Protesters decry high court’s sluggish pace on shark fin case

February 12, 2010

In hopes of reminding Costa Rica´s Supreme Court justices that they have a 3-year-old lawsuit to resolve, dozens of students and members of the non-governmental Marine Turtle Restoration Program (PRETOMA) gave the magistrates cake on Wednesday – a blue cake, in the shape of a shark.

“We put it upstairs for them so when they go to have their afternoon coffee break, they will remember that they need to uphold the law,” said Randall Arauz, president of PRETOMA, as workers at the San José courthouse weaved in and out of the building through a sea of balloons and banners carried by protesters shouting through megaphones.

Three years ago, PRETOMA filed suit against the Public Works and Transport Ministry (MOPT), the Environment and Energy Ministry (MINAE), the Costa Rican Fisheries Institute (INCOPESCA) and the Customs Department for violating a Supreme Court ruling that mandates that foreign boats must enter Costa Rica via public ports.

By allowing boats to enter private docks, PRETOMA claims that these agencies have permitted hundreds of tons of illegal shark fins to enter the country.

“We are supposed to be a country that believes in conservation, but this isn´t conservation. This is a crime,” said María Salazar, a 22-year-old University of Costa Rica student, just before joining chants of “Los muelles privados, los queremos cerrados” (private ports, we want them closed).

Andy Bystrom, a spokesman for PRETOMA, hopes Wednesday´s gathering will expedite the process.

“This was a big issue three years ago, but it´s ducked under the radar,” he said. “Hopefully this will help get things moving.”

More than 2,000 cases are pending a Supreme Court ruling, according to Sonia Villegas, a court communications officer. This case is on the court´s agenda, she said, but “it´s impossible to know” what date the justices will resolve this particular case.

Alex Leff contributed to this report.

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