San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Costa Rica’s top politicians meet to ease political crisis

It was a meeting bound to take place sooner better than later. On Tuesday, top politicians from Costa Rica’s three government branches – President Laura Chinchilla, Supreme Court President Luis Paulino Mora and Legislative Assembly President Víctor Emilio Granados – attempted to extinguish a political fire that swept through the country’s judicial halls earlier this month when lawmakers voted to block the re-election of Supreme Court Justice Fernando Cruz.

The meeting took place at Casa Presidencial, in the southeastern San José district of Zapote, and ended with the signing of a declaration in support of “democracy, a state of law and respect among the three powers of the Republic.”

“We’ve had a session where we exchanged ideas, reaffirmed concepts and rediscovered coinciding visions in terms of the need to advance the processes that permit us to develop our democracy, consolidate our state of law and improve relations between the powers of government,” Chinchilla said in a statement released following the meeting.

The discussion was prompted by a Nov. 15 vote in the Assembly that blocked Cruz’s re-election to the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court, or Sala IV. Cruz was the first Sala IV justice to be voted off the bench, and members of Costa Rica’s judicial branch interpreted the move as an encroachment by the legislative and executive branches and a disruption of the country’s democratic balance of powers.

In a protest unusual for Costa Rica, judges, lawyers, prosecutors and other judicial branch employees held a vigil in front of San José’s main court complex last week, and a peaceful march to the Assembly last Thursday.

Molina called the vote a “clear threat to the independence of the judicial branch and against democracy itself.”

Tuesday’s declaration was titled “It’s Time to Launch Reforms for Our Democracy.” The 10-point statement highlights Costa Rica’s “history of cultivating democratic values,” and its “capacity to resolve differences through dialogue, negotiation and the strengthening of the state of law.”

Chinchilla promised to form a “group of experts” to revise the country’s institutional framework with the goal of “strengthening democratic governability” and promoting national dialogue in order to obtain “concrete results.”

In the Assembly, Granados promised to carry out debates more quickly, particularly on bills relating to reform to the legislative process and constitutional jurisdiction.

“We believe that Costa Rica can demonstrate, once again, that her democracy has the tools to promote the reform its institutions need and that citizens demand,” the declaration said.

Cruz, 63, an independent-minded legal expert, former chief prosecutor and eight-year member of the Sala IV, returned to work on Monday, temporarily reinstalled by his colleagues in the court while they review a constitutional challenge to his removal presented by Social Christian Unity Party lawmaker Luis Fishman. That ruling could take up to a year, Cruz said last week.

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