15 March 2008

Overdue | Pride


On my shared items I have added a note from elPeriódico, the Guatemalan newspaper I use almost exclusively to keep connected and informed about what's up in my motherland. This is my interpretation and reaction of the news as a self-exiled middle-class Toronteco. The news headline reads as follows (my own translation from Spanish):

Presidents vetoes restitution of death penalty

Executive affirms that the decision is based in the fact that the decree violates six articles of the Constitution and because it would freeze relations with supportive countries


A couple of notes: (1) How hard it is to translate a headline from the beautiful Spanish language into the practical English language. (2) The "executive" refers to the section of the government headed by the president and conformed by the different ministries in charge of the actual functioning (execution) of the government, as opposed to the "legislative" (in charge of spitting out laws) and the "judicial"(in charge of enforcing the laws through the different courts).

I honestly have to say that I have not followed this issue closely. Apparently, the previous Guatemalan government left the death penalty "in the air" and it was up to the new government to figure out what to do with it. It seems that the "legislative", that is the Congress, approved the restitution of the death penalty. Both the current "executive" and the "legislative" are dominated by the same party, thus it is interesting that the president vetoes something approved by his own party. However, that is his prerogative and I simply can applaud any sign he can give of being "in power".

During my quarter of a century growing up in Guatemala the death penalty was a non-issue. It existed, it was enforced every now and then, it was even broadcast on the news at noon. I learned compassion, thought, through the eyes of my Tía Luz who served somewhat as our nanny and to whom I am in debt for who I am almost as much as my parents. Her reaction to anyone being incarcerated or taking in by police, or worse, anyone who was in death row was Pobrecito ("poor little guy"). Compassion for a criminal is something that is not often seen, particularly in Guatemala where the sole mention of the "Human Rights" in relation to common criminals provokes the outcry of the general public as a way of letting people get away with their wrongdoings. Now that I think about it to put it in black and white pixels Human Rights have so many different meanings in Guatemala. On one side we have the issue of the genocide of those who were fighting against the government (blowing up the extremely necessary and scarce infrastructure of the country, I must say to echo my "maternal" point of view); those who are seen by the international community as criminals against humanity, the masterminds and executors of the massacres during the civil war and even after the peace accords of 1996. And then we have the Human Rights of the common criminal (or even the organized one) which are completely disregarded by the common public. Linchamientos ("lynching") was (is?) a usual way of the people of taking the law into their own hands, as democratic as an open town hall. Out of frustration, the general public chased the criminal (be it someone who was stealing a pair of sunglasses or someone being suspected or trying to kidnap a baby), beat him/her up almost to death, until "the authorities" arrive. Is in this context that Human Rights are looked down by Guatemalans, not in the context of the massacres.

Thus, this double standard (death people have Human Rights, but criminals barely alive don't) permeates the discussion of the death penalty in my dear motherland. The compassion instilled by my Tía Luz and encouraged by this country I live in now (my brother calls it my "godmother"-land) have created a very clear position about the death penalty: It is NEVER justified. To give anyone (the people, the judges, the government, the church) the power to decide over someone else life is to give them absolute power, and you know what the saying says, human nature will tend to be corrupted by this power. The death penalty is there along the proliferation of nuclear weapons, is better not to have them regardless of their appeal and potential "usefulness". Revenge is usually the motor behind those who cry for the death penalty, not justice and neither it is the welfare of the many (even though "getting rid" of a few bad apples might seem "good" for society).

In a couple of occasions I have been reminded in Canada that my country of origin still practices the death penalty and thus it is placed within the box of "medieval" justice systems (along with our big partner to the South). And that is why today I feel pride to share the news that come from my motherland. A president, regardless of the public opinion and the political cost, is saying that the death penalty has no place in a modern civilized society, it is unconstitutional (although so it is abortion, but that is a horse of a different colour) and in order to be part of the global village Guatemala has to find real solutions to its problems with violence and crime. Violence cannot fight violence. Today I am proud of this overdue position.

What do you think about the death penalty? Is it still applied where you live? Isn't it just a short-term lazy measure to combat criminality? Who has the moral solvency to decide over the life of someone else?

11 comments:

AntiguaDailyPhoto.Com said...

Two thumbs up for this entry Manolo!

RomeroGT said...

I can't say you are wrong, but I'll ask something but...please, do not answer me from Cànada situation, think about Guatemale and all those cruel actions done by "mareros" and people who has lost, or perhaps never have any values or respect for the life of other people. Please, do not give me the "they are product/victims of a bad government along 40 years". Please don't answer "you have to start rescuing values" so in 10 years things get better. Those things have to be done, I agree.

But, how do you stop those very cruel/crazy people whose eyes and expression tell you they cannot be reincorporated into society without the risk of killing more people (kids, women, elderly, anyone) ? System puts them in prison so they have a better "Guarida", free food and just organize and improve its crime techniques ?

PD: I do agree that the president is to be out of this process, that's why there is a Judicial System.

Manolo said...

RomeroGT I am not talking from any country's perspective, human life should be respected regardless of your nationality or your actions. Human life is a right, not a privilege that can be taken away. I am not religious... heck! I am not even spiritual, but I do remember somewhere being written that it is easy to love your friend, but the real deal is to love your enemy.
Now, it is easy to approve the death penalty when those who would decide over lives are not against you. Who can decide who lives and who deserves to die? When should we stop? Who can throw the first stone?

Following your logic (and your view of Guatemala) someone could think it would be easier to just nuke the crap off countries without "salvation" because it could be too costly and time consuming to either fix the root of the problems or to separate the wheat from the sheath.
Sorry... Palm Sunday just got into me...

