Guatemala Halts Death Penalty at Pope's Request

GUATEMALA CITY, JULY 28, 2002 ( On the eve of John Paul II’s visit, Guatemala’s president slapped a moratorium on the death penalty for the remaining months of his term, in response to a papal request.

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President Alfonso Portillo announced Saturday that he will soon send a legal proposal to Congress to abolish capital punishment.

Portillo said he made both decisions in response to a letter sent to him by John Paul II, in which he requests a moratorium on the death penalty. The apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Ramiro Moliner Inglés, handed the letter to the president Friday.

«It was a message of reasoning, of a moral, ethical, religious and magnanimous character, in the hope of peace,» the president revealed.

After further reflection on the message, Portillo decided that «there would be no other execution» during his administration.

Currently, 36 criminals in Guatemala are scheduled for execution, including five who escaped from prison last year. The last executions, by lethal injection, were in June 2000.

During John Paul II’s first visit to Guatemala in 1983, dictator Efraín Ríos Montt ignored a papal request to pardon six condemned prisoners. The Pope returns to Guatemala on Monday.

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