San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Ticos Denounce Corruption

WHEN thousands of Costa Ricans filled thestreets of San José this week to protest the corruptionthat has engulfed the country in scandal recently,they made one thing clear: the country is downbut not out.Despite the allegations that have implicated twoof Costa Rica’s former Presidents and drawn internationaleyes to this small nation of 4 million,Tuesday’s march against corruption featured flagsof white, blue and red waving high above AvenidaSegunda and proud voices singing PatrióticaCostarricense.But the marchers young and old, wearing fromsuits to T-shirts, who filled the Plaza de laDemocracia and the surrounding streets were hardlyunaware of the gravity of the situation.EVERYONE – from farmers to students tophilosophers – seem to agree the cases under investigationin the Social Security System (Caja) and theCosta Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) are the worstcorruption scandals in the country’s history.The public shame has also extended outside thecountry’s borders as the allegations have brought thefall of former President Miguel Angel Rodríguez(1998-2002) from his recently elected post asSecretary General of the Organization of AmericanStates (OAS).Passions became so inflamed during the marchthat a building belonging to one of the companiesimplicated in the corruption was vandalized, leadingto three arrests (see separate story). No other incidentswere reported.Not only were former Presidents Rodríguez andRafael Angél Calderón (1990-1994) – both accused of receiving money from private companieslinked to possible government corruption –blasted at the march; but when PresidentAbel Pacheco tried to join his contingencyon the streets, he was booed, heckled andforced to leave within minutes.PACHECO has admitted he receivedcampaign contributions from one of theprivate firms linked to the alleged corruption,telecommunications firm Alcatel, butsaid it was normal (TT, Oct. 1).Chants calling Rodríguez, Calderónand Pacheco corrupt did not stop there,they also denounced former PresidentOscar Ariás (1986-1990), reflecting anoverall call for change in Tico politics.“The people no longer believe in thesepolitical parties. So we are organizing ourown forces to eliminate this ton of corruptpoliticians in our government,” said MaríaLos Angeles de Santamaría, of theCoordination of Banana Worker Syndicates.CHANGE should not stop at the government,according to Ombudsman JoséManuel Echandi.“We must do an analysis of our behavior,and we have to change very fast,” hesaid. “We have always thought of ourselvesas so different from the rest of corruptCentral America, but now we realizewe are not so different.”Former legislator and peacemakerRodrigo Madrigal agreed.“We are on the streets to recover ourvalues. We have to change institutions. Wehave to change methods. We have tochange the system. And we have to do sowith the will of all,” he said.COSTARica must put eradicating corruptionabove all other priorities, saidpolitical analyst Luis Guillermo Solís.“It is the threshold that must be passed,before anything regarding fiscal reformand the Central American Free-TradeAgreement with the United States(CAFTA) can be dealt with. It has to dowith legitimacy. It has to do with the coreof national leadership and values and principles,”he said.“If we cannot guarantee legitimacy, wecannot do anything else. How dare anyoneask the Costa Rican people to pay moretaxes if the taxes we are already paying arebeing wrongly used?” Solís questioned.Escazú deputy mayor Marta Calvoagreed.“The municipalities don’t receive themoney they are supposed to for roads.Schools don’t receive the money they aresupposed to for food and teacher training,”said Calvo, who is who is also a teacher atEscazú’s República de Venezuela school.“We can’t do anything in this country,because all the money stays in the centraladministration.”RESTORING this loss of faith in thegovernment is essential if Costa Rica is toemerge from these corruption scandals,according to Ombudsman Echandi. Thisweek he proposed an inter-institutionaltransparency network in which all publicinstitutions open their accounts and informthe public about their expenses, providersand contracts.The Ombudsman’s office will lead theway, he said, and within a month will publishthis information on its Web site( increased transparency only partiallyconfronts the problem, Echandipointed out.“The other day there was a man on thebus talking bad about politicians and allthe corruption. He knew a lot about whatwas going on, so I asked him where heworked, and he said in the illegal lottery,”Echandi said.“PART of the problem is the attitudeof the people – people who pay off officersfor traffic tickets are corrupt. If somebodyaccepts a lower charge without a receiptthan with – both the business and the customerare corrupt. And the key to stoppingit is education,” he continued.The Vice-Minister of PublicEducation, Wilfrido Blanco, said theMinistry of Public Education is alreadyworking on the problem. Beginning nextschool year, students will be part of a newprogram in ethics and values.Blanco told The Tico Times valueswill be incorporated into all classes – fromSpanish to physics – from first gradethrough high-school graduation.Roberto Guell, president of theNational Association of Ex-Combatants,who also participated in the march, saidCosta Ricans should think of the countrylike it is in a recovery program.“OUR Costa Rica has become an alcoholicand a drug addict. We have to recognizethe problem and step by step recuperatewho we are, with patience. It is not ajob for today and tomorrow. It is a job fortoday, tomorrow and generations tocome,” he said.Ombudsman Echandi added that CostaRica can play a leadership role in showingother countries how to suppress corruption.He has also called on the EuropeanUnion to investigate the French firm Alcateland the Finnish medical-supply companyInstrumentarium, both implicated in the corruptionscandals (see separate story).More than 35 groups around the nation– from the public and private sector – arealso calling for action and supported thisweek’s march as a way to be active in thefight against corruption.With trova music playing in the backgroundand a stage at the Plaza deDemocracia filled with University ofCosta Rica dancers following the marchTuesday, also the holiday Día de lasCulturas, Costa Ricans suggested defeatand corruption are not part of their culture.“I hope we don’t have any more ofthese (protests against corruption),” saidMarco Aurelio, coordinator for the cooperativeCENECOOP, as he enjoyed a folksinger on stage. “This is the first and itshould be the last.”

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