GUATEMALA: Veto keeps Guatemala executions on hold
Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom on Friday vetoed a bill that would have reinstated capital punishment and given the president the power to commute death penalty sentences.
There are 34 prisoners in limbo on death row after a high court in 2002 suspended executions, ruling that presidential reprieves on death penalty cases were unconstitutional.
The vetoed measure, approved overwhelmingly in February by lawmakers, would have given Colom the authority to decide whether the prisoners in question are executed by lethal injection or have their sentences commuted to the maximum 50 years in prison.
"If (the death penalty) were a disincentive, we would reinstate it," Colom said. "But we have studied cases in various states in the United States, and it doesn't dissuade" crime.
The Catholic Church and European embassies openly opposed the law, saying it would violate human rights.
But various newspaper polls indicated more than 90 percent of Guatemalans favor capital punishment, and the measure was backed by 140 of the legislature's 158 members in February.
Otto Perez Molina of the conservative Patriotic Party, who was the runner-up to Colom in November elections, criticized the veto.
"He's taking things backward even though his own party supported the measure in Congress," Perez said.
Lawmakers can override Colom with a two-thirds supermajority.
Colom said "strengthening security institutions" is the best way to fight crime in Central America's most violent country, where gangs are rampant and as few as 2 % of more than 5,000 homicides a year are solved.
The last time Guatemala executed a prisoner was in 2000, when 2 members of a kidnapping ring were executed by lethal injection on live television.
Guatemala is a signatory to the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights, which requires that those sentenced to capital punishment be given the right to appeal for a pardon from the president or other authority.