Puerto Rican abolitionists gain support from their government


on 5 March 2008

At the end of January, Puerto Rico’s Justice Secretary Roberto Sanchez Ramos and representatives of the Puerto Rican Coalition Against the Death Penalty held a joint press conference to announce a series of decisions aimed at forcing down the number of Puerto Ricans at risk of execution in US federal cases.
The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico has its own constitution and laws, which prohibit the death penalty, but they are subordinated to the US federal legislation.
The Puerto Rican department of justice has pledged to prosecute all cases of carjackings resulting in death locally, taking advantage of a recent US department of justice directive that encourages local rather than federal prosecution. That crime has often been the focus of federal prosecution in Puerto Rico, leading to death sentences. From now on, Puerto Rican authorities have said that they will only transfer cases to a federal court if it guarantees that it will not seek the death penalty.

Already in practice

The secretary of justice will also ask all states who request the extradition of a suspect for a capital case to “desist”, although he cannot refuse to extradite. Finally, he will write a letter to “express his opposition” every time a Puerto Rican citizen faces the death penalty in another jurisdiction.
The latter has already been put in practice. “Last week, we found out that a Puerto Rican citizen was going to be executed in the US state of Pennsylvania,” said Puerto Rican Coalition spokesman Carmelo Campos Cruz in reference to the case of Edwin Rios Romero. “The secretary of justice said immediately that he would write to the Pennsylvania government.”
The Puerto Rican Coalition has launched a letter campaign to request invervention from the governor of Pennsylvania in the case. Edwin Romero’s execution was stayed on March 5.
The Puerto Rican Coalition’s lobbying committee initiated the adoption of the directives when it came across an agreement on the transfer of cases from the Puerto Rican authorities to federal courts. “We said: ‘Hey, Puerto Rico is supposed to be officially against the death penalty,” said Carmelo Campos Cruz.
The committee then scheduled a meeting with the secretary of justice and department officials to present them with a series of ideas to protect Puerto Ricans from federal capital cases. “The response was very positive, they approved 80% of our proposals”, said Carmelo Campos Cruz.

More legal and educational work on the way

The Puerto Rican Coalition has now switched its lobbying efforts towards other officials, to implement more proposals from its action plan. It demands that the governor establishes a committee to seek the complete  exclusion of Puerto Rico from the scope of US federal death penalty legislation.
Celebrating April 26 as Puerto Rico’s day against the death penalty to commemorate the anniversary of the abolition of capital punishment there in 1929 is another proposal in the hands of the governor.
The Puerto Rican Coalition also hopes to strike a deal with the department of education to distribute material about the death penalty in local schools.


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