San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Tribunal Investigates Vice-President Casas

The Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE) announced Monday that it will investigate whether Second Vice- President Kevin Casas violated the Electoral Code in connection with a memorandum he coauthored on the government’s campaign for a free-trade treaty with the United States.

The Libertarian Movement party, which called for the investigation, said the memo violates electoral norms by calling for cooperation between the government and the National Liberation Party (PLN) in its campaign for the controversial Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA). The memo, which was leaked to the press earlier this month, was co-written by Liberation legislator Fernando Sánchez.

If the Tribunal’s Electoral Inspection Office finds a violation and the legislature strips Casas of his political immunity, he could be prohibited from serving public office for two to six years.

This is the second investigation to arise out of the controversial memo, which sparked public outrage for suggesting questionable and potentially illegal government campaign tactics such as blackmailing mayors, manipulating voters and improperly using public funds (TT, Sept. 14).

Letters, e-mails and articles continue the public outcry against the leaked memo and the proposal to “stimulate fear” in the CAFTA debate. Times have changed, wrote poet and actress Ana Istarú in the daily La Nación. In past elections, voters wore their political colors on their shirtsleeves, she said, but today voters are scared to say what they think. She claims that the atmosphere around this campaign is not the Costa Rica she knows.

The battle on CAFTA has also intensified in the Legislative Assembly, where Citizen Action Party (PAC) faction head Elizabeth Fonseca declared that even if voters pass CAFTA in October, the party will use all the tools in their power to keep the assembly from approving the CAFTA implementation agenda – a set of 13 laws required for the treaty to take effect.

The agenda includes some of the most controversial aspects of CAFTA – it would take monopolies away from the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) and the National Insurance Institute (INS).

PAC “is ignoring the will of the Costa Rican people,” Presidency Minister Rodrigo Arias said in a press conference Sept. 19 after the weekly cabinet meeting. “They are making a mockery of Costa Ricans.”

Fonseca said that blocking the agenda after a “yes” vote “is not disrespectful at all” because the Executive Branch and the Supreme Elections Tribunal have treated the implementation agenda as separate from CAFTA.

In past months, the government has said it would push the implementation agenda even if voters reject CAFTA. But Rodrigo Arias, who is the President’s brother, reversed that position recently, saying that given a “no” vote, the Executive Branch would drop its push for openings in the telecommunications and insurance industries. In other CAFTA news:

_ The Tribunal forwarded a complaint against U.S. Ambassador Mark Langdale to the Ministry of Foreign Relations Wednesday, given the possibility that he violated the Vienna Convention by participating actively in the referendum process. The Convention holds that members of diplomatic missions must “respect laws and rulings of the receptor state. They also must not interfere in the internal affairs of that state.” Union leaders who filed the complaint said the Ambassador has visited companies and touted the pact to their employees. Elections officials said the Tribunal itself does not have the authority to judge Langdale.

_ The Liberation Party has tried unsuccessfully to collect the 38 votes required to call a legislative recess, which would allow members of Congress to step up their CAFTA campaigns. Libertarian Movement Party (ML) faction head Luis Antonio Barrantes said the party would think about supporting a recess if President Arias holds Casas and Sánchez accountable for their memo. Barrantes wants Arias to fire Casas and pressure Sánchez to step down from the presidency of two legislative commissions.

_ Some 22 political parties have accredited nearly 45,000 people to observe the referendum. Some 17 organizations also accredited more than 1,000 observers. Confirmed international observers include representatives from the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Tikal Protocol, an association of electoral organizations in Central America and the Carribean.


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