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The San Juan Star
Death Penalty Is Capital Reminder Of Inequity
By Arturo J. Guzmán
June 13, 2003
The controversy surrounding the local application of the death penalty on federal crimes continues to influence public opinion as reflected by the Stars June 8th headline. One aspect that apparently few want to discuss is determining which of the two death penalties that exist in our society is the one being opposed by individuals and groups in Puerto Rico.
No one could possibly deny the existence of the death penalty that is habitually carried out in Puerto Rico. It is the ultimate penalty that is summarily and routinely imposed by criminal elements without due process upon innocent law abiding citizens. The other type of death penalty is that which can potentially be imposed against convicted criminals by a jury of their peers initiating a very lengthy legal process lasting many years and during which appeals of the conviction and sentence are taken as a matter of course all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Given the fact that individuals and groups that purportedly oppose the death penalty seldom if ever manifest solidarity with the rights of victims and justice, the need for enforcement and punishment, better training and budgets for law enforcement officials, public condemnation of criminals and criminal acts etc., one must surmise that what they oppose is not the type of death penalty that criminals carry out against the innocent, but the death penalty society imposes upon criminals.
Like everything Puerto Rican, there are some locals that oppose the death penalty not because they give a hoot about the lives of criminals, but because they can utilize their opposition to nurture their political and ideological agendas. These marginal elements are the same who plant bombs to kill and maim, hold up armored trucks and banks, assassinate unarmed members of our national armed forces, etc. That is the low value they place on the lives of innocents in contrast with the values they publicly claim for the lives of their fellow criminals.
As a result, those indicted in this notorious case are already being referred to as "young Puerto Ricans" and their personal description given undue deference by the local press and media in order to foster the image that they are two young and wholesome individuals on their way to being assassinated by the imperialist Yanki. Their intended portrayal is that they are being judged not for being criminals but for being Puerto Rican.
As reference keep in mind that the accused allegedly kidnapped a man for ransom and when they did not get their way they shot the victim and cut him in small pieces that were then strewn across a field in bags. It is not known for certain if the victim was dead before they began to "carve" him, or if this was carried out as a form of torture until he was killed.
Since I have consistently defended the right to presumption of innocence in no manner do I want to imply a presumption of guilt on the part of the accused. However, I certainly want to assure an understanding of the nature of the crime and the obligation of authorities to prospectively protect the safety and well being of the citizenry from the monsters that perpetrate these abhorrent acts. Feigned piety should not make us disregard that "those who live by the sword shall die by the sword". Just ask the victims family.
More importantly, what should be front page news is not the applicability of the death penalty in Puerto Rico, but the more devastating impact that it has in underscoring the dramatic inequities of our colonial political status. To those who have endlessly concocted lies upon lies about the nature of the relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico, the supremacy of federal statute above the local constitution and law undeniably exposes their deceit by serving as irrefutable evidence of the most perverse kind of colonialism.
The local applicability of the death penalty is also the ultimate and capital reminder of the inequality of our citizenship. Our wrath and repudiation must not be directed at the principle of equal punishment for equal crimes for equal citizens. Instead, we should rebel at the selective discrimination in our rights and obligations imposed and forced upon us unilaterally and unconditionally by the Congress of the United States. We can die honorably in war in the service of the nation, or dishonorably in the electric chair, but what we cannot do is live and vote for the President or elect representatives to the legislative assembly that enacts the laws that authorize capital punishment.