Saturday, December 13, 2014

Relax Americans: You're Safe

James Watson,
murdered DEA agent.
Members of the taxi-driver gang which murdered a U.S. DEA agent in north Bogotá in June of last year during a mugging-gone-awry are being sentenced in a court in Virginia, and you can be certain that these guys regret their crime.

"If I could go back in time, I would," taxi driver Andrés Álvaro Oviedo, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison, was quoted in El Tiempo. "I made a mistake and know I'm going to pay for it. I never wanted to hurt anybody."

(The five men were extradited to the U.S. on the shaky justification that the smart phone which they stole contained classified DEA information - even tho the gang sold the phone without bothering to check its data.)

Whether someone who 'never wanted to hurt anybody' had any business joining a band of muggers is more than debatable. But so is Oviedo's sentence: 20 years in prison - even tho he didn't actually participate in the crime, because his taxi broke down on his way to the scene. Colombian paramilitary leaders, some guilty of hundreds or thousands of murders as well as other crimes, are getting out of prison this year after doing just 8-year terms.

Two of Oviedo's associates in the robbery-murder received prison sentences of 25 and 27 years, while the principal actors in the crime are expected to receive terms of 40 and 60 years.

These guys may very well deserve to spend the rest of their lives in prison for a crime which the judge called "grave and brutal." That's particularly true since they undoubtedly had committed previous robberies and perhaps even murders which went unpunished (and perhaps the fact that those victims were Colombians had something to do with that).

The harsh sentences may be intended to "send a message to the world that whoever attacks a U.S. citizen will pay a high price," wrote El Tiempo.

If that was the goal, they picked an effective way to accomplish it. As a result, we U.S. expatriates can relax. Any mugger who suspects a potential victim may be a gringo will surely turn around and assault someone else.

But if the goal of the justice system, either in the U.S, or Colombia, is to deter potential future
Ernesto Manzanera killed five in a car crash
and fled the scene, but is at home resting.
criminals, then perhaps they should apply similar harsh punishments to other killers, such as Avianca co-pilot Ernesto Manzanera, who while driving at 180 kilometers per hour in the early morning smashed into another car and killed its four occupants. A judge gave Manzanera home detention, and so he's resting comfortably awaiting his court date. Manzanera could be subject to 18 years in prison, but if his case follows the pattern of previous drunk driver killers, he'll receive a few years of home confinement of dubious enforcement.

One might argue that, in contrast to the cabbie gang, Manzanera did not intend to kill. But his extreme recklessness and irresponsibility come close to the same level of moral culpability. And after the accident Manzanera fled the scene and turned himself into police only 15 hours later, when any evidence of alcohol or drugs would have been flushed from his system. When Manzanera fled, at least one of his victims was still alive, compounding Manzanera's responsibility for her death.

That not all crimes or criminals are punished equally is a cliché. But occasions like this offer the opportunity to examine why that is and how the system of 'justice' could actually be true to its name.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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