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Country Watches Ex-President’s Arrest

October 22, 2004

COSTA Ricans marching against corruptionin San José last week held signsstating they awaited the return of formerPresident Miguel Ángel Rodríguez to faceallegations of government corruption duringhis term (1998-2002).He did not disappoint them.Rodríguez was arrested and handcuffedas he stepped off a Grupo TACAflight from Washington, D.C. via ElSalvador, which touched down in CostaRica at approximately 2:18 p.m. on Friday.The former head of state was immediatelytransferred to a paddy wagon waitingfor him on the tarmac of the JuanSantamaría International Airport, just outsideSan José in Alajuela. Some 20 airportsecurity guards, dozens of agents of theJudicial Investigative Police (OIJ), and 50members of the press – including some ina TV news helicopter – awaited him.BEFORE he entered the paddywagon, OIJ agents offered a bulletproofvest to Rodríguez, which he apparentlyturned down.Hundreds of Ticos came out of theirhomes and workplaces and lined up on thehighway and sat on overpasses betweenthe airport and the Prosecutor’s Office indowntown San José, watching for thepolice caravan that took him.The helicopter and several news trucksfollowed the caravan during its 20-minutetrip downtown, providing live coverage totelevision viewers throughout the nation.When the caravan arrived at its destination,a crowd of hundreds was waiting,screaming and cursing as the vehicle enteredthe parking garage beneath the building. Afew crowd members attempted to enter thegarage, but were stopped by OIJ agents.After the gate to the parking garagewas closed, OIJ agents attempted to closea pull-down metal door over it, but membersof the crowd pushed it back up andbanged on it with fists and umbrellas,eventually damaging it to the point that itwould not close.DOZENS pressed against the gate,shouting “Thief!” and demanding thatRodríguez show his face to the people,until police arrived to push them back.When a vehicle containing Rodríguez’sluggage arrived, it was immediatelysurrounded by crowd members shouting,“There’s the money!” and poundingon the car until it pulled away.Luis Hernández, in command of thepolice at the building, said he thought thecrowd’s reaction was “normal.”REPORTS surfaced that Rodríguezfainted just after entering the Prosecutor’sOffice. However, Judicial Branch presschief Fabián Barrantes called it “an erroron the part of the press,” and added thatanother suspect had fainted at about thesame time Rodríguez entered.While some suggested the high-profilearrest – and the fact that a Costa Ricanjudge issued an international arrest forRodríguez – was excessive and exhibitionist,President Abel Pacheco this week saidhe disagreed.“Those are the decisions of theJudicial Branch,” Pacheco said onTuesday during his Cabinet meeting. “Ideeply respect the decisions of the JudicialBranch.”

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