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The Death penalty in Latin America

The Death penalty in Latin America

What very well may be the last vestige of a less civilized society, capital punishment, better known as the death penalty, has become a focal point within not only nations’ parliaments but even international forums such as the UN. And while many countries have decided the execution of criminals convicted of more heinous crimes are still deserving of life and have done away with the death penalty altogether, some nations still maintain its usage and even employ it regularly.

Before we delve into the complexities of the death penalty and its merit or lack thereof, it may be pertinent to explore its history.

Dating back to the time people first gathered together to form societies, the death penalty, in some shape or form, has been utilized as a means of punishment. Though its use was more liberal in the earlier days of society. Now, it is mostly used in cases where the crimes committed surpass simple law-breaking behavior, meaning that it’s reserved for those convicted of murder. However, some countries still use it in other contexts as well.


Capital Punishment and Latin America

Capital punishment has been a controversial subject as more and more countries begin to wrestle with the morality of executing criminals. On one side of the aisle sit those that stand for the death penalty and advocate its usage for serious crimes. To their point, they provide the argument that the penalty of death is the main deterrent standing between those who would commit heinous acts and those they would seek to harm. For them, the death penalty is a matter of justice and should be used as a means to “right” wrongs committed against others. Whether or not that constitutes vengeance and not justice, is up for debate.

On the other side, are those that stand against the death penalty. For those on that side, the act of murder or other crimes does not give us as a society the license to end a life. To put it simply, if we as a society stand against murder, it would represent a double standard to employ murder as a means of punishment.

And while the entire world has different standpoints on the issue, Latin America almost has a complete consensus towards the matter. In the region, only Cuba regularly uses it. Guatemala, changed its penal code just this past October (2017), to wording more in line with the rest of the region.  This stands in direct contrast to their neighbors to the north, mainly the US, which regularly employs the death penalty.

Murder for a Murderer…

There are valid points on both sides of the argument. For those that say the death penalty is the only thing that stands between good people and those that would take lives callously, certainly removing such a person from society is a solution, a quick one despite the moral ambiguity, but a solution nonetheless. On the other side, those against the death penalty have a valid point in saying that setting precedent as a moral authority requires one to be moral. Otherwise, it quickly becomes a circumstance of “Do as I say, not as I do” which should never be the tone taken towards crime and morality.

So while the majority of Latin America has decided that the death penalty should not be used in any case, the holdouts (Up until very recently Guatemala and Cuba, now just the latter) continue to force us as a society to ask one simple, yet important question:

“What type of society do we wish to be? What type of people do we wish to be?”

The answer to that question carries with it quite significant ramifications as it will dictate the path we take forward in terms of criminal justice. For the time being, the debate is a rhetorical one, as legally, the death penalty no longer exists in all but one of Latin American countries.


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