Yet another Costa Rican man wanted by Interpol for sex crimes against children was discovered this week to be working in a public-service profession that allowed him to interact with children (see story, Page 4).
Tico blogger “El Chamuko” broke the story that Lidier Martínez Navarro, a 43-year-old former priest-turned teacher of religion at two local schools, is wanted by Interpol in connection with a child pornography ring allegedly run out of a Catholic high school in El Salvador. Police busted the ring in 2009, but Martínez fled to Costa Rica, where he knew he would be protected from extradition by his country’s constitution.
Martínez certainly isn’t the only Costa Rican accused of sex crimes against children to be on the lamb from justice in other countries.
In another high-profile case, German Enrique Moreno, a Costa Rican fugitive from charges in the United States that he drugged and sexually assaulted underage boys in Houston, Texas, is hiding in plain sight in the Pacific surf community of Malpaís, on the southern Nicoya Peninsula.
Interpol wants to arrest Moreno for sex crimes against children, allegedly committed while he was illegally working as a doctor in Harris County, Texas. He fled those charges and later resurfaced at a medical clinic in Playa Carmen, which adjoins Malpaís. He was rearrested on fresh charges of sexual abuse against a minor in Costa Rica, but paid off his alleged victim, something allowed under Costa Rican law in certain cases (including cases of sexual abuse against minors if the victim is now an adult).
When he was arrested, neighbors and the principal of a local school told The Tico Times that Moreno was fond of hanging out near the school. They were angry when they learned of Moreno’s sordid past, and they wanted him removed from their community because they believed he was a threat to their children.
Nevertheless, there are no charges pending in Costa Rica against Moreno, so he eased back into his lucrative lifestyle of treating the scrapes and bruises of surfer tourists who know nothing of the local doctor’s disturbing history.
The same legal barrier exists with the former priest Martínez. Because he has no pending criminal record in Costa Rica, he cannot be detained here. A background check at the Education Ministry gave the school the green light to hire Martínez as a teacher of religion. That check did not include a simple web search on Interpol’s site (www.interpol.int/es/Wanted-Persons).
Officials say their hands are tied in such cases, that there’s nothing to be done short of a constitutional amendment to change the protections afforded Costa Ricans in extradition cases. They’re wrong. There is a simple step that Costa Rican lawmakers and prosecutors can take – it’s called a sex-offender registry, and it’s quite advanced and useful in the United States and other countries. Convicted sex offenders must register the location of their residence at all times on a database that’s publicly available online. The registry includes an offender’s photo, name, age, location and charges he or she was convicted of. You want to know how many sex offenders live in your neighborhood? Go online, it’s a couple mouse-clicks away.
So what will it take for Costa Rica to get the message? Legal analysts say a similar program here would never survive a constitutional review by the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court. But judges have children too. Would they want them learning matters of faith from a man accused of trafficking child porn?