September 11th, 2013 Headsman
Early this morning in 1970, in the prison at Cajamarca, Peru, Ubilberto Vasquez Bautista was shot for the slaughter of a young shepherdess.
The young girl — either 9 or 11 years old — had been raped, then stabbed 27 times.
Udilberto Vasquez was found with some blood incriminatingly all over his underwear. Though he never admitted guilt, his story went through a few iterations, one of which entailed pointing the finger at his brother. (… with whom he shared underwear, I guess.)
Basically desperate for any angle, his attorney pushed that as a defense.
“Without intending it, I contributed to the creation of the myth,” he said later, according to Frank Graziano’s Cultures of Devotion: Folk Saints of Spanish America.* We’ll get to that myth in a moment.
As one might readily infer from his presence on these pages, not that defense nor any other sufficed to save his client’s life.
Rather, Vasquez became the first victim (Spanish link, as are nearly all those that follow) of draconian new legislation imposed by the Juan Velasco Alvarado dictatorship reinstating capital punishment for fatal sexual assaults on particularly young victims.** This law was only in place from 1969 to 1973, so it was bad timing as much as anything for Udilberto Vasquez. (Peru’s 1979 constitution would restrict the death penalty to wartime treason.)
So at 6 a.m. this date, and still having never confessed guilt, Vasquez was shot. A dog barked in the distance; a cock crowed out its protest. Etc.
In execution, Vasquez joined the curious pantheon of Latin American folk saints comprised of ordinarily criminals widely considered innocent. Vasquez had converted in prison to the Adventist Church, and some fellow inmates believed he had the power to work miracles.
Such divine providence necessarily implies a view of its author’s innocence in that whole rape-murder thing. Among followers, the attorney’s notion of Vasquez’s brother’s culpability — and still more, the sacrificial concept that Vasquez willingly gave himself to protect his brother (which seems at odds with Vasquez blaming his brother) — has improved into a mythic truism.
For a more academic take, check this short Spanish-language article (pdf) by Nanda Leonardini.
* In addition to the book, Graziano has a fascinating site on his investigations into folk religiosity in the Spanish Americas, CulturesOfDevotion.com.
** Ironically, it was doubts about the guilt of the last guy shot for a rape-murder that had caused that law to be rescinded.
† Click here for a photo gallery of Udilberto devotions/festivities.
Also on this date
- 1942: Ten for Meir Berliner's murder of a Treblinka officer
- 1941: Eugene Johnson, the first electrocuted in Louisiana
- 1764: The Sirven family, in effigy
- 1941: Olga Kameneva, Christian Rakovsky, Maria Spiridonova and many others by the NKVD
- 1599: Beatrice Cenci and her family, for parricide