The United States of Texas

Over 6,600 Americans were arrested and imprisoned in foreign countries last year according to the US State Department. Over 1/3 of these Americans were arrested in Mexico. Of the top 10 cities in the world that Americans tend to be arrested in, Mexico has the top five slots. The majority of the arrests, some 70 percent internationally, were drug related. The punishment for drug offenses in other countries tends to be far more severe than in the US ranging from flogging to life imprisonment to execution.

It has been through the intervention of the US Consular that many Americans have been freed or their sentencing reduced to reflect the punishments accorded to our standards and laws. This is possible due to the signing and ratification of the Vienna Convention in 1969. Part of the Vienna Convention was an agreement to ensure that all foreign nationals detained were to be granted access to their Nation’s Consular. However, even the countries that have not ratified the treaty, such as Iran, have honored its conditions by following the protocol for contacting a foreigner’s consulate upon arrest. Such was the case of those two US hikers detained in Iran. The hikers credit the work of the consular with their eventual release.

The United States is the only country that has signed and ratified the treaty but rarely follows its conditions, particularly in regard to capital cases. Yet, we expect everyone else to follow it to the letter in regards to our own citizens abroad. It is interesting to note, unlike most of the international treaties and covenants the US has signed, this is one of the few that we have ratified and therefore consider legally binding. Typically, the US will sign but not ratify a treaty so that while we are publically and politically seen as agreeing to it in principle, we are not legally bound to obey its conditions.

It is also interesting to note that of the 173 countries that have signed the Vienna Treaty, only 40 endorse capital punishment (of which the US is one). And, of the 50 states in the US, 34 endorse the use of capital punishment. Iran, by the way, is one of the countries that endorses and uses the death penalty. Those hikers were facing possible death sentences for spying.

Laura Ling and Euna Lee, the two Americans held captive in North Korea in 2009, have gone on record calling the Vienna Convention a “lifeline.” The North Koreans allowed them access to US Consulars during their entire period of imprisonment. Just the knowledge, Lee has said, that there was someone outside working for them helped to sustain them. She firmly believes that it was the Consular presence that prevented their being mistreated by their captors and eventually being released.

On July 7, the state of Texas executed Humberto Leal Garcia a Mexican national who was tried, convicted and sentenced to death without ever being informed that he had the right to seek assistance from the Mexican consulate – assistance that in his case would have made the difference between life and death.
The U.S. government and Solicitor General, former diplomats, military leaders, judges and prosecutors, and legal organizations representing Americans abroad were among those who joined to call for a stay of execution. Oddly enough, in our polarized political climate, it was a balanced mix of Republicans and Democrats, Liberals and Conservatives who banded together to call for a stay. Even former President Bush sided with President Obama in the push to get Texas to stop. The Mexican government has long ago filed suit against the US for violation of the Vienna Convention in regards to the 51 Mexican Nationals held on death row.

The Supreme Court refused to enforce a stay, as did the Governor of Texas and the execution was completed.

Everyone is waiting on a piece of legislation to be passed that would require all US States to abide by any international treaty or convention signed by the Federal government. Without this piece of legislation in place, there is room for each state to act on its own accord in regards to respecting international treaties.

But not really, believing this shows a very limited understanding of the Constitution and the 10th amendment, the one that defines the separation of State and Federal jurisdictions.

The 10th amendment states, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” This is, in death penalty cases, interpreted to mean that no federal law may be passed outlawing executions; just as there can be no federal law mandating states to allow gay marriage. How states manage their affairs in these areas is not seen as important to a sense of national security or economic surety (the basic limits of federal jurisdiction).

Except, that in this particular instance, the state of Texas has placed a significant strain on the economic security of the nation by not respecting a federally ratified international treaty. In risking economic sanctions from Mexico, Texas has thrown into question the surety of the economy of 22 US states and the national economy as well. Most people are unaware that Mexico is our third largest supplier of oil, and a primary economic partner (both in imports and exports) second only to China and Canada. Not to mention that over the past 10 years there has been a significant rise in Mexican investment in US businesses and a concurrent rise in Mexico allowing US companies to expand into their country – aiding the economy on both sides of the border.

Mexico, by the way, is the 13th largest economy in the world and the 11th largest in terms of purchasing parity. While the rest of the world has suffered greatly during the current recession, Mexico has retained a positive economy with a GDP of 6 percent. Their economic crises came back in 1994 and they learned from it. The crises that they experience that we most focus on now are the drug wars, something that the US illegal drug trade is the most prominent reason for its existence.

Yet because of the gap in standards and luxuries between the US and Mexico, the US tends to perceive Mexico as an impoverished country that is dependent on our goodwill. The statistics support that there is dependence but it is a mutual and equitable one. Recent trade agreements and treaties signed with Mexico stand to boost the US economy across 22 states. This recent execution has now thrown all of that into question.

Texas, in acting like a sovereign and isolated nation, did not assert its state’s rights so much as interfere with the rights of 22 other US states, the national economy, and lessen the credibility of the nation in international legal agreements.

There is a clause attached to the 10th amendment that, in this instance, defines the actions of Texas as being in violation of the Constitution and acting to prevent the Federal government from fulfilling its Constitutional Mandate to safeguard the security and economy of the nation as a whole. It is called the “Commerce Clause” and states are prohibited in acting in independent manners in such a way as threaten intrastate commerce. In such instances, Federal law may be enacted and the states bound to follow the regulations for the good of the economy of the country.

There were 58 Mexican Nationals on death row in the US as of the morning of July 7.
There are now 57 more Mexican Nationals on death row in the US. Fifty of these are considered to have been denied consular access by international law and their execution will be in violation of the Vienna Convention.

For a country in such desperate need of a boost to the economy it makes no sound sense for any portion of the United States of America to pursue a course of action that places us in direct conflict; disregard and violation of treaties with the very countries we need good relations with to create jobs and economic growth. Mexico is not asking for the sentences to be commuted, but to be re-examined in terms of consular assistance and perhaps re-tried.

It is no less than what we ask for of other countries for our own citizens when they are imprisoned on foreign soil. That we may have the right to provide for them support, adequate legal assistance, language translation assistance and to ensure that they are fairly represented in that country’s courts of law.

Feelings about the rightness or wrongness of the death penalty aside, the economic fallout of these executions stands to affect the economies of 22 of our 50 states. That is unconscionable behavior on the part of any state government. Due to a short sighted lack of willingness to honor a treaty that only benefits all of our citizens abroad, Texas has put the economic well-being of over half of the population of America at risk.

c.2011. Cassandra Tribe. All Rights reserved.


About cassandratribe

"There are few artists that can do what Cassandra Tribe does. Whether with her poetry, her videos or her blog, Cassandra examines the truths that most of us can never come close to realizing and shows it for what it is, both beautiful and frightening at the same time. She exposes our inner-most workings like the cross-section of a powerful but flawed machine, our gears and springs, nuts and bolts removed and laid out before us. She is a true artist. Her new video, Requiem for a God, is the latest example of Cassandra's willingness to tear open and examine the very things that make us human. Shooting the film entirely by herself, she also eliminates all the little excuses we come up with to keep us from ourselves and our truth. You see, even when she's not trying to be, Cassandra Tribe is a beacon of truth and humanity in this darkest of worlds." (Michael E. Quigg, The Culture Network, June 2009)
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