Category Archives: Politics

Piedad Cordoba talks Colombia peace process in Costa Rica

Piedad Cordoba (in red) greets González de Perdomo and Clara Rojas upon their release from years of captivity at the hands of the FARC. Photo by Bernardo Londoy.

Piedad Cordoba (in red) greets González de Perdomo and Clara Rojas upon their release from years of captivity at the hands of the FARC. Photo by Bernardo Londoy.

Colombian senator Piedad Cordoba was briefly in Costa Rica this week and met with legislators and former president Rodgrio Carazo, saying she sought to “establish alliances for a political and negotiated end” to the ongoing conflict in her home country.

One official she didn’t meet with: Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, who in 1989 was awarded an often-touted Nobel Peace Prize for his work on the the Central American Peace Accords. Lilia Solano, a Colombian peace activist who spoke with Cordoba at Costa Rica’s Universidad Nacional, said that the university had requested a meeting with Arias more than a month earlier, but was not granted one.

Contrast that with a meeting Arias held in August of 2006 when he hosted the heads of the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), an umbrella group for right-wing paramilitaries in Colombia, declared a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union. At his Casa Presidencial, Arias sat down with AUC spokesman Antonio Lopez (who was shot to death while eating lunch in Medellín last year) and others, including the infamous Carlos Mario Jimenez, a.k.a. Macaco, Ramon Isaza and Ivan Roberto Duque. Arias said then that he would be willing to lend a hand with peace negotiations in Colombia — which involve the Marxist-Leninist FARC guerrillas and the ELN (both also listed as terrorist organizations), and the Colombian government — but only if all the actors agreed. Arias visited Colombian President Alvaro Uribe the following week, but no role for Arias in the peace process ever materialized.

Speaking to a small group inside Universidad Nacional’s Social Sciences building earlier this week, Cordoba said that despite an era of unprecedented connection, and instant global communication, “very few people have a deep understanding of what is going on in Colombia.”

Cordoba’s visit comes on a return from the United States, where she met with the notorious paramilitary leader Salvatore Mancuso, who is awaiting trial on an assortment of pretty heinous charges. The visit also comes as controversy swirls in Colombia over President Uribe’s refusal to allow Cordoba to negotiate the release of Colombian soldier Pablo Emilio Moncayo from more than 11 years of captivity at the hands of the FARC. The guerrillas have said Cordoba’s presence is a prerequisite for his release.

Colombia’s Inspector General is currently investigating Cordoba’s ties to the FARC after the Colombian government said it found emails between the rebels and the senator on a laptop belonging to FARC’s number two commander Raul Reyes.

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Dobles goes down

You could almost hear the cheers go up in the halls of Costa Rica’s grass roots environmental organizations and public universities: Environment (and Energy and Telecommunications) Minister Roberto Dobles had announced his resignation.

After a a series of environmental scandals and increasingly hostile criticism, Dobles, a former telecommunications executive, announced Friday that he will step down today. This, after Costa Rica’s Telenoticias TV news revealed last week that he awarded a mining concession to a corporation where his uncle (and cousin to President Oscar Arias) is the vice-president.

According to an investigation by the opposition Citizen Action Party (PAC), and headed by one of the country’s most reputable investigative journalists, 100% of the shares of the company that won the concession are owned by a corporation that, in turn, is owned by four other corporations where Dobles’ wife, mother and other family members are owners.

These last corporations exist largely on paper, according to the PAC investigation, a practice common in Costa Rica for purchasing property, owning businesses or reducing “tax exposure.” Dobles himself was listed as the president of one corporation until he stepped down, five months before awarding the controversial concession. 

Dobles claims he did nothing wrong, citing Costa Rica’s mining code, which prohibits government officials from granting mining concessions to family withing one degree of “consanguinidad,” or blood relation. Dobles said that his uncle is actually three degrees away, and claimed to not have known about the connection to the corporations owned by his immediate family.

He also noted that his uncle’s corporation originally applied for the concession — which is to pull sand and rock from a riverbed over five years — in 2001. It was through a combination of bureaucracy and coincidence, Dobles said, that it did not get through all the necessary hoops and red tape until just after he was named Environment, Energy and Telecommunications Minister by President Arias in 2006. 

