San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Legislative probe of Arias begins

While political bickering all but paralyzed the Legislative Assembly recently, mainly because of the National Liberation Party’s (PLN) hesitancy to investigate charges of influence peddling against party leader Rodrigo Arias, there was a breakthrough this week as lawmakers agreed to form an investigative commission to look into the Arias affair on Wednesday.

Arias is the former presidency minister and brother of former President Oscar Arias (2006-2010). Calls for an investigation into Rodrigo Arias stem from a report by the daily La Nación on Jan. 21 that said he was scheduled to appear before an official probe on Oct. 8 to answer questions about the use of $2 million in funds donated to the Costa Rican government by the Central American Economic Integration Bank (CABIE).

Jorge Chavarría, who replaced Lilliam Gómez as chief public prosecutor on Oct. 16, asked that the probe into Rodrigo Arias be suspended (TT, Feb. 4).

Throughout last week, the PLN rejected several proposals by members of the seven opposition parties to conduct a congressional investigation of the former president’s brother, despite a letter he sent to lawmakers consenting to appear before an investigative commission.

Late on Feb. 3, after almost two weeks of resistance, the PLN agreed to form a multi-party investigative commission.

“There were still votes against [forming] the committee,” said PLN chief Viviana Martín. “But those [lawmakers] that voted against it were mature enough to unite with the rest of the party, and party unity prevailed.”

When details of the La Nación story reached the Legislative Assembly, minority party members demanded that a congressional investigation move forward. But lawmakers in the ruling party stalled the initiative on several occasions.

Opposition party lawmakers retaliated by promising to block other assembly business with a tactic known locally as “tortuguismo,” the Costa Rican equivalent to filibustering. Representatives from several parties spoke out against the PLN, and hundreds of people protested in San José, in front of the Supreme Court, and at university campuses.

“I completely agree with the decision to hold this protest,” José María Villalta, a legislator from the Broad Front Party, said at a protest in front of the Supreme Court this week.

“There are people represented here from many different walks of life and they are all united here in indignation against corruption, the abuses of influence, and the management of this country’s institutions. Citizens are demanding that government transparency be restored and that justice be carried out with dignity. I believe that most Costa Ricans are demanding this,” Villalta said.

The legislative commission began meeting this week, and will have three months to determine if Rodrigo Arias used his power to influence the decision to suspend an investigation against him regarding the use of the CABEI funds.

The lawmakers who will sit on the committee are: Siany Villalobos and Luis Antonio Aiza from the PLN; Manrique Oviedo from the Citizen Action Party (PAC); Danilo Cubero from the Libertarian Movement (ML), who will preside over the commission; Wálter Céspedes from the Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC); Víctor Emilio Granados from the Accessibility Without Exclusion Party, and Justo Orozco from the Costa Rican Renovation.

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