MOÍN, Limón – Shortly after 5 a.m. on Wednesday, agents from Costa Rica’s Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) raided several locations near Moín port and the city of Limón, both on the Caribbean coast, and arrested several suspects believed to be involved in the May 31 murder of turtle conservationist Jairo Mora, as well as other crimes, including robbery and turtle egg poaching.
OIJ spokeswoman Marisel Rodríguez said the number of suspects arrested is at least seven, and police are still searching for at least one other suspect. However, at 8:20 a.m., Prosecutor’s Office spokeswoman Tatiana Vargas said she could only confirm six suspects arrested. A press conference is scheduled for 10 a.m. in San José with more details on the bust.
Agents raided homes in La Managuita, Los Cocos, Pacuare and Guápiles, including two small houses down a muddy road in a forested area near Moín port – near where Mora was killed – where a Tico Times reporter witnessed one of the suspects placed under arrest and loaded into the back of an OIJ van.
Among the evidence police confiscated is Mora’s cellphone, Rodríguez said.
Initial reports from the Prosecutor’s Office indicate that investigators believe robbery was the motive for the brutal murder, which took place on an isolated beach where Mora worked to protect nesting sea turtles. Investigators said the suspects belong to a criminal gang dedicated to committing robberies and assaults in the area, not international drug trafficking, as was widely believed, based on Mora’s previous run-ins with poachers and the prevalence of cocaine and marijuana trafficking in the area.
Rodríguez said several of the suspects have prior arrests for robbery and assault.
Mora, who worked for the international conservation group the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network (WIDECAST), was patrolling the beach in the night hours of May 30 with four international volunteers when they were confronted and kidnapped by five armed men, who tied up the foreign volunteers and left them in an abandoned house. Mora was found early the next morning on the beach next to his vehicle. He was badly beaten and suffocated in the sand.
Costa Rican conservationists, international NGOs and even a U.S. congressman had called for justice in the case, and a massive international rally was planned for Wednesday afternoon.
“Obviously I’m very content because something has happened,” WIDECAST’s Costa Rican director, Didiher Chacón, told The Tico Times Wednesday morning.
“The environment minister has been assuring me that they knew who they [the suspects] were, but they were building a strong case and waiting. We will see if they actually end up in jail,” he said, adding, “Here is where the story begins and we will see if justice works.”
Vanessa Lizano, a friend of Mora’s who heads a nearby wildlife rescue center and who continued patrolling Moín Beach after Mora’s death, said, “Thank god that they’ve done something, but we’ll see what happens. It doesn’t stop here. Jairo died for Moín, and I won’t stop until we get protection for Moín.”
Following the raids, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla tweeted: “I celebrate the diligence of the judicial and police authorities. For what he [Mora] represented and so that there is not impunity in Costa Rica.”
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