Guatemala’s Congress Revives Death Penalty

February 22, 2008

GUATEMALA CITY – Guatemala’s Congress last week approved a measure that effectively restores the death penalty nearly six years after the country’s

Constitutional Court

declared a moratorium on executions.

The bill, sponsored by the main opposition right-wing Patriot Party, won by an overwhelming majority.

Lawmakers’ action means that President Alvaro Colom, an opponent of capital punishment, will have to decide whether to grant clemency to the 34 convicts now on death row in Guatemala.

Patriotic Party Congresswoman Roxanna Baldetti told reporters that the high levels of violence in the Central American country justify the use of capital punishment.

Under the measure passed Feb. 12, Colom will have 30 days to rule on each separate application for clemency, which is automatic in capital cases.

He can either order the execution to proceed or commute the convict’s sentence to 50 years in prison, the maximum allowed under Guatemalan law.

The president’s press secretary, Ronaldo Robles, said that Colom “is respectful of the law and will assume his responsibility.”

“When the requests for clemency are presented, the president will examine them and if he determines the death penalty should be applied, it will have to be applied as the law establishes,” Robles said.

The

Constitutional Court

declared a moratorium on executions in 2002 at the request of then-President Alfonso Portillo, who contended that the 1892 law establishing the commutation mechanism did not specify which element of government actually has the authority to grant clemency.

In that ruling, the judges said it was up to Congress to amend the law and clarify the issue of jurisdiction.

Guatemala’s last executions were in June 2000, when Amilcar Cetino and Tomas Cerrate were put to death for the kidnapping and murder of a wealthy businesswoman.

A poll published in May 2007 showed that 65% of Guatemalans favor the death penalty as a way of taming the violence that is reflected in a murder rate of around 14 people a day.

Guatemala, Cuba and the United States are the only nations in the Americas that maintain the death penalty on their books.

 

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