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U.S.: Execution of Mexican Citizen Draws Wide Condemnation

Denis Foynes

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 12 2011 (IPS) - “I’m ready. Let’s get this show on the road,” Humberto Leal Garcia told a prison warden minutes before his execution in Texas on the night of Jul. 7.

Garcia was executed by lethal injection for the kidnapping, rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl in 1994. He was the seventh person to be executed in Texas this year.

The execution was highly controversial, although Garcia’s guilt wasn’t the issue. That has never been in doubt.

In fact, Garcia used his last words to say, “I’ve hurt a lot of people. I take full responsibility for everything.”

Garcia had been living in the United States almost his entire life, but he was born in Mexico.

In 2004, the International Court of Justice – the U.N.’s highest court – ruled that he and 51 other Mexican nationals arrested in the U.S. had not received assistance from the Mexican consulate, which they were entitled to under the Vienna Convention.

Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, who visited Mexico last week, said the execution had placed “the U.S. in breach of international law”.

“What the state of Texas has done in this case is imputable in law to the U.S. and engages the United States’ international responsibility,” she said.

“[The] ramifications are likely to spread far beyond Texas,” Pillay warned.

The government of Mexico has claimed it could have assisted in Garcia’s defence investigation, provided funds for experienced investigators and mental health experts, and taken measures to ensure that Garcia had competent attorneys to represent him.

At the trial, questions were raised about the competence of the attorneys Garcia was provided with. One had been twice suspended from practicing law for failing to adequately defend clients, and was publicly criticised on two other instances.

For these reasons, the Mexican government had requested that Garcia’s sentence be reduced to life in prison.

The request was supported by U.S. President Barack Obama, who warned that if the execution went ahead as scheduled, it would do “irreparable damage” to U.S. interests.

These interests included “protecting Americans aboard, fostering cooperation with foreign nations and demonstrating respect for the international rule of law,” he said.

The Obama administration asked the U.S. Supreme Court to put the execution on hold while Congress debated a law to prevent Garcia and dozens of other foreign citizens denied a diplomatic representative from being executed.

In a 30-page brief to the Supreme Court, the White House said that the execution would “place the United Sates in irreparable breach of its international law obligation”. The request was narrowly rejected by the high court by a vote of five to four.

In the end, Texas Governor Rick Perry, a Republican, ignored the wishes of Obama, the United Nations, the Mexican government and even former president and governor of Texas George W. Bush and refused the stay the execution.

After it was carried out, a spokesperson for Governor Perry stated that “Texas is not bound by a foreign court’s ruling.”

Some analysts suggest that giving in to a Democratic administration, especially Obama’s, would have been political suicide for Perry, who is said to have presidential ambitions for 2012.

Now Perry is the Republican Party’s new golden boy, with a reputation of being tough on crime and standing up to Washington.

Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, told IPS, “This wasn’t an international diplomacy decision. It came down to domestic politics and the division between the left and right in America.”

One consequence of the execution is a further souring of Mexican-U.S. relations, a relationship already strained by border issues such as drug violence and immigration.

“Mexican justice has the reputation in the United States of being careless, but now if the U.S. now has a complaint regarding the arrest of one of its citizens, it hasn’t a leg to stand on,” Birns said.

“That is not to say he shouldn’t be killed for his crimes, but you must respect the rights of human beings and other countries,” he added. What Governor Perry and Texas did was terribly short-sighted.

“There is likely to be retaliation for this execution and it is no question that Americans will die due to this rash action.”

In the words of Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, “Americans detained overseas rely on access to U.S. consults every day.”

“If we expect other countries to abide by treaties they join, the United States must also honour its obligations,” he said.

Kali Akuno of the U.S. Human Rights Network told IPS, “We are opposed to the death penalty, period, and this execution was a further breach of the most basic rights.”

“It is clear that Texan state officials broke international law for their own political gain,” he added.

Asked how the event could affect U.S.-Mexican relations, Akuno said that “actions such as these are in the public awareness not only in Mexico but in all of Latin America, hence the damage done to America’s reputation is much more widespread.”

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