San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Comptroller Says He Won’t Resign

LESS than a month after naming Álex Solís thecountry’s Comptroller General, the majority of theLegislative Assembly’s deputies asked the head inspectorof government financial contracts to step down.Allegations that Solís financed the smuggling ofhundreds of illegal immigrants to the United States andfalsified the signature of his brother Ottón Solís causedthe new comptroller to lose the support of more thantwo-thirds the Legislative Assembly.On Wednesday night, 40 legislators voted in favorand nine against asking Solís to resign within 24 hoursbecause of the perceived scandal.Last night at a press conference, Solís again denied anywrongdoing and refused to step down, saying he will do his job “as long as God will allow.” Hepromised to “continue the fight againstpublic and private corruption,” and reiteratedthat he has broken no laws.He added that he has been treatedunfairly by the media.Legislators have said that if Solísdoes not resign, they will continue thelegal process for his removal, nipping hiseight-year term in the bud.A special legislative investigativecommission began investigating SolísJune 21 and has 20 days to reach a conclusion.Solís was named as a successor to formerComptroller Luis Fernando Vargas,who stepped down after completing hiseight-year term.The Comptroller General is responsiblefor reviewing the government’sfinances and all contracts and public bids,particularly to combat corruption andirregularities.THE investigation into Solís’ backgroundbegan in response to allegationsby Patriotic Bloc deputy Humberto Arcethat Solís falsified the signature of hisbrother – a former presidential candidateand founder of the Citizen Action Party(PAC) – on documents.Further investigation of these documentsrevealed accusations that Solíshelped fund Southern Zone residents’illegal entrance into the United States bylending money to pay for costly “coyotes.”Costa Ricans hoping to be smuggledinto the United States pay up to $5,000,according to local press reports. Severalmen who called themselves “travelagents” told the daily newspapers thatthey help poor campesinos from theSouthern Zone canton of Pérez Zeledónstart new lives in the United States.FROM 1998 to 2001 these “travelagents” often referred their clients lookingfor financing to Solís’s law firm,according to reports, because it offeredlow interest rates.One coyote has his office in the samebuilding as Solís’s law firm, located inSan Isidro de El General.Residents often mortgaged theirhomes to borrow the funds. Several PérezZeledón residents told of having theirhomes repossessed when they wereunable to pay their debts to Solís, oftenbecause of the death of a family memberor because the person smuggled into theUnited States was never heard from again.“Travel agent” William Zúñiga, however,said Solís is “an honorable person”and his friend. Zúñiga admitted to Al Díato having assisted in smuggling at least1,000 Costa Ricans into the United Statesthrough Mexico during the past 14 years.He denied the business was profitable,alleging he had incurred $350,000 indebts. The $5,000 fee is used to buy aplane ticket to Mexico and then hire acoyote to smuggle the client across theU.S. border, he said.HUMAN smuggling is not illegal inCosta Rica. However, attempting tosmuggle immigrants into the UnitedStates is a punishable offense carryingsevere criminal penalties and can renderthe smuggler permanently ineligible toenter the United States, according to theU.S. Embassy in San José.Although unable to comment on thespecific case of Zúñiga, embassy spokeswomanElaine Samson said normallywhen situations of human smugglingcome to light information is passed on tothe various agencies involved in immigrationand national security.“We are considering this a domesticissue at this point,” Samson said of thePérez Zeledón smuggling reports.SAMSON was hesitant to say thetype of smuggling Zúñiga and others areinvolved in qualifies as human trafficking,which has come under fire recentlyin Costa Rica.The U.S. State Department recentlyreleased its annual Human Traffickingreport, and Costa Rica ranked in the Tier2 category of countries.The report reads “the government ofCosta Rica does not fully comply withminimum standards for the elimination oftrafficking; however, it is making significantefforts to do so,” which defines allTier 2 countries.“WHAT we call trafficking in personsgenerally relates to sexual exploitationand forced labor,” Samson said.“People are promised a job in a countryand when they arrive they are forced intoprostitution or to work for a factory for$1 an hour.”The lines between human smugglingand human trafficking get blurred whencoyotes bring immigrants across the borderand then demand more payment oroffer jobs to pay back loans in forcedlabor situations, Samson said.(Tico Times reporter Robert Goodier contributedto this article).

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