Flap Over FARC Fires Up Arias

April 4, 2008

The sudden resignation of Public Security Minister Fernando Berrocal stirred up rumors of a cover-up of local contacts with Colombian rebels, prompting Costa Rican President Oscar Arias this week to take extraordinary measures to assure the public that no such links exist.

Berrocal left his post Sunday after meeting with Arias and Presidency Minister Rodrigo Arias on the eve of his expected appearance before the Legislative Assembly to explain comments that Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) computers seized in a cross-border raid into Ecuador March 1 contained information linking local “political sectors” to the FARC.

On Monday, Rodrigo Arias, the president’s brother, said Berrocal’s statements “lacked foundation.”

“The government does not have names of politicians who have ties to drug traffickers,” he said.

Thursday evening, President Arias announced he plans to replace Berrocal with lawmaker Janina Del Vecchio.

Three high-level members of Arias’ administration will travel to Colombia today for a fact-finding mission. Foreign Minister Bruno Stagno, Chief Prosecutor Francisco Dall’Anese, and interim Public Security Minister Laura Chinchilla will meet with Colombian authorities to discuss the FARC’s ties to Costa Rica and establish lines of communication for future talks.

Berrocal sent documents to the Casa Presidencial Tuesday night that he said chronicles FARC’s inroads here, according to the daily Diario Extra.

Rodrigo Arias said that all information the government has on Colombian drug traffickers in Costa Rica would be channeled through the proper judicial authorities and not aired in the press.

“These are sensitive matters of national security,” he said.

Under Berrocal’s leadership, and with the help of the U.S. Coast Guard, authorities have seized a record 65 tons of cocaine since the Arias administration took power.

According to President Arias, who held a hastily convened press conference Tuesday to air the Colombian communiqué, Berrocal’s exit gave rise to “insinuations” from “small and petty minds” that the former minister was shoved out to silence him over what he knew about FARC connections in Costa Rica.

“It’s not my fault that there are so many (Colombian “magical realism” novelist Gabriel) García Márquezes who have very twisted imaginations,” said Arias.

To squelch the rumors, Arias appealed to Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, who issued a press release saying no names of Costa Ricans have been found in the FARC computers.

The only information from the computers so far involving Costa Rica was that which led authorities to $480,000 stashed in a safe in the Heredia home of retired professor Francisco Gutiérrez and his wife Cruz Prado, said the communiqué (TT,March 28).

The communiqué also said that a personal date book seized from high-ranking FARC leader Rodrigo Granda, captured in 2005, revealed that the drug-trafficking guerrilla group had established a nucleus of support “directly linked” to Colombian nationals residing in Costa Rica.

The developments left a mystery over exactly what Berrocal meant when he referred to “political sectors” in Costa Rica tied to the FARC. The minister denied that he was making anything up.

Legislators said Berrocal may get a chance to appear before a special legislative commission named this week to investigate FARC ties to Costa Rica.

Meanwhile, former Public Security Minister Rogelio Ramos, who held office under both former presidents Miguel Angel Rodríguez and Abel Pacheco, sought and received an audience with President Arias on Saturday, the day before Berrocal left office.

According to Arias, Ramos wanted to discuss statements made by Berrocal that before Arias came to power, authorities had been lax in letting in thousands of drug traffickers and other criminals.

Berrocal stated that “something other than altruism” was involved in letting 12,000 Colombians into the country with refugee status, 2,000 of whom, he said, were linked to drug trafficking.

In a paid advertisement in the daily La Nación that appeared last Friday, Berrocal was also criticized by Jozef Merkx, representative of the U.N. High Commission on Refugees, who said Berrocal’s statements “categorizes the refugee population, without exclusion nor distinction, in the sad refugee equation of Colombian equals criminal.”

 

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