On Feb. 15, in an undisclosed apartment building in London, Giannina Segnini, the managing editor of Costa Rica’s daily La Nación, made an agreement with anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks. A top WikiLeaks administrator then gave Segnini access to hundreds of both secret and unclassified U.S. diplomatic cables about Costa Rica to be published in her paper.
The information contained in those cables, which La Nación began publishing this week, will shed light on some of Costa Rica’s most divisive issues and spawn new controversies. Matters that were discussed privately by the U.S. government with other foreign governments now will reach Costa Rica’s public.
In a La Nación article previewing the cables’ contents, Segnini recalled the transatlantic trip with giddiness. She described the long waits between correspondences with WikiLeaks as “tortured silence,” and detailed the way she was whisked around to covert locations to meet with anonymous figures before finally meeting Julian Assange’s second-in-command, Kristinn Hrafnsson.
While Assange, WikiLeaks’ founder, remained secluded in a friend’s mansion in Norfolk, U.K. (about 200 kilometers from London), Hrafnsson provided Segnini with the information that she traveled across the Atlantic to obtain: 827 diplomatic cables from U.S. officials about Costa Rica.
The majority of these cables (764) was sent from the U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica. The remaining 63 come from other embassies but refer to Costa Rica or international events that pertain to Costa Rica. All the cables were written between December 2004 and February 2010. La Nación becomes the first Central American paper with access to WikiLeaks cables.
“I think La Nación’s reputation helped the company to be considered good enough to publish the cables,” Segnini told The Tico Times in an interview Wednesday. “Because Wikileaks truly performs a study on who’s going to handle their information.”
The information the cables reveal could be damaging to the reputation of both the U.S. government and top political figures in Costa Rica. In an article previewing the cables’ revelations, La Nación said that certain texts criticized former President Abel Pacheco (2002-2006), calling him a “weak leader,” former President Oscar Arias (2006-2010), who the cables said was famous for his “arrogance,” and current President Laura Chinchilla, who the U.S. government described as an “intelligent and competent technocrat” before she attained the presidency.
Other documents refer to Costa Rica’s relationship with the U.S. regarding negotiations of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), as well as Costa Rica’s relations with Cuba and China.
According to La Nación, U.S. diplomats refer to Costa Rica as a “dysfunctional democracy” with institutional weakness exploited by the United States. These inadequacies allow the U.S. to guide the country on issues like security and drug trafficking.
The reliance on the U.S. government’s assistance could, according to one cable La Nación quoted, “shape an effective non-military security force capable of dealing with transnational criminal activity and criminal violence in the country.”
Another cable published Thursday morning by La Nación revealed that the U.S. assisted Costa Rican riot police in preparations for anti-CAFTA marches.
La Nación circulated its first article on specific WikiLeaks’ cables Wednesday. The article disclosed that the Arias government had knowledge about the outcome of an upcoming vote on a CAFTA bill in 2008 prior to the vote having taken place.
At a Wednesday press conference about the CAFTA controversy, Luis Paulino Mora, president of the Supreme Court, defended the credibility of the judiciary.
“These kinds of situations [Wikileaks leaks] can be an opportunity to explain to the people what we are doing and make clear there is nothing to be kept from the public knowledge,” Mora said.
Mora added that he feels comfortable talking with the U.S. embassy, even though the conversations might be wired.
The U.S. Embassy issued a tight-lipped statement in response to La Nación’s plans to release the cables: “The State Department does not comment on material, including classified documents, which have been filtered out.”
The embassy also said that the “cables reflect the daily analysis and assessments of frank discussions between governments. These cables are often preliminary and incomplete expressions of foreign policy. The cables’ should not be seen as final or as representing American politics.”
Segnini, the founder and coordinator of La Nación’s investigative team, said seven people are working on organizing, deciphering and writing stories about the cables.
The newspaper plans to publish each of the cables in its entirely, Segnini said. However, the paper will keep identities confidential in cases where someone’s life could be put in danger, “which is not the case for most of Costa Rican cables,” she said.
The cables will be released gradually as the La Nación staff sifts through each diplomatic statement. As a result of a brief journey to London, Segnini believes her paper possesses valuable documents that will help bring more transparency to Costa Rica and independence to the country’s people.
La Nación’s editor Yanancy Noguera echoed that idea in an article she authored Tuesday called “Our Decision.”
“Information and freedom of thought strengthens democracy,” Noguera wrote. “This is, again, our guide in regards to the revelations.”
Rommel Téllez contributed to this story.