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Thursday, June 1, 2023

Nation Reacts to Corruption Scandals

THE response from the public and theCosta Rican government to the corruptionscandals the nation has seen in recentmonths – which allegedly involve morethan a dozen former high-level officialsincluding two former Presidents – hasbeen anything but slight.Union representatives, educators,business executives, church leaders,political analysts and citizens of all walksof life have voiced their support for CostaRican prosecutors, who are working touncover the facts of a long list of allegationsof bribes, payoffs and other crimes.Perhaps the most prominent case underinvestigation involves former PresidentMiguel Ángel Rodríguez (1998-2002),accused of accepting 60% of a $2.4 million“prize” allegedly paid by telecommunicationsfirm Alcatel for a governmentcontract it received in 2001. Rodríguezstepped down as Secretary General of theOrganization of American States (OAS)last week to return to Costa Rica, where heremains in house arrest (see separatestory). Prosecutors are also investigatingformer President Rafael Ángel Calderón(1990-94), who was arrested yesterday, ina connection with different corruptionscandal linked to the Social SecuritySystem (see separate story).PRESIDENT Abel Pacheco this weeksaid he is “suffering” as the judicial processgoes on, but said he accepts its necessity.“It will be a long, arduous and painfulprocess, but we will continue,” the Presidentsaid during Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting. “Ofcourse I am suffering. How am I not goingto suffer? But I feel very proud that CostaRica is a democracy that functions.”Measures the government has taken,led by the Prosecutor’sOffice – such as issuingan international captureorder for Rodríguez andarresting him upon hisarrival to the countrylast week – havesparked hope this couldbe the beginning of theend of high-level governmentcorruption andimpunity in Costa Rica.Antonio Barrios, apolitical analyst with the UniversidadNacional (UNA), said the country has nochoice but to thoroughly clean house if thenation ever hopes to repair its now-tarnishedinternational image.“Costa Rica has a huge job – to cleanall of this,” Barrios said. “It must demonstratebefore the world that its system iseffective.”BARRIOS also said PresidentPacheco and his administration madesome “dangerous” decisions in dealingwith the corruption scandals.The biggest mistake, according toBarrios, was asking for Rodríguez’s resignationfrom the OAS just days after the firstrevelation of his potential involvement incorruption earlier this month (TT, Oct. 8).Barrios said Pacheco has made himselfvulnerable to serious embarrassment if hehimself is implicated in a corruption scandalor if Rodríguez turns out to be innocentof the accusations.Political analyst Luís GuillermoSolís, with the University of Costa Rica(UCR), agreed with Barrios that cleaninghouse is necessary for the country’sfuture.“There is a firstchapter in this book –and that is the chapterof crime and punishment.We have to catchthe bad guys, put themon trial, and put them injail,” Solís said.THE daily newspaperLa Nación hasserved as a forum formuch of the country’s response to thescandal.Eight Costa Rican Bishops sent a letterto La Nación, which ran Tuesday, praisingthe efforts of the President and the ChiefProsecutor in combating corruption.“We celebrate the valiant and committedattitude Chief Prosecutor FranciscoDall’Anese has assumed with his work,”the letter said.Costa Rica’s public universities collaboratedto take out a full-page ad that ranin La Nación Sunday, in which they calledfor “new commitments” from the governmentand “concrete actions to rectify thecourse” of the nation.Among the commitments the ad calledfor are more support for press freedom, aswell as increased backing for theProsecutor’s Office and the court system.According to Fabián Barrantes, chiefspokesman for the Judicial Branch, theProsecutor’s Office could definitely usethat backing (see separate story).ANOTHER person to respond tonews of the Rodríguez scandal in LaNación is former OAS Secretary GeneralAlejandro Orfila, reported as the onlyother person to resign from the highoffice amid corruption allegations apartfrom Rodríguez. Orfila resigned in 1984.However, Orfila, who served asSecretary General for nine years, deniedin a letter to La Nación that he resignedamid controversy, as has been reported inrecent weeks, and denied he was the firstSecretary General to resign. The first sentenceof the letter, which ran in Sunday,reads, “A personal decision, not forced bycircumstances.”In the letter, he said he was the secondOAS Secretary General to resign, and thefirst was former Colombian PresidentAlberto Lleras. He did not specify whenLleras resigned. Orfila also denied everbeing accused of corruption.THE National Association of CostaRican Educators (ANDE) issued a statementlast week denouncing house arrest asan option. In addition to Rodríguez, JoséAntonio Lobo – who made the initialaccusations against Rodríguez – andMarvin Barrantes, implicated in the SocialSecurity System scandal, have been givenhouse arrest.“It cannot be permitted that publicfunctionaries live comfortably in theirhomes under the term ‘house arrest’ withoutassuming responsibility for theiractions,” the statement said.The Association of Fathers of SeparatedFamilies in Costa Rica on Tuesday issued astatement echoing that opinion.


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