Friday, August 01, 2008

Murder on Indian reserve might not prompt an investigation

By Elise Sonray
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A bad man wrapped a rope around the child's neck and strangled him. That's how Blanca Rose described the murder of the 5-year old who couldn't walk, according to a mission director.

Blanca Rose isn't the only mother who sought refuge because of her child's condition. Filemón, who has cerebral palsy, and Victorino, who fell from a tree when he was a young, both live in the Chirripó mission, said a director there. They are there because some people in their Cabécar villages thought they would be better off dead.

The claims of murders and other violence represent a challenge for local police agencies. Although Indians in Costa Rica are presumed to live under the sames laws as the rest of the citizens, distance, tradition and fear of outsiders frequently keeps police from knowing what takes place.

In some of the Cabécar villages there are people who think those who are mentally or physically disabled should be killed, said Daniel Montoya Salas, co-director of Voz Que Calma mission in Chirripó. “Not everyone is the same,” said Montoya. Many Cebécar people come to visit the mission, and they say it brings happiness to their hearts to see Victorino and Filemón doing well, said Montoya.

Some of Victornio's family members tried to beat him to death with sticks after he fell from the tree and was left paraplegic, said Montoya. “The scars on his head are incredible,” said Montoya. And women advised Filemón's mother, Cela, to stop giving him food so he would die faster, added the director.

Blanca Rose, her daughter Priscilla, and her mother Roxana are still awaiting the baby's journey to Hospital Nacional de Niños, said Montoya. At this point the mission and others helping want to make sure Roxana, who has a mental illness, understands that the only family she has will not abandon her and that they will come back after their trip to San José, said Montoya.

Last week the two women and the baby traveled to the mission for a visit and to share lunch, said Montoya. He said this was a sign that the mother and grandmother were gaining their trust. “The grandmother knows my name now,” he said.

The three family members arrived at the mission last month asking for help. They left in fear after the murder of the 5-year-old boy who couldn't walk. 2-year-old Priscilla is weak on the left side and still doesn't walk. Priscilla, her mother and grandmother are not from Sinoli, the community the mission works with, said Montoya. They are from Sitio Hilda, a community which is a four days walk away, said Montoya. The mission director said these kinds of superstitious cases are more common in the farthest away villages, not in places like Sinoli.

In the case of the boy who was murdered in Sitio Hilda, the perpetrator is unidentified and no one has pressed charges to his knowledge, said Montoya. No charges were pressed in the cases of Filemón and Victorino either, said Montoya. In fact Victorino forgave the parents who had beaten him, and now they have a good relationship, said Montoya.

Many times members of the community don't want to talk to officials about crimes, said Montoya. Investigators from the regional Judicial Investigation Organization offices in Turrialba, Limón, and Bribri said they'd never encountered any case in which an Indian was murdered due to a physical or mental disability.

Although Limón and Bribri offices work mainly with the Bribri people, they have encountered similar problems as agents in the Turrialba region who work with the Cabécar people, said investigators.

Guillermo Bermúdez, judicial director in Limón, said many of the Bribri people do not feel that they can trust outsiders and don't file complaints. In cases of homicides, it is hard to conduct forensic exams because the victim usually is buried immediately, and the communities are located far away, said Bermúdez.

Bermúdez, who worked as the judicial chief in Talamanca

Two men who escaped death: Victorino with ball and Filemón.

for 17 years, said he received reports of malnutrition and medical emergencies from the Bribri communities. He also worked on many domestic violence cases and some cases of violent fights breaking out due to affects of chicha de maiz, a fermented corn alcohol. Bermúdez said the same laws applied to Indian reserves as in the rest of the country.

Hugo Lascarez Montero, an investigator in Turrialba said he had worked on numerous sexual abuse cases and domestic violence cases with the Cabécar people. “Women don't have much voice,” he said. He added that cultural differences made investigations more complicated, but that the law always applies.

Abel Mora an investigator in Bribri agreed that cultural differences played a role in Bribri investigations. He said he was mainly familiar with medical problems being reported.

All of the investigators agreed that cases were difficult to investigate due to the distant locations of the communities, the lack of trust between outsiders and the indigenous people, and the fact that most people in the communities don't file complaints to judicial officials.

The Cabécar live in the mountains along the Caribbean coast south of Limón. Elsewhere in other reserves on the Pacific there have been crimes linked to supposed witchcraft.

As for baby Priscilla and her family, things are going well, said Montoya. Priscilla and Montoya played a game passing a flower back and forth, he said. “It was a little sad because she only used her right hand,” said Montoya.

Right now the mission directors and other volunteers are using donations, many of which are from readers of A.M. Costa Rica, to buy milk for Priscilla and food for the family, said Montoya. A doctor in Turrialba saw Priscilla and told Montoya the visit would be free. “You help these people. I want to help you,” said the doctor, Roy Arias Leiua, Montoya said.

No one can be sure how long Priscilla will stay in the hospital but she will need to see specialist, said Montoya. If she needs physical therapy she may have to stay for months, said Montoya, it all depends on the diagnosis.

Last month two visitors traveled to the mission to get an idea of how things were run. Although neither were doctors, visitor Ray Reynolds is a nurse and said Priscilla has an obvious weakness on the left side. “She follows movement with her eyes and seemed fascinated by my friend´s watch,” said Reynolds, who is interested in starting a foundation to assist people here who have special needs.

Representatives at Hospital Nacional de Niños have said that Blanca Rose would have permission to stay at the hospital, said Montoya. If the mother decided to stay somewhere else or receive outside help that would be her decision, he added.

Worldwide there are still people in certain cultures who believe it is best for those who are disabled to be killed. The Telegraph in Britain reported last year about Amazon tribes in Brazil that buried babies alive if they were born with any sort of deformity. An anthropology professor supported the practice as a cultural value, according to the Telegraph.

“The tradition is based on beliefs that babies with any sort of physical defect have no souls and that others, such as twins or triplets, are also 'cursed'. . .Infanticide has claimed the lives of dozens of babies each year, say campaigners fighting to end the practice,” stated the article.

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