Environmental Smoke and Mirrors

Jairo-Mora-update_mainstory1Costa Rica has talked about it. All of Central America has talked about it. The New York Times has written about it, and even a US congressman has chimed in, calling for a timely resolution. The still unsolved May 31 murder of Costa Rican environmentalist Jairo Mora (pictured) has garnered much international attention outside of Costa Rica.

The undercurrent of emotion was firmly replanted back into the spotlight last week as Costa Rican police arrested eight people in connection with Mora’s murder. The original outcry of emotion and questions in May have transformed into a trifecta of bewilderment over outstanding justice for the twenty-six year old, the length in time the process is taking, and remaining inconsistencies on the part of the police in what actually occurred.

Costa Rica’s top police force, the OIJ – the Judicial Investigation Police – made the arrests of six alleged male poachers and two female accomplices last week for the murder of Mora on Moin beach on the country’s Caribbean coast. The motive remains foggy, however.

The OIJ is claiming the attacks were part of a robbery gone badly. Environmentalists and those who worked with Mora, though, are challenging those claims. Vanessa Lizano, a long-time friend of Mora who worked with him patrolling the beaches told the Tico Times, “Poaching in Limon is a big organization. It’s a lot bigger than people think it is. I think it does have to do with poaching, and it wasn’t just a criminal gang.”

Mora’s murder has also helped direct light on to the current threats that exist for environmental workers and activists in Costa Rica. Mora worked on a conservation project sponsored by local environment group Eco Paradero and international organization Widecast in efforts to help preserve sea turtle eggs.

Turtle egg poaching is big business in the country. The very reasons that make the Caribbean coastal areas ideal for the turtles to lay their eggs — lack of infrastructure and artificial light and its remoteness — are the same reasons why poachers have flocked there to conduct their business. With little to no police presence and only volunteer activists representing nothing but a slight inconvenience, poachers have no trouble getting access to the thousands of eggs laid annually and promptly selling them for roughly US$1 each.

Since the murder, police presence has increased in the area. Conservationists and environmental activists though are calling it simply a knee-jerk reaction to what happened. Furthermore, labeling the murder simply as a robbery gone bad would provide outlet to avoid increased environmental protection.

“We want to see true changes in conservation policies on the Caribbean. We need the Caribbean to start taking this turtle business seriously and to enforce the law,” said the president of the Marine Turtle Restoration Program Randall Arauz.

A protestor, bringing attention to Jairo Morás death, stands outside of the Environment Ministry in San José, Costa Rica.
A protestor, bringing attention to Jairo Mora’s death, stands outside of the Environment Ministry in San José, Costa Rica. Source: Tico Times.

The current international spotlight on Costa Rica is surely not one that maligned President Laura Chinchilla wants, but it is one that the country needs.

Priding itself on environmentalism has been more of a smoke-screen in recent years rather than a practice. In addition to turtle egg poaching on its Caribbean coast, Shark finning continues to be prevalent on its Pacific side. In December of 2012, Costa Rica became the first Latin American country to ban the violent trade. In spite of these efforts, however, it is still occurs with high frequency due to legal loopholes, with the highest volume of occurrences in and around Costa Rica’s Cocos Islands.

With platforms like the New York Times, National Geographic, and US congressman Jared Huffman picking up the story, Costa Rica will feel international pressure to resolve this both diplomatically and effectively. There, if anywhere, we can find the silver lining in the murder of an innocent person. What everyone here is hoping is that the security measures that are currently being used to save face will continue after the international community doesn’t care anymore. Maybe going forward, the New York Times should be on speed dial.

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