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Lawmaker Leaves Commission Following Ethics Debate

March 16, 2007

Amid political uproar over possible conflicts of interest among legislators, Libertarian Movement legislator Evita Arguedas, the head of the party’s legislative faction, stepped down from the special commission on telecommunications reform last week.

The commission was formed to prioritize a reform to open Costa Rica’s state-run telecom monopoly to private competition.Market aperture was demanded by the United States during negotiations for the Central American Free-Trade Agreement (CAFTA).

Costa Rica is the only signatory that has not ratified the controversial trade pact. A legislative commission approved the text late last year, and Congress is working to approve a fast-track measure that would speed up the CAFTA discussion on the main floor and subsequent vote.

Arguedas stepped down from the congressional telecom commission after weeks of political battle in which CAFTA opposition parties pressured her to admit alleged conflicts of interest (TT, Feb. 23). She is a partner in a telecom legal consulting firm that could benefit from telecom reform, and her husband is the owner of the telecom company Comunica M y T.

A decision from the Government Attorney’s Office Public Ethics Branch determined she would have a conflict of interest if she voted on the issue. Opposition legislator Alberto Salom, from the Citizen Action Party (PAC), had filed the complaint in February requesting the Government Attorney’s opinion.

Arguedas told the daily La República that she won’t vote on the proposed Telecommunications Law even if it hits the assembly floor. In the meantime, she’ll be replaced in the commission by another Libertarian legislator, Carlos Gutiérrez.

Now, CAFTA opponents are fixing their sights on National Liberation Party (PLN) legislator Mayi Antillón for her alleged conflicts of interest. Broad Front legislator José Merino and the heads of two anti-CAFTA labor unions filed a formal complaint before the Government Attorney’s Office this week against Antillón for her alleged conflict of interest in having already voted in favor of CAFTA as a member of the International Affairs Commission that approved it in December (TT, Dec. 15, 2006).

The pro-CAFTA legislator’s husband is a lawyer who represents pharmaceutical companies, and he is on the administrative board of the National Registry, which oversees intellectual property rights issues that could apply to pharmaceuticals under CAFTA. Activists say Antillón, head of the Liberation faction, shouldn’t vote on CAFTA because a chapter on intellectual property would benefit her spouse’s clients (TT, Feb. 23). Antillón told the daily she doesn’t have a conflict.

 

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