Libertarian appeal to Supreme Court stalls Costa Rican hunting ban

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  October 2012: (Actually published on November 1,  2012.)

SAN JOSE,  Costa Rica–Fourteen lawmakers led by eight members of the Libertarian Movement party on October 4,  2012 stalled the anticipated passage of a Costa Rican national ban on sport hunting by asking the Constitutional Chamber of the Costa Rican Supreme Court to review the constitutionality of the ban,  which would be central to a new national Wildlife Act.

The Libertarian Movement party is headed by attorney and Safari Club International member Ricardo Guardia.  Only one of the nine Libertarian legislators,  Patricia Perez,  did not join in the appeal to the Supreme Court. Co-signing the appeal were also two members of the National Liberation Party,  one member of the Social Christian Unity Party,  and one member of the Access Without Exclusion Party,  whose name refers to providing access for the handicapped to public facilities.

. The Wildlife Act had awaited only second reading,  expected to be a formality,  after clearing the legislature 41-5 on October 2, 2012.  Favoring the act,  Costa Rican president Laura Chinchilla pledged to promptly sign it into law.

. The Wildlife Act reached the legislature through a petition bearing the signatures of 177,000 Costa Rican voters,  rallied by the nonprofit Association for the Preservation of Flora and Fauna,  called Apreflofas for short.

. The Wildlife Act would extend an existing ban on recreational hunting on public lands to the whole of Costa Rica,  but would allow wildlife to be captured or killed for scientific research,  population control,  for indigenous subsistence except in protected habitat such as national parks,  and to eradicate “invasive” species deemed a threat to endangered or threatened native species.  The Wildlife Act would not apply to fishing.

. As well as prohibiting sport hunting, the Wildlife Act would extend existing legislation against keeping captive exotic and dangerous wildlife to prohibit keeping native monkeys,  raccoons,  and parrots as pets.

. Violators of the Wildlife Act could be fined up to $3,000.

. Passage of the Wildlife Act on first reading “captured worldwide attention,” editorialized the Tico Times,  “as Costa Rica is poised to become the first country in the Americas to ban hunting for sport.  The fact that this bill is Costa Rica’s first piece of legislation drafted and promoted by popular initiative,  shows the importance of this issue to thousands of Costa Ricans.  It is also a testament to the desire of the people to participate in the democratic process,  and lawmakers were wise to quickly adopt it.”

. “We’re not just hoping to save the animals,  but hoping to save the country’s economy,  because if we destroy the wildlife, tourists are not going to come,”  Preserve Planet representative Luis Diego Marin told the Tico Times.  Costa Rica attracts about 300,000 tourists per year;  tourism accounts for about 5% of the national economy.

. But hunters argued that the Wildlife Act would hurt tourism.  “Those who have been putting off a hunting trip in Costa Rica may never fulfill that dream,”  lamented Outdoor Hub Reporters correspondent Agnieszka Spieszny. “Within 0.1 percent of its landmass, Costa Rica contains 5 percent of the world’s biodiversity,” Spieszny continued.  “Numerous species of frogs, turtles,  monkeys,  squirrels,  sloths,  big cats,  crocodiles and more live in Costa Rica. Some outfitter services offer the chance to hunt dove,  duck,   whitetail,  mule and red stag.”

. “In many rural areas,”  the Tico Times editorialists acknowledged,  “hunting for sport is still popular,  and it is one of the causes that threaten the jaguar, its prey, and other species.  There is the cultural issue as well. Armed men with packs of dogs often venture into places like the Corcovado National Park,  on the Osa Peninsula in southern Costa Rica,  because they know there aren’t many folks who will stop them.  Park rangers and Environment Ministry officials are dedicated to protecting the country’s parks and stopping illegal poaching, but they’re outnumbered and have limited resources. By banning sport hunting outright, Costa Rica is sending a strong message to hunters that the practice is not in line with the country’s ideals of conservation and non-violence.”

Murder

Momentum toward passage of the Wildlife Act increased after the February 2,  2011 murder of Canadian expatriate Kimberly Blackwell,  53, founder of the organic chocolate company Samaritan Xocolata.  Blackwell had relocated to Costa Rica from Whitehorse in the Yukon Territories.

. In 2002,  the Tico Times recalled, “Blackwell bought 52 hectares of mountaintop land near San Manuel de Cañaza,  next to the Gulfo Dulce Reserve and Corcovado National Park.  She reforested former logging territory to create a corridor of primary forest that adjoined the government-protected reserve and national park.”

. “She created this whole micro-industry [in locally produced chocolate] so that she could employ her neighbors and get them to end the practice of hunting,”  her business partner and successor Tao Watts,  of Puerto Jiménez,  told the Tico Times.

. Blackwell frequently confronted poachers who used her access road to enter the reserve and national park.  “Friends say she was never afraid of poachers, who had guns and hunting dogs,  even shooting at one trespasser with her BB gun,” the Tico Times added in November 2011,  after the arrest of suspect Jorge Enrique Flores Rojas, 36,  who has yet to go to trial.

. “At one point a poacher killed two of Blackwell’s dogs,”  the Tico Times continued. Later, according to friends, she ran over that poacher in her car,  breaking his leg.”

. Agents of the Costa Rican Office of Judicial Investigation “confirmed that prosecutors believe Blackwell was confronted by at least six hunters before her death.  There was no explanation why other persons have not been detained,”  AM Costa Rica reported.  Blackwell was initially believed to have been strangled after being severely beaten,  but an autopsy found she had also been shot.

. After her killing,  when local authorities showed little interest in pursuing the case,  her sister Kimberley Lavallee reportedly hired a private investigator,  who identified the suspects.  Canadian government officials reportedly then pressed for action in connection with making a grant to Costa Rica to help fund police training.  Blackwell’s property meanwhile was reoccupied by the previous owner, who had remained on adjacent land,  Lavallee told media.

 

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