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Crime Victims Are Forgotten In Death Penalty Debate

by Arturo Guzman

March 19, 2000
Copyright © 2000 THE SAN JUAN STAR. All Rights Reserved.

Even while the sands of Vieques continue to smolder from the continued live-fire barrage of the nationalist offensive, the lines are being drawn for the creation of the next battleground. This time the controversy being fabricated will surround the application of the death sentence as punishment to Puerto Ricans found guilty of capital offenses under federal law. While I fully recognize that this issue raises many moral concerns, thus far public discussion and exposure have been one-sided as is now usually the case.

In this forthcoming debate it will be important to respect the good intentions of those in the international religious and civic communities, such as Pope John Paul II, who are genuinely sincere in their opposition to capital punishment. But it should be equally relevant to recognize that the Judeo-Christian principles taught by the Bible are full of references to the just application of the death penalty such as, "He who lives by the sword, shall die by the sword"...

Many in our own society also oppose the death penalty for humane and moral reasons. However, they are are being exploited, and allowing themselves to be exploited, by those whose main purpose is not in saving the lives of convicted criminals, as much as in their ideological and political motivation to try and demonstrate that Puerto Ricans are in danger of "being murdered by the imperialist Yanqui".

As proof that the substantive debate has also been one-sided, one may ask who demonstrates or defends the rights of the victims? We have amongst us great paladins of the rights of the convicted. Not a moment goes by without their raising their voices about the conditions in prisons, the human rights of the convicts, etc. But who is out there denouncing all the grief, suffering and death these venom have caused to our society? Silence is eloquent...

The reason is that it is not in the interest of those who want to exploit the issue for other purposes to pay any attention to the victims. Statistically they would have to confront the sad and brutal truth that criminal acts are overwhelmingly being committed by Puerto Ricans against Puerto Ricans. They would have to confront the undeniable and often stated fact that the death penalty is being applied in Puerto Rico. However, instead of being administered by the justice system it is being applied by the criminal system-unfortunately now as much of an institution as the former.

Thus, the strategy of the separatists concentrates in making this an issue devoid of any victims other than those that would have to pay for their own crimes, so that they can further reinforce the political image of Puerto Ricans being killed by their American executioners. The real victims of crime? No one cares, they don’t count, they can be victimized twice: Once by suffering the consequences of the crime committed against them; secondly, by shifting the sympathy and the compassion to the perpetrators.

There is worse in this debate. Our local collective perception has been brainwashed and deceived for years into half-believing in the notion that while remaining American citizens, we can be above and beyond the reach of federal statutes. Throughout its history, everytime the Popular Democratic Party has made an unsuccessful bid to "enhance" our present political condition, they have included a provision that would allow Puerto Rico the power to choose which federal laws would apply locally. In other words, Puerto Rico would be given a power of veto greater than that of the U.S. Congress and the Executive branch combined! A constitutional impossibility!

This notion, now influences some of our people unto the mistaken belief that before equal crimes, Puerto Ricans would be exempted from equal punishment. A case is made that the local constitution, still subject to the plenary powers of the U.S. Congress, does not allow for the application of capital punishment, even though the reality of our condition dictates that federal law takes precedence over local statute.

I laugh at people who complain that status is brought as an element to the discussion of almost every problem or situation that confronts our society, and a capital punishment debate would be a good example. We have available two easy solutions for those that oppose federally mandated laws: One, we can become our own nation. As an independent country we are free to enact our own laws. Perhaps we would choose to banish the death penalty altogether. Or perhaps, as in many of the admired "free nations" that surround us, we could have our own "paredon" where the state, instead of a system of justice, would administer the death penalty to its political or ideological opposition.

The second solution, would be provided by becoming a state of the union, and having full congressional representation that could join in proposing a constitutional amendment banning altogether the death penalty, or re-affirming its use. Of course, there could be a third option in remaining statutory American citizens and once again having to comply to laws that were enacted without our participation or consent, and which may not meet the local moral and ethical standards. The choice is yours...

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