San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Did Protestors Contribute to Teen’s Death?

The death of Daniela Méndez, 14, Monday in the Caribbean-slope town of Siquirres drew national attention this week when Presidency Minister Rodrigo Arias suggested activists protesting against the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA) in the area are to blame, and called on the Judicial Branch to investigate.

Méndez’s sister went looking for the young girl when she didn’t return from a swim in the SilencioRiver near her home Monday afternoon. She found Méndez floating face down, Carlos Bolaños of the Red Cross told The Tico Times. The Red Cross was called at 3:28 p.m. and took Méndez to the Siquirres Clinic, where she was officially pronounced dead.

What happened on the way is subject to dispute. Arias said Tuesday in a press conference that protestors didn’t let the ambulance through, and that Méndez died on the way to the clinic. However, a Red Cross statement released the same day said that while aid workers did report some traffic on the way to the hospital, “both vehicles and protestors cooperated by making way for the ambulance.”

“It would be risky to state that that the minor’s death was related, or not related, to the incidents during the trip,” the statement said. Bolaños added that it is impossible to know at this point whether Méndez died before, during or after the ambulance trip, and that the Forensics Department of the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) will have to make that determination.

In an e-mail that an activist forwarded to The Tico Times, local union leader Carlos Arguedas said he asked protestors to clear the way for the ambulance, which they did within three minutes. He accused pro-CAFTA President Oscar Arias and Public Security Minister Fernando Berrocal of seeking to “disparage the protest movement.”

Asked yesterday about the Red Cross statement, a Casa Presidencial spokeswoman told The Tico Times that the Arias administration’s position on the incident has not changed.

Antonio López, director of the National Federation of Business Chambers and Associations (FENACAE), which represents 99 groups, sent out an e-mail yesterday calling for “immediate action from the Prosecutor’s Office.” The e-mail claims Méndez died “because of the intolerance of a few soulless union protestors, teachers and students.”

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