prominently on each poster.
Blighted by crime
The contrasting messages on the city's billboards highlight one of the idiosyncrasies of this country.
While its GDP puts it among the richest 15 countries in the world, its official kidnapping rate tops that of Iraq.
Moreover, murders linked to organised crime - in particular the drugs trade - are soaring with almost 6,000 people killed last year, double the number for 2007.
Children are being murdered and kidnapped, the current policy is not working Your browser may not support display of this image.
Mexican Green Party
It is against this background that Mexico's tiny Green Party has decided to campaign for the reintroduction of the death penalty.
It has been almost 50 years since anyone was executed in Mexico. A soldier was the last person to face a firing squad in 1961 for insubordination and murder.
In 2005, Congress abolished the death penalty and removed all references to it from the constitution.
Antonio Garcia, a senator campaigning against capital punishment at the time, called it "the most cruel, inhumane and degrading punishment, and a violation of the right to life".
'The voice of the people'
However, Gloria Lavara, the Green Party deputy who is coordinating the pro-capital punishment campaign, makes no apology for shifting the main focus of her party from protecting the environment to endorsing a policy which the Green movement worldwide rejects.
"We are expressing the voice of the people," she says. "If people do not respect the lives of others, then they too have lost the right to life."
Mexico City resident
"Children are being murdered and kidnapped, the current policy is not working."
But according to Juan Francisco Torres Landa, a lawyer who represents Mexico United - a non-governmental organisation campaigning against crime - there is no evidence that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to criminals.
"I believe the Green Party is promoting a media campaign simply to obtain political dividends," he says.
But a random straw poll of people in a Mexico City shopping centre seems to lend some support to Ms Lavara's views.
Everyone I spoke to favoured the reintroduction of the death penalty.
"If people do not respect the lives of others, then they too have lost the right to life," said one middle-aged woman who gave her name only as Elvia.
Another woman said she had her own reasons for strongly believing that kidnappers should be executed.
"I was kidnapped for two hours," she said. "They hit me, and molested me. They even threatened to rape me."
Alejandro Marti, whose son was kidnapped and murdered, on crime in Mexico
Nevertheless, the chances of capital punishment actually being reinstated in Mexico are extremely remote.
President Felipe Calderon's National Action Party (Pan) and the leftist PRD both oppose it, as does the Roman Catholic Church.
The PRI, the party which held power in Mexico continuously for more than 70 years until 2000 supports public debate on the issue.
Late last month, Congress voted to consult on the issue.
It promised to host forums, bringing together opinion from all sides of the debate. The outcome will not be legally binding.
The Green Party posters are expected to remain in place for months - a daily reminder of the violence which millions of Mexicans dread, and simply want to end.
Mexico parties vie for toughest on crime ahead vote
* Reuters, Friday July 3 2009
* Hundreds of drug gang murders every month
* Mexico in most violent period for a century
* President Calderon's party set to lose ground in vote
By Michael O'Boyle
MEXICO CITY, July 3 (Reuters) - When the Green Party backs the death penalty, things must be bad.
Mexican political parties are vying to look the toughest on crime ahead of Sunday's congressional elections, but no one is trying harder than the tiny Green Party, which wants to legalize the death penalty for murderers and kidnappers.
Brutal, and often fatal, abductions and hundreds of drug gang murders each month are a major problem for President Felipe Calderon, whose first move on taking power in 2006 was to launch an army assault on drug gangs.
The economic crisis that hit last year has become the top issue, but crime will still loom large in a mid-term election that will determine how much clout Calderon has for the remainder of his term.
Parties are playing to voters fed up with extortion and kidnappings by gangs often led by crooked police.
"Most Mexican states and cities are being held hostage by the fear of organized crime. People are enormously fed up," said Sen. Arturo Escobar, an architect of the Green Party's death penalty bid.
The Greens have strayed in recent years from an environmental platform in favor of political tactics and alliances to boost their size. Escobar said it opted to pursue the death penalty campaign after focus groups showed up to 85 percent of Mexicans were willing to back capital punishment.
Calderon's drug war has plunged Mexico into its most violent period since the revolution of the early 20th century. Escalating turf wars between rival gangs have killed some 12,300 people since the crackdown began.
Despite the bloodshed, Mexicans widely support using the army to confront drug lords who have controlled chunks of the country for decades, operating with relative impunity thanks to corrupt local officials.
Calderon's National Action Party, or PAN, is expected to lose ground in Sunday's mid-term elections as the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, picks up votes from people hurt by Mexico's deepest recession since 1995.
