Public finally asked to help find missing U.S. citizen

Ramachandra H. Breathwaite

Ramachandra H. Breathwaite may be alive, or he may be dead. He may be in a hospital with a loss of memory. Or he may be deliberately hiding out to duck Costa Rican law.

About all law enforcement officials know is that the 34-year-old man, a U.S. citizen, has been missing for more than a year. He lived in Tilarán, Guanacaste, in Sabalito de Tierras Morenas. The last word investigators have about the man is that he was going to visit some friends in Escazú.

Breathwaite apparently was no angel. Agents at the Judicial Investigating Organization said he was known to use drugs and was detained twice by police. One charge, that of carrying a weapon illegally, still is unresolved, they said. He also has had episodes of schizophrenia and has been confined to the Hospital Nacional Psiquiátrico.

He also had his problems with the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería because he was one of those perpetual tourists living and working here on that type of visa.

Judicial investigators could not explain why they waited more than a year to go public with the request for information about the man. They didn’t do so because he was a U.S. citizen. At the same time they asked for information from the public about Rishi Jeoshua Vaccaria Mora, a 23-year-old Costa Rican who had been missing since 2010. In the last few days Vaccaria turned up as a result of the law enforcement agency’s announcement.

When an Australian student, Brendan Dobbins, 24, vanished in Costa Rica in 2005, that country’s ambassador who was based in México quickly arrived to press for stronger efforts to find the young man. When a French couple, Gerard and Claude Dubois, vanished near Quepos a year ago, their country’s ambassador ended up hosting press conferences.

But that does not happen at the U.S. Embassy. Officials there are bound by the strict U.S. Privacy Act that makes releasing information a crime. Just two weeks ago an embassy spokesperson could not confirm or deny that a consul was visiting a U.S. citizen who was a prisoner in La Reforma’s high security wing. The prisoner was complaining of extra-official beatings by guards there.

Even when death extinguishes Privacy Act concerns, embassy workers here decline to release or confirm any information. One official said they did so for the benefit of the family of the dead person.

There have been cases where relatives elsewhere were attempting to locate a U.S. citizen who was believed to be in Costa Rica. U.S. Embassy workers generally are unhelpful in these cases unless the visitor is a minor and the relative is a parent.

Said the U.S. State Department on its Web site:

“As a rule, consular officers may not reveal information regarding an individual American’s location, welfare, intentions, or problems to anyone, including family members and Congressional representatives, without the expressed consent of that individual. Although sympathetic to the distress this can cause concerned families, consular officers must comply with the provisions of the Privacy Act.”

In the case of Breathwaite, reporters do not know if embassy workers are even aware of the situation or why they may not have made their own announcement about a U.S. citizen that was missing. Such announcements to protect lives or for safety are permitted under the Privacy Act.

The State Department’s data base of American citizens missing abroad does not contain Breathwaite’s name.

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