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Mexico Congress Strikes Blow Against Spousal Rape
After big debate, lower house OKs stiff penalties
4 Dec. 1997 Chronicle News Services

MEXICO CITY: Women campaigners have struck a blow against Mexican machismo where it hurts most -- in the bedroom.

After a ferocious debate, the lower house of Congress voted 254 to 90 on Tuesday night to approve an amendment setting prison sentences from eight to 14 years for husbands who rape their wives.

The measure now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to win quick approval and to be signed into law by President Ernesto Zedillo.

The strongest opposition to the measure came from the conservative National Action Party (PAN), already notorious for banning miniskirts and Wonderbra ads in cities and states where it governs.

"What happens if a man ends up with a prostitute because he doesn’t want to rape his wife and catches a disease?" asked PAN deputy Jorge Humberto Zamarripa during the debate.

Alluding to Mexican sexual customs, PAN deputy Ruben Mendoza told Congress that "you can’t change an authoritarian tradition with a law because you could get the case that a woman returning from a honeymoon accuses her husband of rape."

Even by macho Latin American standards, Mexico is one of the more backward countries in the region in recognizing women’s rights and encouraging more modern sexual attitudes. It only gave the vote to women in 1953.

Expert reports prepared for the debate indicate that domestic violence -- including beatings, rape and psychological abuse -- is on the rise but seldom reported and even more rarely punished.

"This bill is a victory that women have been looking for for many years," said independent congresswoman Carolina O’Farril.

She was cheered by demonstrators holding aloft a huge banner reading, "Rap in marriage is not the incorrect exercising of a right. It is an attack on the individual guarantees of Mexican women."

Reflecting its liberalism on social issues, the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) strongly backed the amendment, shouting down PAN opponents as "reactionaries" and "rapist."

Legislator Maximiano Barbosa, a peasant leader and member of the left-of-center Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), screamed in the middle of the debate: "Cut off all rapists’ penises!" He later voted against the amendment.