Yet the PAN would be losing by a bigger margin if not for a campaign highlighting Calderon's drug war, pollsters say.
The PAN's radio and TV ads have tried to cast the PRI, the party it ousted in 2000 after seven decades in power, as full of corrupt politicians in cahoots with drug lords.
One TV ad flags a string of arrests and drug seizures under Calderon and closes with a jibe aimed at the PRI: "Don't leave Mexico in the hands of crime."
Pollsters say the campaign has been effective.
"In the middle of an economic recession, one would expect to see the ruling party be severely punished, but it isn't," said Roy Campos, head of polling firm Consulta Mitofsky.
The economic downturn, as U.S. demand for Mexican-made trucks and televisions has collapsed, has sent unemployment to its highest level in more than a decade.
The recession risks luring more young men with few job prospects to the lucrative life of drug runners. Historically, unemployed Mexicans have headed to the United States but tighter border security has made that harder.
"There are countless youths who see the only way out in organized crime," said the Green Party's Escobar.
A crusade by sporting goods tycoon Alejandro Marti, whose 14-year-old son was murdered by his kidnappers last year, has helped keep crime in the electoral spotlight.
Marti launched a citizens watchdog group, Mexico SOS, that is trying to get election candidates to sign legal documents promising to fulfill promises made on crime.
"The judicial system in Mexico is totally worn out. We need to renovate it, revive it, make it more transparent and efficient," said Marti. After he paid a big ransom, the discovery of his son's body inside a car trunk set off an outpouring of public rage.
"Previous administrations let the mafia spread everywhere," said university bureaucrat Lorena Lopez, 42. "Everywhere you look it's a slaughterhouse. The people need this to end." (Additional reporting by Miguel Gutierrez; Editing by Alan Elsner and Catherine Bremer)
Mexico to rethink death penalty
By Stephen Gibbs
BBC News, Mexico City
23 January 2009
The Congress in Mexico has agreed to debate the issue of reinstating capital punishment for some crimes.
The move follows a surge in murders and kidnappings in the country, many linked to drug cartels and organised crime.
Mexico abolished capital punishment in 2005, but recent surveys suggest that 70% of Mexicans are in favour of the death penalty.
The campaign to reinstate judicial executions has, unusually, been led by Mexico's Green Party.
Hundreds of posters, carrying the Green Party logo, and demanding capital punishment for murderers and kidnappers have appeared all over Mexico City.
The party says it is simply conveying the voice of the people, but its opponents say it is playing politics.
No date has been set for the forums, which will bring together crime experts, academics and human rights campaigners.
The chances that the Mexican constitution will actually be amended currently appear remote.
The government, church and human rights groups all strongly oppose reinstatement.
Mexico has long been powerful voice in international forums calling for the abolition of capital punishment and has not carried out an execution since 1961.
But millions of Mexicans are appalled by the rising insecurity in this country, and are looking for any means to try to control it.
From the Los Angeles Times
MEXICO UNDER SIEGE
Some in Mexico want the death penalty reinstated
The increase in slayings and kidnappings related to the nation's war on drug traffickers has created a climate of fear. Legal experts see too many obstacles to restoring capital punishment.
By Tracy Wilkinson
December 5, 2008
Reporting from Mexico City — Anger and frustration over rampant killings and kidnappings have ignited an improbable debate here over legalizing the death penalty, a punishment that has been effectively banned in Mexico for nearly half a century.
Lawmakers agreed Thursday to hear arguments next week on a proposal to amend the Mexican Constitution to allow for capital punishment in a narrow number of cases.
The initiative from Humberto Moreira, governor of the northern border state of Coahuila, would allow the death penalty for convicted kidnappers who killed or mutilated their victims. He said as far as the people of his state were concerned, the only issue was how to execute convicts, not whether to do so.
It is highly unlikely, if not impossible, that the death penalty could be reinstated because of legal obstacles, experts said. But that is almost beside the point. Moreira has tapped into public panic over soaring crime, a climate of fear that has made law and order the country's No. 1 worry.
Much of the bloodshed is related to Mexico's drug war, as government forces crack down on powerful traffickers and traffickers battle one another over pieces of the lucrative trade.
But violence is spilling into ordinary society. Two recent kidnappings of children of affluent Mexicans -- one turned up dead and the other has not been found -- underlined the public's vulnerability. As much as the crimes themselves, the fact that there are few prosecutions -- impunity and no justice -- riles Mexican society.
