Sexual harassment allegations against National Liberation Party (PLN) legislator Federico Tinoco took over the San José political scene Thursday, sending party leaders scrambling to launch an investigation and bringing President Oscar Arias out of his home to encourage his friend to renounce his immunity before the courts.
The allegations, laid out in a complaint filed in the assembly Thursday, come from an anonymous legislative aide who was fired after she refused Tinoco’s alleged sexual advances.
“This case should be seen in the courts,” said President Arias, adding that Tinoco should take leave without pay while an investigative body established by the Legislative Assembly looks into the allegations.
Costa Rica’s first sexual harassment allegations against a legislator in nine years have stunned an already overloaded assembly, stirred up talk of machismo in a congress with the highest percentage of female legislators in Latin America, and prompted allegations of a cover-up from PLN party rivals.
The complaint, which was presented at the assembly Thursday morning by legislator Ana Elena Chacón of the Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC), accuses Tinoco of making unwanted advances to the legislative aide during a trip various lawmakers took to the Caribbean province of Limón approximately two weeks ago.
During the trip, Tinoco allegedly continued to flirt with and bother the legislative aide, who worked for him, at one point forcing a kiss on her.
The Monday after the worker refused the legislator’s alleged advances, she was fired, said the complaint, of which The Tico Times has a copy.
The complaint claims that Tinoco called the aide “my beautiful little thing,” and told her “with me you are going to advance politically if you behave well” and “I will make you the Justice Minister.”
The complaint said that when the aide was going to her room to sleep one night on the tour, Tinoco pulled her towards him and kissed her on the mouth.
“I told him to please respect that I am a married women with children, to which he responded that I was a fool, a prude … and that I should learn to enjoy life,” the complaint reads.
Talking to reporters Wednesday – before the complaint was filed, but after rumors had begun flying regarding a supposed harassment case involving a legislator whose identity had not been confirmed – Tinoco said, “Before the altar of my country and to Costa Rican women, I offer my humble apologies.” Tinoco later said he wasn’t confirming anything, only clarifying his position, the daily La Nación reported.
He said he didn’t know where the accusation he had kissed the aide on the mouth came from, but he would be willing to renounce his immunity to be subject to an investigation.
Behind closed doors in the assembly Thursday, congressional leaders, including assembly president Francisco Pacheco (PLN), decided to launch an investigation into the case.
They must now determine who will make up the investigative team.
Pacheco told The Tico Times he supports the investigation, and that Tinoco’s resignation is up to Tinoco to decide.
Arias said an investigation should be conducted “in the shortest amount of time possible” so as not to distract legislators from a loaded agenda.
Gloria Valerín, the assembly’s Technical Services director and former PUSC legislator who initially received the complaint from the aide and who worked – unsuccessfully – for the approval of a sexual harassment bill in the previous assembly, said the possibility of a cover-up by her rival party legislators should also be investigated, since the aide dismissed by Tinoco was later rehired by fellow Liberation legislator Fernando Sánchez.
This appointment was approved by Liberation’s legislative leader, Mayi Antillón. according to Sánchez.
Sánchez told The Tico Times that, as was reported in the complaint, the aide had been asking Sánchez for a job for nearly a month before Tinoco fired her. Sánchez denied any cover-up, saying, “I didn’t even know about the sexual harassment when I hired (the aide).”
Legislator Chacón, who presented the complaint to the assembly, said no criminal charges had been filed but the complaint is a “statement of the ethics and morals” of Tinoco. She also called the complaint a “vindication of women’s rights.”
“In countries with machismo, there is an environment that encourages sexual harassment,” she said.
Ligia Martín, of the Ombudswoman’s Office, said the assembly also decided to launch an investigation into a similar complaint against a legislator in 1997, but never did, after the Government Attorney’s Office decided that there is no working relationship between a legislator and a legislative aide.
Tico Times reporter Leland Baxter-Neal contributed to this story.