1846: The last civil executions in Portugal

5 comments April 22nd, 2010 Headsman

Portugal has not carried out a civil (non-military, non-wartime) execution since hanging two murderers on this date in 1846.*

Despite some impressively sanguinary exercises of capital punishment in its history, the Iberian nation has been in the European vanguard of death penalty abolition.

Writing on what turned out to be the eve of Portugal’s landmark 1867 renunciation of the death penalty for criminal offenses, the 1866 report of Britain’s capital punishment commission observed:

The last execution which took place was at Lagos, on the 22nd of April 1846. And it is right to state also, that ever since the definitive re-establishment of a liberal government in this country, capital punishments have never been very numerous. Thus during the 13 years which elapsed between 1833 and 1846, inclusive, out of 99 culprits condemned to death there were only 32 executed, and the sentences of the remaining 67 were commuted.

[Portugal] is, then, the only [country] in Europe in which the punishment of death has been for the last 18 years de facto suppressed. Public opinion has gone before the law: and the law, in effacing this punishment from its provisions, far from being in anticipation of society, will not do more than give its sanction to a fact which has long been accepted by general feeling, and which at the present day it would be difficult to contravene. Even if the punishment of death were to remain inserted in the text of our penal legislation, I think I may with safety affirm it would be impossible to meet with a Minister of Justice who would venture to recommend the King to withhold the exercise of the Royal prerogative of pardon, and who would have the heart to order the timbers of a new scaffold to be again erected on the soil of Portugal.

Despite an abortive feint at backsliding during World War I, the popular sense of the issue does not seem to have changed much in the interim.

The tragedy of man, ‘a postponed dead body’ as Fernando Pessoa said, does not need an untimely exit from the stage. It is tense enough without an end that is artificial and planned by butchers, megalomaniacs, potentates, racisms, and orthodoxies. Therefore, being human, we demand unequivocally that all peoples should have a code of humanity. A code that for all citizens guarantees the right to die their own death.

-Portuguese writer Miguel Torga, at a 1967 colloquy marking the centennial of Portugal’s formal abolition of the death penalty for ordinary crimes.

* There are some scantily documented World War II treason executions; the death penalty was officially abolished for treason (the last capital crime on the books) in 1977.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,Portugal,Public Executions

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1997: Hostage-takers in Lima

2 comments April 22nd, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1997, Peruvian paramilitaries stormed the Japanese ambassador’s residence held hostage for 126 days by leftist rebels.

Peace out.

All 14 of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) were slain in the raid,* along with two of the commandos and one hostage. Officially, there were no “executions” at all.

Unofficially?

It’s pretty well-documented that some — perhaps most — of the terrorists were taken alive, and thereafter summarily executed. (pdf of Defense Intelligence Agency cable hosted by the National Security Archive)

However untoward the outcome and however unimpressive the foe, the operation was a master stroke for then-President Alberto Fujimori. Peru’s neoliberal taskmaster had introduced the world to the auto-golpe, the “self-coup”, a Cromwellian maneuver of shuttering parliament in order to rule as dictator, and he thereafter made ruthless suppression of Peru’s ruinous internal conflict the calling card of his presidency.

The DIA cable linked above claims Fujimori himself ordered the commandos to take no prisoners. He did not scruple to show himself in the middle of the bloodbath.


Alberto Fujimori made sure to get himself snapped standing over the bodies of the guerrillas, including MRTA leader Nestor Cerpa Cartolini.

El Presidente banked the political capital from having restored civic order, but it wasn’t the only capital he was banking. Three and a half years later, with a corruption scandal darkening his door, Fujimori absconded to Japan, faxed in his resignation, and became a fugitive.

Even there, he continued to justify his authoritarian governance.

Many Peruvians have always agreed with Fujimori’s self-assessment, even many who regret his well-publicized disregard for human rights.

But human rights researcher Michael Baney calls this day’s executions “pointless.”

“The MRTA was a spent force by the time of the embassy takeover,” said Baney. “The takeover was an act of total desperation, which is evidenced by the fact that the leader of the movement, Nestor Cerpa Cartolini, personally participated in it.”

After spending the best part of a decade in exile, Fujimori returned to the headlines by boldly returning to the hemisphere — to Chile, specifically, which arrested him and extradited him on a Peruvian warrant.

Just days ago as of this writing, Fujimori was convicted in his own former courts of authorizing death squads,** and sentenced to 25 years in prison. (Here’s some legal analysis.)

In the court of public opinion, it’s a different matter.

Fujimori’s daughter Keiko, a Peruvian congresswoman, figures to be a leading contender for the presidency in 2011, and has said she would pardon her father if given the opportunity.

“A majority of Peruvians think that Fujimori was guilty of serious human rights violations, but a majority also believe that he was a good president,” Baney observed. “And Fujimori really does believe that he single-handedly saved his country from economic and political collapse, and that Peru needs him around.”

* “Operation Chavin de Huantar”, profiled in several Spanish-language documentary videos available online. (Such as this one.)

** Not specifically related to this day’s MRTA killings, although these could be prosecuted in the future.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Cycle of Violence,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,History,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Notable for their Victims,Peru,Power,Revolutionaries,Scandal,Shot,Summary Executions,Terrorists

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