Costa Rica convicts those who killed an activist who protected sea turtles

Costa Rican environmental activist Jairo Mora Sandoval was killed in 2013. His murderers have been now sentenced to 74-90 years in jail.

What makes environmental crimes even more dreadful is impunity. “Across the world environmental defenders are being shot dead in broad daylight, kidnapped, threatened, or tried as terrorists for standing in the way of so-called ‘development’,” said Billy Kyte, campaigner at Global Witness. “The true authors of these crimes – a powerful nexus of corporate and state interests – are escaping unpunished”. However, this time things went the right way: the murderers of Jairo Mora Sandoval have been convicted.

L'ambientalista Jairo Mora Sandoval
Jairo Mora Sandoval, Costa Rican environmental activist murdered in 2013 for protecting sea turtles

Who was Jairo Mora Sandoval

Sandoval was a Costa Rican environmental activist who dedicated his life to safeguarding sea turtles, working with the Widecast association. He was killed at the age of 27 in the stretch of coast he was patrolling to protect sea turtle nests from poachers, close to Limón, Costa Rica, on 30 May 2013. Sandoval was kidnapped along with 4 female volunteers – which managed to escape and reach out to the police. He was found dead on the following day. He was naked, handcuffed, with clear signs of violence and with traces of sand in his lungs.

Why Sandoval was killed

The Costa Rican activist was dedicated to protecting the endangered sea turtles nesting on the country’s shores. By doing so, he entered into conflict with poachers. Turtles are mainly threatened by the illegal trade of their eggs, which is linked to drug trafficking according to local activists. Jairo had publicly denounced “criminal groups plundering turtle nests”.

Tartaruga liuto
Baby leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea). This is the world’s largest turtle species and is listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN

4 convicted

Sandoval’s murder had been initially classified as robbery gone wrong. In January 2015, a first trial acquitted all defendants: Héctor Cash, Ernesto Centeno, José Bryan Quesada, and Donald Salmón. However, the appeal court sentenced 4 poachers for murder and kidnapping to 74-90 years in jail. Defence declared the killing had been carried out by unidentified drug traffickers. However, judges said that Sandoval’s work to protect sea turtles was the primary motivation for his murder.

War on poaching

“The killing of Mr. Jairo Mora Sandoval was the straw that broke the camel’s back in this war that was taking place between poachers and environmentalists on the beach,” said Carlos Alvarez, the trial’s chief judge. This could give life to stonger efforts in the fight against wildlife crimes.

Manifestazione per chiedere giustizia per Jairo Mora Sandoval
Sandoval murderers, acquitted during a first trial, have now been sentenced to 74-90 years in jail

Sea Shepherd dedicated a ship to Sandoval

In March 2014, Sea Shepherd named a patrol vessel after Jairo Mora Sandoval. The organisation fighting for marine wildlife protection had earlier offered a 30,000-dollar reward to anyone providing further information for the arrest of Sandoval’s murderers. “When I heard of the murder of 26-year-old Costa Rican sea turtle conservationist Jairo Mora Sandoval, I was saddened beyond measure,” said She Shepherd founder Paul Watson. “And then I became angry. Angry because it happened despite Jairo expressing concerns for his safety to the police and the government. Angry because the government did not react, angry because we had to pressure the government to act, and angry that the poachers continue to desecrate and plunder the nests of the turtles. I also vowed that the name Jairo Mora Sandoval would not be forgotten and toward this end, I decided that we would name a vessel after Jairo. We have done so and now, the Jairo Mora Sandoval will begin anti-poaching operations off the coast of West Africa.”

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