San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Ex-President Leaves OAS Post Rodríguez Expected Back Soon

Government corruption sweeping Costa Ricahas gained international attention after theSecretary General of the Organization ofAmerican States (OAS), Miguel ÁngelRodríguez, announced his resignation amid allegationsof illicit payments connected to his termas Costa Rica’s President (1998-2002).Rodríguez, whose last official day at the OASheadquarters in Washington D.C. is today, told thepress this week he would return to Costa Rica voluntarily.If he doesn’t, he could be taken into custody byU.S. authorities and extradited back to Costa Rica.Just hours after he announced his resignation to theOAS on Oct. 8, a judge in San José signed an internationalcapture order for the ex-President, which takeseffect tomorrow after he loses the diplomatic immunityafforded by the OAS post, which he assumed exactlyone month ago.PROSECUTORS in Costa Rica said Rodríguezcould face charges of illicit enrichment related to moneyhe allegedly accepted from French telecommunicationsfirm Alcatel, which was awarded a $149 million contractwith the country’s state-run telecommunicationsmonopoly during his administration (see separate story).Meanwhile, the governments of some OAS members, including Mexico, Brazil, Argentina,Colombia, Ecuador and Honduras, haveexpressed their support for Rodríguez’sdecision to resign. The Peruvian governmentsimply termed it an “unprecedentedact.”However, Rodríguez’s resignation ispreceded by the 1984 resignation of formerOAS Secretary General AlejandroOrfila, a one-time prominent Argentineanpolitician. Orfila resigned just before completinghis second term after the revelationof illicit payments made to him by Haitiandictators.The day Rodríguez resigned, U.S.Secretary of State Colin Powell called him“a man of skill and determination, who wesupported for this position, and we regretvery much that he found it necessary totake this step, but we understand it isimportant for him to deal with this issuewith the Costa Rican government.”THE corruption allegations havemade headlines across the hemisphere.Rodríguez was accused by JoséAntonio Lobo, a recently fired boardmember of the Costa Rican ElectricityInstitute (ICE) and a former minister underRodríguez, of accepting 60% of a $2.4million “prize” allegedly paid by Alcatelfor the government contract it obtainedduring the Rodríguez administration.Rodríguez had said early last week hewould not resign from his OAS post –which he had held barely two weeks –even after Costa Rican President AbelPacheco and the Legislative Assemblyboth officially requested his resignation(TT, Oct. 8).However, the accusations againstRodríguez broadened later in the week.During a meeting with Costa Ricanprosecutors Sept. 30, Lobo, who served ashousing minister under Rodríguez, saidthe ex-President had accepted the Alcatelmoney.Lobo, who said Rodríguez hadpromised him the remaining 40% of the“prize,” voluntarily expanded his declarationOct. 8.He told prosecutors that Rodríguez, inlate 2002 or early 2003, ordered him to givehim “various thousands of dollars” of theAlcatel money. Lobo, who remains underhouse arrest, said the money was sent to thePanamanian company Inversiones DenisseS.A, the daily La Nación reported.Following reports of the accusations,the OAS Permanent Council called anemergency meeting to announceRodríguez would resign. The formerPresident made the announcement via afour-page letter, which was read at the Oct.8 meeting by council chair Arístides Royo.RODRÍGUEZ was not present at themeeting, and his exact whereabouts wereunknown until Tuesday, when he returnedto Washington D.C. after the holidayweekend and spent the day in his office.“I do not want to subject theOrganization (of American States) to acruel and protracted persecution of itsSecretary General, not only in the courtsbut also in the media. Nor do I want tosubject my beloved family to the cost of along-distance defense,” Rodríguez said inhis resignation letter.“It is with humility, sadness andanguish that I ask you and your countriesfor forgiveness for putting you throughthese difficult moments,’’ the letter said.CHIEF Prosecutor FranciscoDall’Anese announced the internationalcapture order, issued by San José secondcircuit judge Isabel Porras shortly after theresignation announcement. Dall’Anesesaid it is a normal step in the judicialprocess, since authorities have no guaranteeRodríguez will voluntarily return toCosta Rica to testify. He also said the captureorder has nothing to do withRodríguez’s political or economic status.Dall’Anese said the Prosecutor’sOffice is investigating Rodríguez for thealleged crimes of corruption, acceptingbribes and illicit enrichment.Allegations of questionable paymentsaccepted by Rodríguez continued to surfacethis week.The Prosecutor’s Office is investigatingalleged payments totaling $400,000 madeby the government of Taiwan into theaccount of Inversiones Denisse, La