"If 98% of criminals escape prosecution for their crimes, it is clear that the population feels wounded and tends to support capital punishment," Gerardo Priego, a legislator from the ruling National Action Party, or PAN, told reporters.
Moreira's initiative received quick support from several state governors from his Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.
But critics accused Moreira of demagoguery and of taking advantage of the public mood for political gain. Mexico City's Human Rights Commission said a return to state-administered executions would set the country back 200 years.
"Behind this call [for the death penalty] is society's desperation over the climate of insecurity we are living in," said Alberto Herrera, head of the Mexico chapter of Amnesty International. "But the risk is it leads to calls for revenge. Times of desperation are the worst times to go for facile solutions."
Reinstatement of the death penalty is unlikely for legal and political reasons. The last execution in Mexico was in 1961, coincidentally in Coahuila, the state where the current initiative originated. Capital punishment remained on the books, primarily within the military judicial system, but was unused and abolished in 2005.
In 1981, Mexico signed a human rights treaty as part of the Organization of American States that dictated the death penalty, once eliminated, could not be revived.
Furthermore, the PAN, which holds sway in Congress, says it opposes changing the constitution to allow capital punishment.
Recent polls showed support for the death penalty surging to as much as two-thirds of the surveyed population.
Miguel Carbonell, a constitutional law expert at Mexico's National Autonomous University, said that despite public outcry, the chance of imposing the death penalty, given the international treaties that Mexico signed, was "nil."
"We are all very worried about the security situation and want strong measures," he said. "But the state cannot fall into the same criminal behavior as the criminals."
In separate action Thursday, the lower house of Mexico's Congress approved a package of state security measures aimed at strengthening the government's ability to fight drug traffickers and organized crime. Key among the measures were provisions to prevent the infiltration of police forces by criminals.
Wilkinson is a Times staff writer.
MEXICO CITY -- The street peddler's face darkened when asked how the Mexican government should deal with the rash of kidnappings and drug slayings terrorizing the nation.
"They should catch the perpetrators and kill them," said Luis Bote, 21, as he served steaming tacos from a basket on his bicycle. "Only if the criminals are afraid will these crimes ever stop."
Bote isn't alone. Such calls to reinstate the death penalty are gaining ground in Mexico amid an unprecedented surge in violent crime. Most of the violence is tied to the warring narcotics gangs, who killed a record 5,500 people last year, including a growing number of kidnapping victims.
In December, the governor of northern Coahuila state sponsored a bill in the Mexican Congress that would bring back the death penalty for kidnappers who murder their victims. Legislators are expected to debate the proposal when they resume sessions in February.
"These are people who won't be rehabilitated in jail," said Coahuila Gov. Humberto Moreira, whose cattle ranching state borders Texas. "Let's get real and let's start executing the kidnappers."
The Green Party, a minority party in Congress, has gone further, advocating capital punishment in all homicide cases. "Because we worry about your life, we're going to end the life of murderers," declare the party's billboards, which are plastered across the capital.
The proposals have sparked outrage from human rights activists, the Roman Catholic Church and some politicians, who denounce them as immoral and illegal. Mexico eradicated the final vestiges of the death penalty in 2005. The last time the punishment was applied here was in 1961.
Since 2000, the Mexican government has successfully defended more than 400 Mexicans on death row in the United States. Mexico is also bound by the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights, which bars countries who have abolished the death penalty from later reinstating it.
Critics accuse Moreira of exploiting Mexicans' fear of kidnapping to rally votes ahead of the 2009 congressional elections. The governor's Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, is hoping to rebound as the country's dominant political force nine years after the collapse of the one-party system in 2000.
"It's clearly an electioneering tactic, and this is playing with the feelings of desperation of many Mexicans," said Carlos Navarrete, a senator with the leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party, which opposes the bill. "There are some topics with which the Congress should not play." The pro-Catholic National Action Party, to which President Felipe Calderon belongs, has also opposed the proposal.
But they may be out of touch with their electorate.
Between 70 and 80 percent of Mexicans favor the death penalty for kidnappers who kill their victims, according to several recent opinion polls. Forty-four percent support executing kidnappers in general, compared with 50 percent who are opposed, according to an August survey by The Associated Press and the pollster Ipsos.
Mexico has one of the highest kidnapping rates in the world, with dozens of U.S. citizens among the victims. Officially, an average of 70 people are abducted each month, although private security firms say the real figure is 10 times higher. The kidnappers demand anywhere from a few hundred dollars to millions of dollars in ransom, in what has become an important source of income for the organized crime mafias.
