Paul Watson cannot rely on promises by the executive branch

Paul Watson, the aggressive conservationist, is being asked to accept Costa Rica justice and return here to face allegations that he attempted to sink a Costa Rican fishing boat in Guatemalan waters.

Watson is being assured by high government officials that he will receive a fair deal here. Watson should be made aware that the Costa Rican judicial system is seriously flawed.

Watson could contact Sheldon Hazeltine, who has been in the courts for 16 years fighting to hold on to a piece of property in the central Pacific coast. Hazeltine has been acquitted twice of an apparently bogus allegation of falsifying a document. Even the prosecutor backed Hazeltine. But both times an appeals judge has voided the acquittal and remanded the case for another trial on minor technicalities.

An analysis of the news

Of course, sometimes the justice system here can be lenient. Watson should know about Eliseo Vargas, the former deputy and head of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social. Vargas has been convicted three times of playing fast and loose with public money. The last conviction was Monday. But he still is free. Or he could talk to two ex-presidents who were involved with Vargas and who still are free.

Watson could contact editors at A.M. Costa Rica who were dragged through a criminal court for more than a year on a bogus charge leveled by a man who was a fugitive in Panamá. Costa Rican courts appear to be unable to throw out bogus cases before trial.

In addition, there does not seem to be any penalty exacted for lying in court. Watson runs the risk of facing a fabricated case without any recourse, as does anyone else here.

Then there is the problem of preventative detention. Foreigners get the full treatment. A bar owner in Playas del Coco was faced with a man threatening him with a knife. The police came and took away the man, but for some unexplained reason released him a few hours later. The man announced to police that he was going to return and kill the Canadian bar owner. When he tried to do so, the bar operator shot him dead in front of witnesses.

All corroborated the bar owner’s story. Judges still sent the bar owner to prison for more than a year awaiting trial. He probably would have been convicted except prosecutors knew newspeople were watching. The bar owner, Roger Crouse, lost all he had while jailed.

Watson said he fears that he would be killed if he returned to Costa Rica. Supporters said that the shark-finning mafia have designs on his life. If may be that the fishermen involved in his high seas confrontation just want money. A curious aspect of Costa Rican law is that criminal charges can go away for a price. For example, Luis Milanes, the casino owner, fled, returned and then bought his way out of an allegation that he defrauded hundreds of investors to the tune of $200 million. He paid off and is paying off at the rate of a few cents on the dollar.

Luis Enrique Villalobos, the Costa Rican who handled about $1 billion in investor money, fled a fraud charge more than 10 years ago rather than face Costa Rican justice.

The International Police Agency lists 73 persons who chose to flee instead of face Costa Rican justice. There are 13 who are suspects in crimes against life, as INTERPOL puts it. The Poder Judicial also has released a list of persons who are wanted as criminal suspects here.

Both the foreign ministry and Casa Presidencial have made a point to distance themselves from the Paul Watson case. The judicial is independent, they said. That’s true, and it means that whatever promise elected officials or executive branch officials make to Watson about getting justice do not bind the courts.

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