Costa Rica environment minister steps down under fire

March 6, 2009

Environment, Energy and Telecommunications (MINAET) Minister Roberto Dobles has resigned from his post, according to a statement issued Friday by President Oscar Arias´ office.

The president accepted the resignation, the statement said.

Dobles has been accused by the media, environmental groups and the political opposition of granting a concession in late 2006 to extract materials such as gravel and sand from the Aranjuez River to a company whose board of directors included his uncle.

The minister, whose resignation will be effective on Tuesday, after he appears Monday before the Legislative Assembly to testify about the matter, said he acted in accordance with the law in signing the concession and that it had already been approved by the ministry´s technical committees.

In his statement on Friday, Arias said that he was satisfied with the explanations provided by Dobles and that his actions “were in total compliance with the law and existing procedures.”

But he added that Dobles “is aware that his continued presence in the government could hinder the progress of important environmental, energy and telecommunications initiatives, (ones) that he himself has led and could be affected by the politicization of a process against him.”

“Rather than harming his ministry, he preferred to submit his resignation and I think that shows the type of person he is and his commitment to our country´s most important causes,” Arias said.

Arias said he was proud of the work carried out by Dobles, crediting him with strengthening the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE), reducing and offsetting carbon emissions and planting millions of trees.

For opposition congressmen, however, the minister´s actions struck them as nepotistic.

“(What Dobles did) is against the law,” said Citizen Action Party (PAC) lawmaker Francisco Molina by cell phone shortly after hearing the news Friday afternoon. “What he did was not right.”

According to Molina, the story does not stop there – the uncle is also a relative of President Oscar Arias, who is Dobles´ cousin.

“The president signed that concession,” Molina said. “And the president had issued a decree saying that it is prohibited to give concessions to family members of ministers or the president.”

The Tico Times attempted to contact Dobles on his cell phone, but a message left was not immediately returned.

Dobles, who had been in Arias´ Cabinet since he was inaugurated in May 2006, led the controversial process to end the country´s telecommunications monopoly and has pushed for Costa Rica´s possible inclusion in PetroCaribe, an initiative of Venezuela´s leftist government to provide subsidized oil to Central American and Caribbean countries.

He has also come under fire for defending the private, open-pit gold mine by the town of Las Crucitas in northern Costa Rica that has not yet begun operating due to a legal challenge by environmental groups.

Dobles is one of several other Cabinet members who have resigned during Arias´ second presidency, including the ministers of public security, housing, justice, planning and agriculture.

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