This week marks the ninetieth anniversary of the abolition of the death penalty in Puerto Rico and it comes as a valuable opportunity to reflect about how this punishment represents a danger for many societies, including our own, despite the fact that we have clearly expressed that taking lives should not constitute a State policy.
The death penalty was abolished in Puerto Rico on 26 April 1929. In 1952, Puerto Ricans opposition to this punishment was reflected in the island´s Constitution.
Over the years, there have been sporadic attempts to revive it, but they never gain support. Puerto Ricans have a clear and firm position against taking a life as a punishment for a crime.
However, in 1994, the U.S. government approved the death penalty for certain federal crimes. Since then, seven panels of Puerto Rican jurors have faced the challenge of deciding on a person's life.
The U.S. Department of Justice did not manage to get 12 people to agree on taking the life of another human being in any of the cases.
In 2013, that federal department resigned to the strong cultural and moral rejection of the death penalty in Puerto Rico, decided to limit its attempts to the most heinous cases, as former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told Judge Aida Delgado, who back then presided over the Federal Court in San Juan.
Since then, there have been no more attempts to enforce the punishment in Puerto Rico.
However, that has changed. In the case of Juan Pedro Vidal - accused of an armed carjacking that led to a murder in 2016 – they found that “because of the victim’s death, the defendant became death penalty eligible.”
In addition, Alexis Candelario Santana, who was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for the famous "La Tombola Massacre," will again be tried for the death penalty, but got a new trial after proving that a fundamental error in the first process.
We must reiterate our strongest rejection of a punishment that, in addition to being barbaric and immoral, has not been proven to have any significant deterrent against crime, it is disproportionately applied against people from the most vulnerable sectors of society, it is much more expensive than to sentence someone to life in jail and, on top of all that it results in a traumatic process even for the families of the victims.
In the United States, the only developed country to apply the death penalty, that punishment seems to be losing strength every day. In the 1990s, an average of 45 people were executed each year, according to statistics compiled by the Death Penalty Information Center.
In the 2000s, the average increased to 59 per year, but in the first eight years of this decade, the average dropped to 33 per year.
Only four people have been executed so far in 2019. Right now, 31 of the 50 states have banned the death penalty or issued moratoriums on the capital punishment.
Almost a century ago, Puerto Rico told the world clearly and loudly that it rejects death at the hands of the state. Taking a life, in any circumstance, should be left in the past of any civilized society.