Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla on Thursday night announced the resignations of two more officials involved in a trip to Peru last weekend on a private jet under scrutiny for possible links to drug traffickers.
President Laura Chinchilla went into full damage-control mode Thursday night, holding an emergency hour-long meeting with Cabinet members, followed by a brief televised address announcing the resignations of two more members of her inner circle.
Presidency Vice Minister Mauricio Boraschi – who is also the head of Costa Rica’s Office of Intelligence and Security (DIS), and is the country’s anti-drug commissioner – resigned Thursday, along with presidential aide Irene Pacheco.
Communications Minister Francisco Chacón resigned on Wednesday, saying he was “deceived by a representative of the Canadian firm THX Energy,” the company that had “collaborated” with the president by loaning a private jet Chinchilla used during a brief trip to Peru. Costa Rican intelligence officials have been investigating the private jet for possible ties to drug trafficking for at least two years.
Announcing Thursday’s resignations, Chinchilla said “a few key people” had failed to fulfill their duties, including Boraschi and Pacheco.
Boraschi was seen entering the president’s office at around 5:50 p.m., leaving a few minutes later without giving statements to the press.
Chinchilla said she recognized Boraschi’s “many years of efforts against drug trafficking,” but that he “also had the responsibility to protect my physical and moral well-being.”
“He had an obligation to corroborate, anticipate and evaluate my activities. He didn’t fulfill those obligations,” the president said.
Chinchilla described Pacheco as an “honorable colleague,” but added that there was “carelessness in the coordination of my activities.”
Chinchilla made two separate trips – one to Venezuela and another to Peru – aboard a jet owned by Gabriel Morales Fallón, a Colombian who had introduced himself to Chacón under a false name.
Costa Rican officials say that while Morales does not have a criminal record, he has been linked to questionable criminal activities that would have turned up if he had been properly vetted.
In a statement late Wednesday, Chinchilla blamed a “chain of lapses,” saying her closest aides had failed to check into the Colombian’s background and his links to “illicit activities.”
Chacón, who had earlier described Morales as a “decent person” in press interviews, admitted later that he had not vetted the Colombian properly.
Chinchilla used Morales’s plane in March to fly to Venezuela for Hugo Chávez’s funeral, and as recently as last weekend to attend a wedding in Lima.
She was accompanied on the private trip to Peru by her husband, Chacón, and his wife, Foreign Trade Minister Anabel González.
Earlier on Thursday, famous Costa Rican footballer Rolando Fonseca said he “helped coordinate the flights” as an intermediary representing the company.
Before his resignation, Boraschi had said his agency had not been informed the president was using the private aircraft.
“We are reviewing in detail everything that happened, establishing how the reporting of this information was omitted,” he told ADN radio.
“The controls and screens were not activated,” he said, adding that as a result, the president was linked to “a person who turns up at a meeting using a name that isn’t his.
“The protocols weren’t followed. If they had I would have blocked the president’s trip,” he added.
Boraschi said Morales “has no convictions, or pending arrest warrants [but] has been linked to very complicated and complex situations from a criminal point of view.”
The Bogotá newspaper El Tiempo cited intelligence sources as saying Morales was a frontman for Luis Carlos Ramírez, a drug trafficker currently imprisoned in Brazil. Morales has denied any connection to him.
Opposition leaders, who had called on Chinchilla’s entire Cabinet to resign, received Thursday’s announcement with tempered approval.
“I think this is a substantial advancement, because without a doubt, Mr. Boraschi committed errors. But let’s hope this isn’t just a change in names. … We’ve got to avoid situations like this, where organized crime damages the credibility of the entire country,” Broad Front Party opposition lawmaker José María Villalta told Telenoticias Channel 7.
Leaders from the Citizen Action Party (PAC) and PASE issued stronger statements. Carmen Muñóz, of PAC, said, “This is just the beginning. These events reflect the way this government and the National Liberation Party have governed in recent years. … We hope, as the president says, this doesn’t happen again.”
Victor Granados, of PASE, said, “The damage this causes to Costa Rica’s image can’t be solved by resignations alone.”
Social Christian Unity Party lawmaker Luis Fishman called the affair “an enormous lapse,” adding that, “there are mechanisms to determine whether ships, planes and boats are under any suspicion as was the case here.”
For Chinchilla, a former public security minister who campaigned on promises to crack down on crime, and whose campaign slogan was “firm, but honest,” the scandal has been “especially outrageous and painful.”
“As is known, I’ve dedicated a large part of my life to fighting crime. My government has given priority to this issue, and it’s been a very successful effort. The results are felt by Costa Ricans in their everyday lives – they feel safer,” she said.
Chinchilla said she would continue the “frontal fight” against drug trafficking in the last year of her term, and promised the use of private planes by her or her staff “won’t happen again under this administration.”