I took a call last week from a Journalist in Costa Rica, and he had an interesting take on Costa Rica’s impending (or attempted) extradition of Paul Watson.  He was adamant that all the nonsense about Costa Ricans being bandied about by others is hurting Watson’s cause, should the extradition ever be successful.   He also said that many of the accusations were so patently false, and that locals were increasingly upset at how their country was being portrayed internationally.  But before we get to that, lets go back a bit.

In 2002 there was in incident (well 2 of them really) in Guatemalan waters involving a Sea Shepherd vessel and a Costa Rican vessel.  Now the flag a vessel is registered under plays a crucial role in determining where this event may be tried.  Generally, events happening on a vessel are considered to come under the jurisdiction of the registering country, or in the territorial waters where the incident took place.  If there are two vessels with differing flags involved in an incident, then the event may come under the jurisdiction of either country, or if it is in the waters of a third country, it may even be tried there. It just depends where the trial ends up.   It also depends on what the type of crime is.  Some may be considered local crimes (illegal fishing for example), while others may come under international maritime law (ramming for example).   So I guess you could say it is complicated.

Taking the alleged ramming and or hosing down of a Costa Rican fishing vessel.  Costa Rica is obligated to protect their vessels, and so the incident should at the very least be investigated, and if the evidence supports it, tried under Costa Rican law.  Once Watson got involved with this vessel, he is accepting the rule of law of Costa Rica.  Further to this, he is also accepting the rule of law of Guatemala, as that is where the events took place.

Now after the alleged incident, Guatemala sent out a Naval boat to bring both vessels in to port to investigate.  Watson, for whatever reason, left the area and headed offshore.   Now keep in mind here, that the only place the Costa Ricans can be tried for their alleged shark finning is Guatemala.  Costa Rica has no legal jurisdiction to prosecute their fishing vessels that fish illegally in Guatemala – it is up to the Guatemalans to do this.   To date the Guatemalans have been silent on this, and given the high level of shark finning sadly happening throughout Central American waters, it is doubtful anything would ever be done.

That leaves us with the unusual situation where the alleged shark finning may only be tried in Guatemala, and that is unlikely, while the alleged ramming may be tried in any one of 3 countries, and Costa Rica is intent on pursuing this.

Zoom forward to 2011, and Costa Rica finally gets their act sorted, issuing an international arrest warrant for Watson, perhaps with some encouragement from Japan.  Who knows what evidence the fishermen have provided, but it seems it was enough to convince both the Costa Rican courts, as well as now the German courts, that at the very least, there is a case to be answered to.   Had Sea Shepherd provided the raw footage in 2002 as requested by Costa Rica, or been present in the 2006 investigative hearing then they might well not be in this difficult situation.

So now we face the unpleasant prospect of Watson being arrested and sent to Costa Rica where a drawn out remand period and trial is likely.  Like many, I believe Watson is best being on the oceans protecting its wildlife.  If he does end up in Costa Rica, then the best we can hope for is a relatively efficient proceeding that may see him released in under a year.

Not helping his cause however is all the recent attacks on Costa Rica.  The last 2 months has seen so many abusive and demeaning posts, comments, emails and messages about Costa Rica, the bulk of them simply lies or half-truths.

As an example, many are portraying Costa Rica as a lawless state of murderers and mafia, and that Watson will simply be murdered when he gets put in prison there.   The murder rate in Costa Rica is the lowest in all Central America, and lower than virtually all Islands in the Caribbean.  In fact it is less than a large number of states in the US.  This country in many regards remains a beacon of positivity compared to many in Central America, and to suggest the shark fin mafia will just have Watson taken out once he arrives is no more likely than he be taken out in prisons elsewhere.  Costa Rica would be the first to admit they have areas to improve upon. But they are far from the lawless country of bandits and shark-fin mafia many people are claiming.

Costa Rica has also been accused of ignoring their marine and national parks.  I’ve been fortunate to visit Costa Rica several times, and I found their work in this area to be way better than anywhere else in Central America.  The Cocos Islands for example has over 20 rangers stationed on it, and there is a real focus on ensuring this pristine area is preserved – both the island itself and the surrounding marine protected area.  The Corcovado National Park is world class, and Costa Rica spends a king’s ransom with ongoing programs to protect the many endangered species living in there.  After my last visit to Corcovado, I was left wishing that all of Central America would exhibit the same focus on national parks.   That is not to say Costa Rica is perfect.  They are the first to admit they have many areas to improve upon.  Certainly their fishing industry needs a complete overhaul.  But to label Costa Rica as totally uncaring towards its National parks and marine wildlife is simply untrue.

The third accusation is that Costa Rica is the Shark Fin capital of the world.  Yes they have shark finning there and enforcement has been somewhat lax, but their involvement is less than the Shark fin giants such as Indonesia, India, Spain, Argentina and the US.  That last one will surprise many – the US historically exports more shark fin that Costa Rica.  The fact is the shark fin business has become almost endemic almost around the world, and it is a problem that we all need to address, not just Costa Rica.

Finally there is the straight out abuse of Costa Ricans.  By all means send their government a message that you support Watson, or post online that you believe he should not go to prison or should be given a fair trial.  But leave the ordinary Costa Ricans and their businesses out of it.  The more you post abusive or untrue comment about them, the more difficult it will be for Watson, should he ever end up there.

Back to the Journalist I spoke about earlier.  He works at a newspaper in Costa Rica, and he said the impression there is increasingly that recent abuse is simply racist tones from angry white people.  And I kinda agree with him.  I’ve lost count of the number of horrid comments directed at Costa Ricans that I’ve removed from my wall over the last month.  Sure they have problems there, like any country.  They do have shark finning.  They do have murders.  And they do have corruption.  But show me a country that doesn’t have these problems.

If Watson does end up in Costa Rica, we should urge their Judiciary to have a speedy and fair trial.  But lets stop this on-line abuse of Costa Ricans.  In the end it won’t help Watson, nor sea Shepherd.

(As an aside, if Watson remains free until the middle of 2013, Costa Rica cannot try him as the statute of Limitation will have the charges expire).