Naciónreported Wednesday. The payments allegedlycame in the form of two $200,000 transfersmade from the account of the ForeignMinistry of Taiwan, through theInternational Commercial Bank of China,during Rodríguez’s term as President.PROSECUTORS are also investigatingalleged payments totaling $1 millionmade to the same account by a businesscalled Friendship Company, which is suspectedof being Taiwanese, in 1999.Two Costa Rican prosecutors are currentlyin Panama investigating InversionesDenisse.La Nación reported on Saturday thatRodríguez may have accepted a $100,000payment in connection with a governmentcontract awarded to the Spanish companyInabensa, which is laying subterraneanelectrical cable throughout San José forthe National Light and Power Company(CNFL). The paper reported thatRodríguez returned the money after hisJune election as OAS Secretary General.Inabensa responded to the allegations ina statement this week, saying the company“does not have and never had” a “direct orindirect relation with the payments made topublic functionaries destined to facilitate thepossible awarding of projects.”PRESIDENT Abel Pacheco said he iscontent with Rodríguez’s decision, butadded he is so upset with the formerPresident that he would likely not sayhello if he saw him.“I feel very betrayed and tricked,”Pacheco said at a press conference followingthe news of Rodríguez’s resignation.“But I have to believe in his innocenceuntil it is proved otherwise.”The corruption scandal promptingRodríguez’s resignation has likely causedfurther damage to Costa Rica’s internationalimage, which has already sufferedheavy blows in recent months, accordingto political analyst Luis Guillermo Solís,with the University of Costa Rica (UCR).He mentioned the corruption scandalin the Social Security System (Caja),which has been linked to former PresidentRafael Ángel Calderón (1990-94) and thenation’s abandonment of CentralAmerican integration as other blemishes.“Rodríguez definitely, because of thevisibility of it, adds to the list,” Solís toldThe Tico Times.HOWEVER, Ombudsman José Manuel Echandi said the swift action bythe Costa Rican government in response tothe scandal reflects positively on thenation’s image.“The image of Costa Rica in the eyesof the world is very good, because they seethat we denounce corruption,” Echandisaid. “Honest investors will continue to beattracted to Costa Rica, and dishonestinvestors and businesses – which there area lot of – will not.”Lynda Solar, of the Costa Rican-American Chamber of Commerce(AmCham), said that while it is too earlyto tell the effects of the scandal on thewillingness of foreign investors to come toCosta Rica, the situation creates “a climateof uncertainty.”“It’s worrisome, of course,” she said.“Are companies going to think that inorder to do business in Costa Rica theywill have to bribe officials?”She said the scandal likely seems amuch bigger deal to those living in CostaRica, exposed to daily updates, than tothose living abroad.Solar also said businesses here areready to act against corruption.“All of them are in agreement that wehave to stop lamenting what has happenedand do something about the situation” shesaid.MEANWHILE, the OAS PermanentCouncil has yet to decide whether it willimmediately name a replacement or allowAssistant Secretary General LuigiEinaudi, who replaces Rodríguez in aninterim standing, to hold the post throughnext June so the reforms to the OAS initiatedby Rodríguez (TT, Sept. 17) can becarried out.Pacheco said he believes Rodríguez’sreplacement should be a Central American,and mentioned former SalvadoranPresident Francisco Flores, who has beenmentioned in several circles as the frontrunnerfor the top OAS seat. Flores’sname had surfaced as a possible OAS candidateearlier this year, before the formerCosta Rican President won widespreadsupport throughout Latin America and theCaribbean (TT, June 4).Powell told the press Rodríguez’s resignationdoes not “suggest that it has to bea large nation that puts forward the winningcandidate.”THE resignation also leaves in doubtthe future of two Costa Ricans working inthe OAS whose employment is directlylinked to Rodríguez’s presence: formerCosta Rican ambassador to the UnitedStates, Jaime Daremblum, and formerCosta Rican ambassador to the OAS,Walter Niehaus, both resigned to work asaides for Rodríguez (TT, Aug. 13).Another of Rodríguez aides, AgustínCastro, returned to work for the CostaRican delegation to the OAS.Former Presidency Minister RinaContreras, who resigned from that post inMay 2003 amid allegations of her involvementin a welfare housing scandal, wasrecently appointed as Niehaus’ replacement(TT, Oct. 1).Pacheco announced last monthContreras would begin her duties at theOAS on Nov. 1. Casa Presidencial officialsthis week confirmed the appointmentwould not be affected by Rodríguez’s resignation.(Tico Times reporter Rebecca Kimitchcontributed to this report.)

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