Most Mexicans don't report kidnappings for fear of endangering the victims' lives or for fear that the police may be involved.
Those fears were confirmed in August with the kidnapping murder of Fernando Marti, the 14-year-old son of a sporting goods magnate. Marti's driver and body guard were also tortured and killed. Two Mexico City police officers, including the leader of the airport's anti-kidnapping squad, were later implicated in the murder and another 14 officers were placed under investigation.
Days later, one of the country's most prominent sports promoters, Nelson Vargas, revealed that his 17-year-old daughter, Silvia, had been kidnapped 11 months before and was still missing.
"No one is immune to this anymore," said Roderic Ai Camp, a Mexico expert at Claremont McKenna College in California." It has really brought home on a personal level that there's corruption and crime, and in extreme cases, violence that's touching everyone."
Still, opponents of reinstating the death penalty argue that the chances of executing the wrong person -- particularly in such a notoriously flawed justice system as Mexico's -- are unacceptably high. They also argue that the government should not greet violence with more violence.
"No one has the right to take someone's life," said Elisabeth Gonzalez, a copy shop worker in the capital. "That's not the way to fight crime. Supposedly that's what the laws are for."
Read more from GlobalPost.com.
Kidnappers Inject Acid Into Boy's Heart
Corruption Allows Vicious Gangs To Target Working Class And Wealthy Mexicans Alike
MEXICO CITY, Nov. 4, 2008
(AP) Kidnappers grabbed a 5-year-old boy from a gritty Mexico City street market, then killed him by injecting acid into his heart - a new low even for Mexico's brutal kidnapping gangs.
The boy, Javier Morena, was the oldest son of a poor family that sold fruit at a market in the tough neighborhood of Iztapalapa, proof that the plague of kidnappings for ransom afflicts the working class as well as the wealthy.
Javier disappeared while playing at the market on Sunday, Oct. 26, Mexico City authorities said on Monday. The boy's family spent days looking for him, finally persuading a local television station to post his picture on the news three days later.
A taxi driver recognized the boy, and went to the market to find the family. He told them that he had given the boy and a teenager a ride from the market to nearby Mexico state, and the teenager had told him the boy was crying because his younger brother had been stolen.
The driver dropped the two off a block from the police station, and the teen told him they were meeting the boy's mother there.
The family showed the driver a picture of their son. Also in the picture was a 17-year-old family friend, who the driver recognized as the alleged kidnapper.
The police raided the 17-year-old's home, and he and his family and two others confessed to having killed the boy before they could ask for a $23,000 ransom, Mexico City Attorney General Miguel Mancera said in a statement.
Mancera said the assailants injected the boy with acid and buried him on a hill outside the capital.
Five suspected kidnappers, including the 17-year-old, are under arrest. It was unclear if the group had carried out other kidnappings.
Javier was buried early Monday. Hours later, sitting in her home of cinderblock and corrugated tin, the boy's mother, Laura Vega, said she has no idea why the kidnappers targeted her family. But she said she felt they should face the death penalty, long banned in Mexico, and that they should "suffer the way my son suffered."
"He didn't have to die like that, far from his parents," she said, her eyes red and swollen from crying. "If he had to go to God, it shouldn't have been like that."
The child's death recalled the recent kidnapping and slaying of Fernando Marti, the 14-year-old son of a sporting goods magnate whose death prompted a national outcry against crime.
Young Marti's decomposing body was found in the trunk of a car even though his family reportedly paid a ransom. Prosecutors said a federal lawman was part of the gang that kidnapped Marti.
Outrage over that case prompted more than 100,000 people to march through Mexico City in August to demand an end to endemic police corruption and rising crime.
On Monday, dozens of people left messages on Reforma's Web site expressing outrage at the 5-year-old's death. Some called for Mexico to reinstate capital punishment.
"Keeping them alive only guarantees a hidden danger for the rest of society," wrote a man who identified himself as Eric Aguilar of Mexico City.
Mexico has one of the world's highest kidnapping rates, according to the anti-violence group IKV Pax Christi. Kidnappings are up 9 percent this year and average 65 per month nationwide, according to the federal Attorney General's Office, which blames a growing web of drug cartels, current and former police officers and informants who point out potentially lucrative victims.
Most kidnappings go unreported for fear of police involvement. The nonprofit Citizens' Institute for Crime Studies estimates the real kidnapping rate to be more than 500 per month.