San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

WikiLeaks: Legislative Assembly almost shut down due to unsanitary conditions

In November 2005, Costa Rica’s minister of health threatened to close the Legislative Assembly due to unsanitary conditions, according to a diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks and published by the daily La Nación.

The president of the Assembly, Gerardo González, accused Health Minister Rocío Sáenz of trying to “delay debate” on the U.S.-Central American-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). The cable notes that Sáenz was known to be a skeptic of CAFTA, but that doesn’t mean he was wrong to question legislative building’s conditions.

The cable continued that U.S. embassy officials who visited the building found it often in disarray. Once a U.S. diplomat was visiting a representative at the Congress when a live bat appeared inside the room. The representative kicked aside the bat and the meeting began.

During that same period, the Ministry of Health declared assembly offices to be “uninhabitable” for health and safety reasons and ordered that either the problems be fixed or the offices vacated. Problems listed in the cable “included overcrowding, open sewers, infestation by rats, cockroaches, and mosquitoes, bare electrical wires, and fire and seismic vulnerability.”

The following day after the Ministry of Health’s declaration, then-President Abel Pacheco told the press: “No one is trying to close down the assembly.” 

Pacheco said he would be glad to talk to González about the matter, but that González is not interested in meeting with him because “he says I have Alzheimer’s and forget everything.”

The cable noted González denied speaking about Pacheco in such disrespectful terms but González did confirm that past meetings with the former president had not been fruitful.

Still, the cable finished by saying González had reason to be suspicious of Sáenz’s motives for threatening to close the assembly. The building always has appeared uncleanly, and it seemed to be a curious time to bring up the problem just before CAFTA would be debated.

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