And no, they are not the product of 40 years or 500 years of whatever: They are the product of 18, 19, 15, 14, 21, 25 years (whatever age they have) of being treated like scum or disposable lives. Of being told that you have to kill or be killed. Of resentment fueled by inequality, fear, discrimination, manipulation, neglect... of an institutionalized lack of respect towards basic human rights and towards their own little human dignity.

And we do have gangs and murders and killings and crime in Canada, we do have inequality and a past and a present full of shame and groups that have been marginalized. But the solution is still not getting rid of the rotten apples. And I strongly believe it is not the solution for Guatemala either.

The final note on this reply at least: I am really scared of those who talk about rescuing values... whose values? Again, who is morally solvent to decide.

RomeroGT said...

So.. no anwser, what should we do to stop killing of people in the hands of this crazy people. What to do to stop this "rotten" human beings who don't give a S... about people they rape, kidnap and/or kill ?

Your "whose values" questions is also an argument... you/me believe in life a a right, but these people don't and you are granting them something they don't beleive in... so... why keep it ?

Manolo said...

Ok... they DO care about life, just not yours, as you don't care about theirs. They don't respect your life as much as you don't respect theirs. They are human beings for Pete's sake! They are not animals that you can just shoot down when they go rabid.

What does it take? Work, education, health, justice, but not the justice of the lethal injection or the extra-judicial executions, but the justice of equal opportunity. So, the government should just kill 10, 100, 1,000 (how many?) and thus creating more resentment and generations and generations of vengeful "mareros" children to keep the country under their cloud of fear?
Crime prosecuted fairly and with full respect for the rights of everyone (both victim and criminal). Real prisons and jails (there is a difference) and not just pig pens where the scum of the earth is left to their own devices. But the most important: R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

I am really sad because you and the rest of our family have to live inside the war zone that Guatemala is right now. I might have only a very bad sense of what it is like... grim sense... it really freaked me out to read (for example) "El Informante Nativo", in which the post-millennial "Florid War" is painted so clearly. "Maras" against "death squads". I might be living on a world of fiction and ideals, but it is not as scary as the one you have to confront every day, I am quite sorry my brother.

My alternative answer was more akin to the story of Noah and the ark... I already intimated that solution in my previous reply.

RomeroGT said...

You still think of the life of the killers, but forget the life of their next victims.

I don't feel good when thinking of dead sentence as solution, but I can't feel good thinking that since your utopic solution "Crime prosecuted fairly and with full respect for the rights of everyone (both victim and criminal). Real prisons and jails (there is a difference) and not just pig pens where the scum of the earth is left to their own devices." will still leave these criminals free.

The developed countries and minds want countries like Guatemala to only apply punishment that fit for their 21st century cultures/education, but that is not real, nor usefull for a culture/education like Guatemala has.

CancunCanuck said...

I personally don't support capital punishment, I don't think it's a deterrent at all. Death Row is full of criminals who were fully aware that they might face death if they committed their crimes and they did it anyway.

I am REALLY grateful that it is not legal in Mexico. I discuss this with my students fairly regularly. When some of them start talking about revenge and justice, I slyly change the subject to the reliability of the justice system. I ask if they trust their judges to be fair and accurate in their decisions. Their answer is always "NO WAY". I then ask if they want those judges deciding who should be put to death and they pale. How many innocent people are in jail in Mexico? How many innocent people would be put to death by a corrupt and inefficient system?

So, no, I don't support it and I am glad that both of my "home" countries don't practice it.

Manolo said...

Dear bro Like in many other things we should agree to disagree. It is interesting that you are hinting that Guatemala is not in the 21st century but somewhere else you say that it is not in the 70s/80s. That deserves a post on your or my part. Give me a few days to think about "modernity" or whatever I can come up with. k?

Canucka Thanks for dropping by after your bday mini-vacation (at least from the virtual world). Just imagine to give the people that have Brenda Martin in prison the ability to decide over life and death. You know, every single day there is something about her on the radio news or in the newspaper up here (no TV for me). Pretty scary stuff... and nothing going on. There are also two interesting Canadians in death row cases one in the US and the other in Saudi Arabia where the government seems to be very slow (or completely neglectful) on their reactions.

AntiguaDailyPhoto.Com said...

Manolo, I think you should pose the same question that CancunCanuck asked the students... something like this:

Brother, would you trust the Guatemalan justice system with you life, the life of your brother, your friend or anybody for the matter?

Brother, would you trust the justice system in Guatemala? Are judges above erred decisions? Are they the best or the right person to decide who should die? Do you even trust the legal procedures, the Fiscales, the police?

Sometimes the best answer is a questions, or a set of questions?

CarmenDeBizet said...

Due to my upbringing, I am against capital punishment, but I can see how people get to that place where they want to take justice into their own hands. One defining moment for me was during college when our college chaplain invited us to go see Dead Man Walking. That movie made an impact on me completely. I do find it quite contradictory and self-righteous though for people to be "Christian" on the one hand and in favor of capital punishment on the other. For example, Bush (since I grew up in the U.S.) is one person that comes to mind. He actually stated that he has a personal relationship with God, but is in favor of capital punishment. I may be told that it is all open to interpretation and yes, it is...but when you have someone preaching his/her beliefs (Remember "If you are not with us, you are against us" bit?) one would expect some type of consistency and a moral compass. I find he lacks both.

CarmenDeBizet said...

Hi Manolo. Your post made me think of something I wrote about social cleansing.
Instead of me leaving a(nother) LACA comment, I decided to link my post here.  I want to catch up with your blog by the way, let me not talk about it though, but just demonstrate this goal. I would like to read Canucka's blog as well (as you call her), but my intentions are just that now...intentions. PS- The video I had is no longer available, but I am sure you can find other Dexter videos in YouTube.