San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Border road scandal broadens

The hits just keep coming from President Laura Chinchilla’s monstrously corrupted border-road project along the San Juan River near Nicaragua.

This week the daily La Nación laid bare the latest revelation that the National Roadway Council (CONAVI) contracted five businesses and one individual for more than  ₡2.8 billion ($5.6 million) to work on the road, yet those contracted possessed zero pieces of machinery and had never worked as state contractors before.

On Monday, La Nación also revealed that at least two of the contractors flew to the U.S. state of Florida in May 2011 with CONAVI officials who were in charge of authorizing contracts for machinery rentals for construction of 160 kilometers of road. La Nación identified the contractors who took the jaunt with CONAVI officials as David Castillo of the firm Coloso Santa Cruz CSC and Giovanni Baralis, who each billed CONAVI for ₡1.15 billion ($2.3 million) and ₡780 million ($1.6 million), respectively.

Baralis had never been contracted by CONAVI before construction on the border road was started, according to the La Nación report, and besides the ₡780 million he charged CONAVI in his own name, he also received another ₡570 million ($1.1 million) as president of the company Papaos Giopwal Investments. Before getting into the government contracting business, Baralis owned a restaurant in the Southern Zone town of Río Claro de Golfito.

As if that weren’t enough, blogger El Chamuko of El Infierno en Costa Rica, posted a memo on his website circulated by CONAVI Director José Luis Salas on June 5 warning CONAVI employees that anyone who spilled the beans about happenings in the institution would be fired. La Nación quoted Salas as saying the memo referred only to “technical or strategic topics, it does not refer to anything strange.”

The memo was created by Gabriela Trejos and Dixa Córdoba, who work in the CONAVI legal department, at the request of former Public Works and Transport Vice Minister María Lorena López, and was approved by CONAVI’s Directive Council, La Nación reported.

The Costa Rican Constitution guarantees the right to public information except in cases that could threaten national security.

The border road debacle has already led to the resignation of former Public Works and Transport Minister Francisco Jiménez in May, and numerous raids on CONAVI offices earlier this month by 30 judges and 150 officers of the Judicial Investigation Police.

Chinchilla ordered the road built in late 2010 under an emergency decree that let construction go forward without environmental impact studies after an armed incursion by Nicaraguan forces onto Isla Calero, which sits in the San Juan River. Even before the allegations of corruption and shoddy work began to surface, environmentalists on both sides of the river criticized the work due to potential negative environmental impacts from construction.

A report issued earlier this month by the National Structural Materials and Models Laboratory at the University of Costa Rica pointed out structural deficiencies in the drainage systems built along the road. The report also indicated that parts of the road could collapse with the onset of rainy season downpours.

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