Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sign of the Times

A couple of times now on this trip I've almost broken my neck as I twisted around to see a passing poster through the windows of a bus--

This particular poster has sprouted all over Mexico at bus stops, highway roadsides, and on buildings. The campaign is financed and promoted by the Mexican Green Party, and--surprisingly for the Greeens--is propagandizing for a new law here, re-establishing the death penalty in cases of kidnapping and murder. These crimes have been all over the news here and in the U.S. due to the tidal wave of narcotrafficing violence in many parts of Mexico. The proximate cause is that President Calderon decided to crack down on the drug lords. He really had no choice, given the level of outrage in the country. Being thus squeezed, the drug lords decided to fight back. And, given the tightened opportunities for moving drugs north into the U.S., they are fighting each other for territorial rights. Think Al Capone in the 1930's.

The death penalty is quite controversial and has advocates on both sides of the issue.
Legislators in favor are accused of playing to the voters in front of an upcoming election. In a BBC interview, a Green Party spokeswoman said, "The (Mexican) state has been overcome by organized crime. Before such an extreme crisis, extreme solutions are required." She continued, "It is worth more to save one life of an innocent than that of a kidnapper who has killed and will continue to kill."

The Mexican Congress has just approved a series of forums and debates on the topic, even though the Mexican constitution officially banned the death penalty in 2005. The BBC story goes on to note that more than 1,000 people were kidnapped in 2008, but--since many families pay the ransom and don't report the crime to the police--the real statistic may be more like 5,000...more than in Iraq or Colombia.

It seems like popular opinion has swung in favor of changing the law. A threshold may have been crossed last year in June, when Francisco Marti, the 14-year-old son of a prominent Mexico City businessman was kidnapped and murdered. The entire country was outraged at the callous brutality.

In a comparative sense, in the U.S., many states have outlawed the death penalty and more are moving in that direction. But here in Mexico, after having the death penalty for decades, the Constitution was changed to prohibit it....and now, it seems, it may be reinstated.

Nations enact laws based on the demands of their societies at a point in time. And those change over time: Consider Roe vs. Wade, Brown vs. Kansas Board of Education, or the U.S. use of the prison camp at Guantanamo.

I can understand the "contra" position taken by religious communities such as the Quakers or Unitarians or Catholics, based on their belief systems. Life, indeed, is sacred. But it's also easy to understand the pro-death penalty position of the Green Party. When people are at the end of their rope, they sometimes decide to make a loop and a knot at the end of it.
My own belief is that most (NOT all) people are fundamentally good. While I am sympathetic, I am not naive. It makes me sad to have arrived at the hard conclusion, the sad truth, that evil exists in the world. And it is the obligation of government to protect the rest of us from those unredeemable people who would do us harm.