San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Casa Alianza Director Fired, Countries React to Sex Scandal

The crash of Casa Alianza director BruceHarris continued to reverberate throughCentral America this week, following last weekend’srevelation that the famous children’srights leader was fired for having paid a 19-year-old Honduran man for sexual favors.Harris had served as Casa Alianza’s LatinAmerica director for 15 years, during which timehe and the organization are credited with havinghelped tens of thousands of children in Mexico andCentral America.Harris was the voice and face of what has becomethe most internationally recognized, celebrated andcursed children’s rights organization in the region.COVENANT House, Casa Alianza’s New Yorkbasedparent organization, issued a statement lastFriday that said it had terminated Harris’ employmentfor having committed the sexual act in a hotel inTegucigalpa.According to the statement, “The young man hadbeen a client of Casa Alianza prior to late 2002” – a factof which Harris claimed he was unaware.The vocal British-born activist told The Tico Timesthis week in a prepared statement: “During the past 15years I have totally fulfilled my responsibilities at thefront of this institution, convinced that the struggle forhuman rights for children is an indispensablebattle.“To hide myself behind a lie has neverbeen the way I work and, as always, Iassume responsibility for my actions whateverthey may be. I don’t want the childrenCasa Alianza serves to have to pay foractions in my private life.”HARRIS, 49, lives with his wife andtwo children in Curridabat, east of SanJosé, near Casa Alianza’s Latin Americanheadquarters. In comments to the dailynewspapers in San José, Harris said heregretted the idea that the 15 years he hadinvested in the struggle for the rights ofchildren might be wiped away by “a 15-minute mistake.”“Many people have forgotten that and arejudging my 15 years of service to children byone 15-minute mistake,” he said. “I don’tdeny that it was my mistake, in my time andin my personal life. For my personalactions, the one who will judge me is God.”LAST year, Casa Alianza chapters inCentral America served 10,164 children,including many homeless children, accordingto the Covenant House.Throughout the isthmus, Casa Alianzahas filed thousands of legal complaintsagainst authorities and others involved forcrimes against children, including sexualexploitation, labor abuses and traffickingin minors.As a result of the organization’s efforts,Guatemalan police officers have beenimprisoned for the murder of street children;Honduras has abandoned the practice of jailingchildren in the same cells as adults;Costa Rica prosecuted for the first time agang of child pornographers; internationalattention has been drawn to the murder ofstreet children in Honduras; efforts havebeen made to better regulate internationaladoptions; and Central American governmentshave taken up the battle against sexualexploitation of minors and the prevalenceof sex tourism (TT, Oct. 20, 2000).For the organization’s work, CasaAlianza received the $1 million Conrad N.Hilton Humanitarian Prize in 2000, awardedannually to an organization that is makingextraordinary contributions towardalleviating human suffering.HARRIS’ passionate and incendiaryapproach has also earned him many enemiesover the last decade.Earlier this year Harris fought and beata criminal defamation case filed againsthim in Guatemala by an internationaladoption lawyer, whom Harris accused ofpeddling political influences for profit(TT, Feb. 6).Harris and other members of CasaAlianza have been subject to numerousdeath threats by individuals on the wrongend of the organization’s investigativework and criminal complaints.Covenant House spokesman RichardHirsch this week said the incident that ledto Harris’ removal was the first evidence ofwrongdoing on the activist’s behalf. Headded that Covenant House will undertakeits own investigation of Casa Alianza “tounderstand all the issues ourselves.”SEPARATE investigations were alsorequested this week in three CentralAmerican countries.Harris’s behavior has caused indignationin Honduras, where an investigation ofCasa Alianza is under way, according tothe Honduran daily La Tribuna.Honduran prosecutors said the resultsof the investigation would determinewhether theywould considerrequesting Harris’extradition fromCosta Rica.“Preliminaryreports establishthat these peoplehad consensualsexual relations,but we have todetermine if a sexualcrime wascommitted,” saidProsecutor NoraUrbina.Harris maintains no crime was committedbecause the man was not a minor andprostitution is legal in Honduras. But headded that he is open to investigation.“I respect that the authorities want toinvestigate and I’m ready to cooperate withthem,” Harris said in the statement.Harris said enemies he has made overthe years are “sharpening their machetes”for his slaughter.IN Guatemala, Human RightsProsecutor Sergio Morales told theGuatemalan daily La Prensa Libre there issufficient motive to open an investigationof Casa Alianza in that country.Casa Alianza Guatemala, which shelters120 children, has denounced the murdersof 62 children per month in GuatemalaCity, director Arturo Echeverría toldThe Tico Times. He said his chapterrespects the decision to release Harris fromCasa Alianza and that they will continuetheir work without him.Casa Alianza Nicaragua, the recipientchapter of the Conrad Hilton $1 millionaward, declined a Tico Times request forcomment this week, after the organization’shead lawyer, Evelyn Palma, wasquoted in the dailies as saying Harris’action was “a moral and ethical crime.”Carmen Largaespada, minister of theMinistry of the Family (MiFamilia), joinedthe Nicaraguan Prosecutor’s Office in callingfor a full investigation of all the country’s72 shelters – an action the press hasbeen calling for for months.HOWEVER, Luis Pinea, a spokesmanfor MiFamilia who conducts many of theministry’s onsite visits to shelters, told TheTico Times this week MiFamilia was notgoing to judge or investigate Casa Alianzabased on the actions of one individual.“We have to differentiate the problemsof an individual person from the problemsof an institution,” he said.Casa Alianza runs a central shelter inManagua, with 150 children, and a separatehome for 18 adolescent mothers. Pineasaid the government branch has neverreceived a complaint, written or verbal,about Casa Alianza in Nicaragua.“We trust Casa Alianza, that’s why wehave our children in its shelters,” Pinea said.IN Costa Rica, government officialsechoed this sentiment. Child WelfareMinister Rosalía Gil, who had worked withHarris in the past, told The Tico Timeswhat Harris did is a personal issue and thegovernment of Costa Rica would continueto work with Casa Alianza to combat childsexual exploitation and reduce the numberof street children here.Mexican Pedro Fragoso, director ofinternal auditing for Covenant House, wasappointed the new acting director of CasaAlianza until a permanent replacement isnamed.(Tico Times Nicaragua CorrespondentTim Rogers contributed to this report.)

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