San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Family of slain Costa Rican conservationist files lawsuits against government, NGO and suspects

The family of murdered turtle conservationist Jairo Mora, who was killed while patrolling Moín Beach on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast on May 31, filed two lawsuits Monday morning in the province of Limón against the Costa Rican government, the conservation group that employed Mora and seven of the suspects police believe participated in the murder.

The Prosecutor’s Office in San José and the family’s attorney, Javier Vargas, confirmed two civil lawsuits, one against the state and another against seven suspects – six of whom were detained in Limón earlier this month. They also confirmed the submission of the initial paperwork for a civil labor suit against the conservation NGO WIDECAST.

Vargas said the lawsuit against the government and the suspects seeks at least ₡200 million ($400,000), while a suit against WIDECAST seeks up to ₡75 million ($150,000) for the NGO’s alleged failure to insure Mora.

“WIDECAST had a responsibility to insure this man,” Vargas told The Tico Times. “He didn’t have insurance, which violates the country’s labor laws and would have helped his family after his death.”

According to Vargas, the family is suing the state on the basis that police were aware of the danger Mora faced and failed to protect him. In the weeks after the murder, Limón Police Chief Erick Calderón confirmed that Mora had sought police help and had complained of receiving threats.

“This year the poachers were able to completely take over the beach because of a lack of police force,” Vanessa Lizano, the head of the Costa Rica Wildlife Sanctuary in Limón, and a close friend of Mora’s, told The Tico Times the day after the murder. “Why didn’t they stay with him? It was their responsibility.”

Vargas also said that his team is collecting information from the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) and the Prosecutor’s Office for a possible criminal and civil suit against both WIDECAST and the Costa Rica Wildlife Sanctuary for their part in an alleged agreement with poachers to purchase turtle eggs.

According to the OIJ’s account, WIDECAST paid poachers $300 a month in exchange for eggs they collected on the beach. They would then bury the eggs in a hatchery instead of selling them. When the organization ran out of money Mora allegedly made an agreement with the poachers that allowed them to keep the eggs if they got there first. Fed up with the amount of eggs captured by poachers, Mora went to the police.

“You can’t walk with God and make deals with the devil,” Vargas said. “This deal opened the door so that what happened could happen, which ended in the lamentable murder of Mora.”

WIDECAST’s Costa Rica Director Didiher Chacón has vehemently denied the allegations that his organization paid for turtle eggs, but declined to comment about labor allegations.

“WIDECAST has never had any agreement with any poacher,” he said. “I am sincerely sorry that the family has made the decision to sue.”

Lizano, however, has said that her organization did have a poacher program, but back in 2012. Lizano says that their agreement was with 10 poachers who were hired by the sanctuary to walk the beach, and the deal didn’t involve simply paying for eggs. She said she does not believe the suspected murderers were involved with the program.

As for the lawsuit, Lizano said she has been advised not to talk about details, but she is disappointed by the decision by Mora’s family to sue.

“I am just extremely sad that this is happening because I was his friend and I know that he would never have wanted this ever,” she said.

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