When Costa Rican authorities rounded up eight suspects on the two-month anniversary of sea turtle conservationist Jairo Mora’s death, law enforcement was elated. Politicians had found respite from mounting international pressure against the Costa Rican government to solve the case and protect conservationists, who are now threatened by murderers in addition to battling a lack of resources and harsh tropical elements.
But instead of congratulating local officials on their lengthy investigation, Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson responded with a personal letter to Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla, posted on his Facebook page, that accused her “firm and honest” administration of protecting “a couple of low life narco-thugs from being brought to justice.”
“Jairo Mora Sandoval. Remember him. If not, we’re going to make sure you never forget him. He was a Tico, Laura, one of your own people. Born and raised in Costa Rica and only twenty-six years old. Tall, dark, young, intelligent and handsome, Laura, and passionate, oh yes, very passionate, the kind of man Costa Rica should be proud of,” Watson wrote.
Paul Watson and other conservationists aren’t buying investigators’ description of the events that led up to Mora’s slaying, as described in detail in recent Tico Times reports. Seizing on apparent inconsistencies in the Judicial Investigation Police’s (OIJ) ascribed motive in the case, Watson likened the eight suspects – six men and two women – who were arrested in an early-morning raid on July 31 to “Captain Louis Renault in the movie Casablanca when he asks his officers to ‘round up the usual suspects.’”
His biting letter prompted hundreds of comments on social media, mostly supportive of Watson’s criticisms, some accusing him of starting a war of words to distract from his own legal problems, initiated after 10 years by a Costa Rican administration Watson repeatedly accuses of colluding with the Japanese government.
Chinchilla, not known for treating critics with diplomacy and benevolence, and who said she hadn’t seen the letter, responded by accusing Watson of harboring “disdain for the Costa Rican rule of law,” AmeliaRueda.com reported.
Asked about the apparent inaccuracy in the prosecutors’ theory of why Mora was killed, and how he might have known his killers – outlined in a press conference the morning of the raids – OIJ Director Francisco Segura offered little explanation, sticking to what seems to be a carefully – albeit sloppily – constructed storyline.
Check the rape file, Segura suggested, referring to details of a similar attack on the same beach weeks before Mora was killed. Prosecutors allege some of the defendants carried out both the sexual assault, and later, Mora’s murder. That case could hold several answers to these pending questions.
The OIJ press office can give you that file, Segura told The Tico Times, referring to the May 18 sexual assault on Moín Beach. But an OIJ press spokesman referred us to the Prosecutor’s Office, where a spokeswoman noted that the sexual assault case is sealed pending trial.
The OIJ does have some pretty convincing evidence against the suspects, including several cellphones belonging to the victims, seized during the raids, as well as other stolen items, and backpacks and clothing that match descriptions offered by victims’ statements to investigators. And, as crhoy.com’s Álvaro Sánchez notes, of 42 homicide cases on the board in 2012, the OIJ’s Caribbean office has solved 41, placing 35 victims and witnesses under police protection.
But, as we pointed out in an earlier story, the motive remains unclear. You can bet we’ll be watching the upcoming murder trials closely.
In the meantime, tune in Wednesday at 12 p.m. (Costa Rica time) to Schulz’s on-air interview with Watson, who will be speaking “from an unknown location via remote transmission,” at RainforestRadio.com, 960 AM Costa Rica, or LATalkRadio.com.
David Boddiger is editor-in-chief of The Tico Times.
Update: The show is available for download at LATalkRadio.com.