San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Children’s Rights Advocate Fired

CULMINATING months of high-profilestruggles against the sex trade in CostaRica and a brilliant 15-year career fightingfor the rights of children throughout CentralAmerica, the director of advocacy organizationCasa Alianza, Bruce Harris, was fired inSeptember after authorities discovered hehad paid for sex from a 19-year-oldHonduran man.Weeks later, the Casa Alianza chapter inCosta Rica closed its doors under ordersfrom its New York-based parent organization,Covenant House, leaving in limbomore than 1,000 legal complaints it had filedfor the protection of children. Formeremployees of the organization expressedinterest in picking up those loose ends andcarrying on with Casa Alianza’s legal workindependently.Harris left his home in Costa Rica,where he had lived with his wife and twochildren, shortly after being fired. He reportedlymoved to Miami, Florida, where hecooperated with Honduran authoritiesthrough that country’s consulate in its investigationof possible wrongdoing.In the weeks following the scandal, erroneousnewspaper reports claimed theHonduran prostitute had tested HIV positive,a fact Honduran authorities refuted.The Honduran investigation and the talkof Nicaraguan and Guatemalan investigationsclosed without further incident.HARRIS had served as Casa Alianza’sLatin America director for 15 years, duringwhich time he and the organization are creditedwith having helped tens of thousands ofchildren through the organization’s chaptersin Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras,Nicaragua, and Costa Rica.Harris was the voice and face of whatbecame the most internationally recognized,celebrated and cursed children’s rights organizationin the region.In January, Harris fought and beat acriminal defamation case filed against him inGuatemala by an international adoptionlawyer, whom Harris had accused of peddlingpolitical influences for profit.The criminal court cleared him of allcharges of character defamation, perjury andslander against lawyer Susana LaracaSaracho de Umaña. Harris had namedSaracho and 16 others as responsible forirregularities in Guatemala’s booming internationaladoption business during a 1997press conference in that country.Harris had appealed the charges forseven years before traveling to Guatemala toappear in court for the trial.HARRIS was among those at the airportwho met Arthur Kanev, extraditedfrom the United States to face charges ofcrimes against children, when he arrived inApril. Harris had been instrumental inKanev’s arrest in Costa Rica and capture inthe United States after the former dentistfled the country.Kanev, the first U.S. citizen ever extraditedto Costa Rica to face a criminal trial,was convicted in October of providingdrugs to minors and sentenced to 16 yearsin prison.CASA Alianza, led by Harris, alsohelped publicize alleged sex crimes in thetourism industry this year and pressured thegovernment to step up its efforts to find aCatholic priest on the run from accusationsof sex crimes against children.A group of visiting U.S. sports fishermen,called the Michigan Boys, wasdenounced in national newspapers and in areport on a Detroit ABC TV station as sextourists, prompting a search for the allegedpimps who organized the approximately 100prostitutes who descended on the coast tospend time with the men.Reporters Otto Vargas, of Costa Rica’sdaily La Nación, and Steve Wilson, ofABC’s WXYZ-TV in Detroit, Michigan,documented the alleged illicit organizationof prostitutes who plied the crowd of sportsfishermen at Flamingo Beach, in the northernprovince of Guanacaste.Prostitution is legal in Costa Rica, butthere are laws against the organization ofwomen for prostitution (pimping) to protectthem from exploitation.Harris told The Tico Times he had beenhearing about the Michigan Boys for twoyears before alerting the media.Niels Oldenburg, owner of the FlamingoMarina Resort hotel, said, “We are totallyoutraged at the reports of La Nación.Certainly no act of prostitution was indeedvisible or permissible.”Costa Rican Tourism Minister RodrigoCastro said the country’s official position onsex tourism is “zero tolerance.”FUGITIVE Catholic priest EnriqueVásquez, wanted to face charges ofpedophilia in Costa Rica, was still at largeat year-end after evading capture inHonduras.A three-month investigation by CasaAlianza Honduras in tandem with the Texas-basednewspaper The Dallas Morning Newsdiscovered his former whereabouts in a ruralvillage in Honduras, where he had worked ina parish for six months. Costa Rican authoritiesissued an arrest warrant with theInternational Police (INTERPOL), but hewas gone when police arrived in July.Later, police in Nicaragua arrested a manthey believed was Vásquez, but the arrestedman’s fingerprints did not match those onfile for the priest, and the man was releasedwith an apology.Vásquez has been wanted since 1998when the family of the alleged victim filedcharges against him in Ciudad Quesada, alsoknown as San Carlos, in Costa Rica’sNorthern Zone.

Comments are closed.