San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Ex-President Confident He’ll Get Fair Trial

SITTING in his well-appointed study,surrounded by framed diplomas and photographsof himself with various worldleaders, Miguel Ángel Rodríguez, 64,exudes the confidence and poise one mightexpect from a former President who hasspent much of his life in the public eye.It seems strange that this genial host,offering his guests a cup of coffee, is theman who – in the photograph seen ‘roundthe world last October – made history as hewas led off a plane to handcuffs, under suspicionof corruption.It’s strange, too, to think that this sunnyhome in the western San José suburb ofEscazú where Rodríguez lives with his wife,Lorena Clare, is a building to which he hasbeen confined in house arrest for threemonths, following four months in jail.TODAY, the ex-President (1998-2002) and the first Central Americanelected Secretary General of theWashington, D.C.-based Organization ofAmerican States (OAS) is a man who hasseen both sides. He has walked the hallsof Casa Presidencial and a concreteprison yard in the penitentiary LaReforma. In a few short months, allegationsthat he accepted illegal payments inconnection with a government contracttransformed him from one of CostaRica’s most powerful citizens in historyto one of its most infamous.He resigned after less than a month asOAS Secretary General and returned toCosta Rica (TT, Oct. 22, 2004) during amonth one wire service dubbed “BlackOctober,” because revelations by the dailyLa Nación and Channel 7 TV News implicatednot only Rodríguez but also fellowex-Presidents Rafael Ángel Calderón, Jr.(1990-1994) and José María Figueres(1994-1998). Eight months later, prosecutorsare still investigating Rodríguez’scase. He was moved from jail to housearrest in March, reportedly because of hishealth problems and investigators’progress in the case.RODRÍGUEZ’S former colleagueand friend José Antonio Lobo is accused ofaccepting a $2.4 million “prize” fromFrance-based telecommunications firmAlcatel in exchange for arranging a multimillion-dollar contract for the firm in2001. Lobo was then a board member ofthe Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE),which has a state monopoly on telecommunications.Lobo says he gave 60% ofthe funds to Rodríguez, who maintains thefunds were a personal loan.A court order prevents the ex-Presidentfrom discussing the details of the case.However, during a recent interview withThe Tico Times, his comments ran thegamut from outrage at his initial treatmentby police, to thinly veiled contempt for themedia and politicians he says persecutedhim, to reflections on his future and theimportance of love.Excerpts:TT: What made you decide to returnto Costa Rica last October?MAR: I am a firm believer in the ruleof law. When I was faced with this case, atno time did I try to request political asylum.There were good political reasons totry for it – the President (Abel Pacheco)was persecuting me, and the press washounding me. Or, if I had remained in theUnited States, with a good lawyer, I couldhave fought a (preventive) detention orderfor years, easily. But when I realized that thepress and the Chief Prosecutor’s Office hadcombined their efforts to use the informationas if I was already condemned, I saw therewas no way for me to remain in my position,because I would hurt the OAS.You’ve been very vocal in criticizingthe way in which your case has beenhandled – particularly your arrest whenyou stepped off the plane here on Oct.15, 2004. Why?It was like entering the Arena Máximain Rome. They even had a stage for thecameras and photographers. They handcuffedme with my hands behind my back,but when I got to the bottom of the stairs,they took the handcuffs off. It was only forthe photos.The perrera (paddy wagon) went at120-140 km per hour, and I was bumpingaround like a monkey, putting my feet infront and my hands back to try to supportmyself. There were sirens, helicopters andmotorcycles.What was the purpose of it? To createmore of a spectacle. They were filming forthe novela (soap opera) they were making.I have never in my life seen anything likeit. Probably since the events of 1948 (whencivil war broke out over a disputed presidentialelection), there has not been somuch violence against a political figure inthis country.