An Execution in Texas Strains Ties With Mexico and Others
The New York Times The New York Times International August 16, 2002  

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An Execution in Texas Strains Ties With Mexico and Others

By GINGER THOMPSON

MEXICO CITY, Aug. 15 — The decision by President Vicente Fox of Mexico to cancel a meeting with President Bush at his Texas ranch after the execution, in that state, of a Mexican citizen on Wednesday is the latest confrontation over the death penalty between the United States and some of its closest allies.

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Mr. Fox moved swiftly to protest the execution of Javier Suárez Medina in Huntsville, announcing the cancellation of his trip a few hours after Mr. Suárez was declared dead by lethal injection.

Mexican officials say that he was denied his right to help from his government when he was arrested in 1988. Some 16 other nations filed court briefs or wrote letters pleading for clemency for Mr. Suárez, including Poland, Switzerland, Brazil and Argentina.

The Súarez execution pits the United States against one of its closest neighbors and a president that the Bush administration has called a close friend

Differences over the death penalty have also prompted diplomatic wrangling between the United States and some of its firmest friends in Europe, especially in the last year as Washington has pursued its campaign against global terror. Spain, France and Germany have taken issue with the Bush administration's efforts to obtain evidence to prosecute suspected terrorists in the United States or to extradite suspects for trial there.

The disputes point up how the United States is at odds with many other industrialized democracies as it continues to apply death sentences for capital crimes.

The Mexican government said Mr. Fox canceled his trip, scheduled for Aug. 26, as an "unequivocal sign of repudiation" of Mr. Suárez's execution. Mexico has the death penalty but does not apply it.

The government's statement added, "Mexico is confident that the cancellation of this important presidential visit contributes to strengthening respect among all nations for the norms of international law, as well as the conventions that regulate the relations between nations."

White House officials said that Mr. Bush had spoken by phone with Mr. Fox on Tuesday, but would not discuss details of the conversation. Nonetheless, they portrayed the White House as well aware of Mr. Fox's political problems with the execution, and said they had not been surprised by his decision.

White House officials also refused to portray it as a crisis or even an embarrassment, saying that there was nothing the president legally could have done to stop the execution.

Mr. Fox's move reflected Mexico's impatience with the Bush administration's friendly statements. Soon after Mr. Bush took office, he declared that the United States had no more important relationship than that with Mexico. But since Sept. 11, there has been no significant progress in bilateral negotiations over Mr. Fox's broad proposals for immigration reform.

Nor has the Bush administration given Mexico any break in resolving Mexico's water debt. While President Fox pressed the United States to adopt measures that would improve safety for immigrants trekking across the deserts along the border, counts by immigrant rights advocates show that more illegal immigrants died last month from dehydration and exposure to intense heat than any other previous month.

The Suárez execution offered Mr. Fox the opportunity to take a stand against the United States that would attract broad international support. Amnesty International reports that some 40 countries have outlawed the death penalty in the last decade. In all, 109 nations forbid capital punishment or have stopped applying the death penalty.

"Friends don't allow friends to flaunt international law," William Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International U.S.A., said today. "The stand taken by President Fox shows the steady isolation facing the United States among its most ardent allies."

Most of the international protests against the United States focus on violations of the Vienna Convention, which requires law enforcement officials to advise foreign citizens under arrest of their right to seek legal support from their governments. Many nations, including the 15 members of the European Union, South Africa and Canada, have refused to extradite suspects to a country without assurances that the suspects will not face the death penalty.

In 1999, Germany accused the United States of "barbarism," after one of its citizens, Walter LaGrand, was put to death in an Arizona gas chamber. His brother Karl had been executed in Arizona a week earlier. German officials said they had not been had not been able to provide timely legal aid to the brothers. Last year, the International Court of Justice ruled that the United States had violated international obligations in the LaGrand case.

After Sept. 11 the differences became more conspicuous. Last year Spanish officials balked at extraditing suspected members of Al Qaeda unless the United States guaranteed they would not be tried in military tribunals that did not guarantee the same rights as civilian courts. French officials have declined to cooperate in the death penalty case being prepared against Zacarias Moussaoui, a French citizen who is charged in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Mr. Fox has recently reinforced government help to Mexican citizens on death row in the United States. Of some 120 foreigners on death row, almost half are from Mexico.

Earlier this year, pressure on the part of Mr. Fox helped to prevent the execution of Gerardo Valdez for murder in Oklahoma. An Oklahoma appeals court vacated the execution order and set a new sentencing hearing. It was a rare triumph, however.

Mr. Suárez was executed despite letters from around the world to Gov. Rick Perry of Texas and the State Department, and a phone call by Mr. Fox to Mr. Bush.

"The U.S. view of the death penalty has been aggravated by Sept. 11," said Juan Manuel Gómez Robledo, legal counsel to the foreign ministry.. "It has become obsessed by one topic, and that is terrorism."




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Associated Press
Mexican President Vicente Fox announced that he will cancel his visit to Texas as a sign of protest after Texas ignored his pleas and put a Mexican-American to death.

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