From the print edition
The Aguirre Municipal Council voted unanimously to move forward a recall election against erstwhile mayor and accused human trafficker, Lutgardo Bolaños, at a council meeting Tuesday in the central Pacific town of Quepos.
The council also agreed in a unanimous 5-0 vote to review Bolaños’ previous appointment as head of the municipality’s legal department and to send to the local prosecutor’s office reams of financial documents from Bolaños’ tenure as mayor. The council alleges irregularities in the management of municipal funds by the mayor have left the municipality with a $1 million budget deficit.
The recall election is scheduled for Sept. 23.
Bolaños, a National Liberation Party (PLN) lawyer and politician who in February 2011 became mayor of the municipality that includes Costa Rica’s famed Manuel Antonio National Park, was arrested at his home Dec. 21, 2011, after what the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) described as a four-month investigation into his alleged use of municipal funds to make pornographic videos with underage girls (TT, Jan. 12, Dec. 23, 2011).
According to OIJ accounts, Bolaños and his driver toured Costa Rica in cars rented on the municipal dime and hired girls as young as 14 from the poorest regions of the country to perform in sex tapes the men recorded. When the two men were arrested in December, OIJ agents seized computers and as many as 600 compact discs containing pornographic videos.
Bolaños posted bail the day after his arrest, but police arrested him again less than a month later when new victims stepped forward. Police also arrested municipal employee Reymundo Herrera, bar owner Jimmy Acuña and Vilma Campos, identified by the OIJ as the alleged recruiter of girls from different parts of the country. The OIJ report described the group as a “band organized with the goal of human trafficking.”
According to Costa Rica’s Child Welfare Office, some 35,000 children and adolescents are victims of human trafficking each year in the country.
Bolaños was released from jail with “preventive measures,” meaning he has been required to sign in with the court in Aguirre every two weeks and is not allowed to have any contact with his alleged victims. The Municipal Council also suspended Bolaños from his position for six months with pay, and he has continued to receive a monthly salary of approximately $4,000.
“It is incredible to us that no one has had the courage to present this petition to the council before now,” said Kenneth Chaves, president of the Aguirre Cantonal Committee for Young People (CCPJA), which presented the motion for a recall to the Municipal Council on May 15.
“We are petrified at just the idea that Lutgardo Bolaños could return to his post as mayor after the damage that he has caused,” Chaves said in a statement. “It is disagreeable enough that he still receives his $4,000 monthly salary while his victims continue under treatment in psychological institutions. We must prevent this from happening at all costs.”
Chaves added that the CCPJA has collected more than 500 signatures supporting the move to recall Bolaños.
The Tico Times was unable to verify Bolaños’ alleged victims were in treatment in psychological institutions as the statement indicates.
“This is a shame for the party,” Chaves said. “Not just locally, but nationally.”
Álvaro Emilio Castro, president of the PLN’s ethics tribunal, said the ruling party of President Laura Chinchilla has not opened an investigation or taken action against Bolaños because no one has appeared before the tribunal to provide proof of any wrongdoing on the part of the mayor.
“I wanted to start an investigation,” Castro said. “But at this time what we have is a lack of proof.”
The Municipal Council ordered the release on Tuesday of documents to the Comptroller General and the Public Prosecutor’s Office handling investigations into Bolaños’ activities as mayor.
Council President Jonathan Rodríguez said the mayor’s alleged mismanagement of public funds left the municipality with a budgetary shortfall of “around $1 million.”
Rodríguez said that for nearly six months the council has worked with acting mayor, Isabel León, to resolve the municipality’s financial woes.
The council specifically and unanimously asked for investigations into an overdraft processed at the Bank of Costa Rica and signed by Bolaños on Nov. 30, 2011, which the mayor may not have been authorized to sign for. The council also asked for an investigation into salary raises Bolaños authorized for all municipal officials and from which, according to the council’s request for investigation, Bolaños may have benefited indirectly.
The council asked for “in-depth” investigations into other areas of the mayor’s activities including his alleged noncompliance with an order from the Comptroller General regarding deeds to green areas in a community near Quepos; his appointment as head of the municipality’s legal department in the previous administration, which the council indicated it cannot find legal documentation of; and appointments Bolaños made as mayor that allegedly did not follow legal procedures.
“The most important thing we can do now is put municipal finances in order,” Rodríguez said. “We have to return to seeing black numbers in place of red numbers. We have to roll up our sleeves, cinch up our pants and get to work.”
That may be easier said than done, according to Harry Bodaan, a local hotelier and president of the Aguirre Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Tourism.
“The community is very nervous,” Bodaan said, adding that acting Mayor Isabel León enjoys “the full support of the community.”
“She’s like a breath of fresh air, working every day with how to best deal with the $1 million deficit Lutgardo [Bolaños] left us with,” he said. “It’s just atrocious what happened here. This guy has put us $1 million in the hole and ruined the lives of a dozen or so young girls.”
Bolaños could not be reached for this story, as a phone number listed for him has been disconnected and an email address he used as mayor has been reassigned to the acting mayor.