[In May, the Supreme Court discardeda complaint Rodríguez had presented,ruling there were no irregularitiesin the arrest procedures.]What was your time in La Reformalike?While President, I had taken measuresto stop the prison breaks that were takingplace when I came to office. I gave expressorders that after a prisoner trying to escapedidn’t respond to an order to stop, guardsshould shoot the person in the legs. Thatput me in a difficult position in front of theinmates. I had to be in jail by myself, inisolation. I was confined to a small space,with a concrete yard for exercises.Meanwhile, the person who has confessedto having received (funds) when he was ina position to make a decision to help thatbidding process, was in his house. [JoséAntonio Lobo received house arrest, butnot preventive prison.]Many people have said the alternativeto preventive prison, house arrest, ispreposterous, and that in these highprofilecorruption cases suspects are livingin luxurious houses to which the restof us would happily be confined. (Ex-President Calderón is also under housearrest.) What’s your response to suchcomments?House arrest is not a penalty. It’s a preventivemeasure. I am innocent. You haveto tell that to people. I have not beencharged; I have not even been accused; Ihave not been judged.Still, preventive detention is part ofthe Costa Rican justice system.Yes, but it exists only for three veryclear reasons: to prevent someone fromescaping, interfering with a trial, or continuingwith criminal activities. Here, the(alleged) criminal activity is not somethingthat could continue; it was somethingin the past. I came of my ownaccord to present myself, so how couldthey say I was going to escape? And theproof was completely in the hands of theProsecutor’s Office, so how could I interferewith that?You’ve also claimed that theProsecutor’s Office has leaked informationto the press, influencing publicopinion against you.We’ve seen information leaks throughoutthis process. A witness is giving a declarationat 7 in the evening, and at 9, thepapers have it. By managing the informationand working together, (those leakingthe information) and the press are trying tomake the judges act not on the proofs thatare there, but on what the press is makingthem believe.I’m not saying I don’t want to bejudged. I voluntarily resigned from themost important position any Costa Ricanhas held internationally to come here andbe judged. I am just asking that the oneswho try me be judges, not the media.If you had to do it again, would youstill return to Costa Rica?(After a pause) I probably would. Ilove this country, and want my childrenand grandchildren to be able to live in thiscountry, and want to exonerate myself.And I still have confidence that the membersof the Supreme Court and judges willassure me a fair trial. But I have to fight toget it.What’s your opinion of ex-PresidentFigueres’ refusal to return to Costa Ricato testify about funds he allegedlyaccepted from Alcatel?I think he’s making a decision based onwhat he’s seen that’s happening in thiscountry.What’s your relationship with theSocial Christian Unity Party (PUSC)?Zero. I was not allowed to defendmyself when they made decisions aboutme. I feel very sad about that. This is aparty of which I was one of the main creators.Do you give any credence to the ideathat these corruption cases have contributedto what some say is the end ofCosta Rica’s two-party system?I would not like to make any kind ofpolitical comments during this period, butI will say that it seems to me that we arelosing seriousness. The worst problem thiscountry is going through is that we havelost our ability to address the issues.In our political system, the ones whodon’t propose anything, the ones who don’trisk anything, the ones who avoid answeringanything in a serious way are the oneswho end up getting the positions.You’ve said that one strange thingabout all of this is that you’ve had somuch free time, after a career thatallowed you very little.Well, it has had some advantages, Imust tell you. I have had more time for myinner life, for quiet reflection. If you’re anentrepreneur, an economist, a politician, auniversity teacher, you look more at dedication,strength, capacity, knowledge. Ithink (in doing all that) I lost, in the bigpicture, my appreciation of the importanceof love.The more I go through this, the more Ibelieve that my purpose is to convince peoplethat love is important… I am findingmore and more that in politics, in businesslife, one does not pay enough attention toits importance.What would you like to do later on?It’s too early to say. Sometimes I thinkmy life has ended, and that what I thoughtwas going to be 10 years devoted to theinter-American system are going to be thepassing away of my active life. But then Ithink, I cannot just say that I am finished. Iwill not become a monk in a convent,closed off and just happily praying. I thinkI will have to find a way to be useful toCosta Rica after this.

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