Speaking to the Legislative Assembly Monday, where opposition legislators pounded him with questions and accusations of fraud and corruption while friendly lawmakers came to his defense, Dobles said he was stepping down not because he had done anything wrong, but because he didn’t want the controversy to hinder the president’s agenda during the last year of his administration.

Dobles, who prides himself on his work on Costa Rica’s national climate change strategy and a massive tree planting campaign, has become enemy number one for many environmental organizations after a series of decisions that appeared to put business interests before environmental protection

Both Dobles and Arias are now facing an investigation by the state Prosecutor’s Office into whether the concession broke the law.

Costa Rica’s secret police?

What is a country with no military and an international reputation for peace and human rights doing with a secret police that is authorized to spy on its own citizens and answers only to the President?

The question, which has been asked before, has taken on renewed importance since it became public that Costa Rica’s Dirección de Intelligencia y Seguridad Nacional (Department of Intelligence and National Security), or DIS, was apparently keeping a file on a journalist who vocally opposed the Central American Free Trade Agreement with the United States, known as CAFTA. President Oscar Arias campaigned on  a promise to approve CAFTA, at one point nearly staking his presidency on its passage.

Gilberto Lopes, who was born in Brazil but has spent the past 30 years working as a journalist in Costa Rica, was denied his request for citizenship last year because, as the Civil Registry put it in the rejection letter it sent him, Lopes “had not conducted himself well” in Costa Rica. The Civil Registry drew this conclusion after checking with the DIS and being told that Lopes’ name was “annotated” in their files.

Though he has never been convicted of a crime, Lopes did publish a booklet critical of the free trade agreement and spoke out on panels and round-table discussions against CAFTA, which polarized the country and was barely approved in a national referendum in 2007. Lopes also has long worked at Semanario Universidad, a left-leaning weekly published by the left-leaning University of Costa Rica. Semanario Universidad was first to publish a leaked, now-infamous memorandum written by a legislator and administration minister advising the president use fear tactics and other unsavory strategies in order to win the referendum.

When asked if he believed that the DIS was monitoring him because of his political activities, the 66-year-old writer, literary critic and BBC-collaborator said, “It’s evident.”

“But if you ask me for proof, the only proof I have is that file,” Lopes said.

Lopes has not seen the file, because the DIS refused to give even the Supreme Elections Tribunal, which oversees the Civil Registry, access to it during the appeals. The DIS is authorized to withhold information pertaining to ongoing investigations or deemed “state secrets,” but it did not specify where the info on Lopes fell.

Now, it appears that the whatever it was, the information has disappeared, or never existed at all.

“I have investigated and there is no file on him here. We are completely sure about this,” said the sub-director of DIS, Jorge Torres, in an interview this week inside his wood-paneled office in the unmarked, nondescript DIS headquarters off a busy intersection in San José.

Torres also denied that the DIS ever investigated opponents of CAFTA.

“That’s totally false. We are not a police force that has been created for that. In Costa Rica, we have the freedom of expression,” Torres insisted.

This defense is unlikely to go far with critics, however. The DIS was rocked last year when Torres’ predecessor, former sub-director Roberto Guillén, was forced to step down after being accused of robbing property and money from at least 14 businesses and individuals by accessing their personal information.

The nation’s chief prosecutor Francisco Dall’Anese has called for nothing less than the total dissolution of the DIS.

In an op-ed for the daily La Nación, he wrote: “It is worrying that in a nation of laws there exists an entity such as the DIS, which, contradictory to Article 11 of the Constitution, is not called to account, does not file reports nor assumes responsibility for what it does.”

Justice and El Pacto in Nicaragua

Arnoldo Alemán, the former president of Nicaragua who had been sentenced to 20 years in prison for stealing $100 million from the hemisphere’s second poorest nation, has had his conviction dropped and been set free by the Sandinista-controlled Supreme Court. He had served only four years of his sentence, little of which was spent in prison. At the time of the ruling, he had been under a type of house arrest that gave him free movement throughout the country.

Tim Rogers, writing for The Nica Times:

“The ruling to free Alemán came less than an hour before the National Assembly met to elect its new directorate, in what critics are calling a clear political negotiation for control of the legislative branch. Alemán two days earlier denied reports that he negotiating his freedom with President Daniel Ortega’s Sandinista Front.

Though the Sandinista Supreme Court judges denounced the ruling, analyst insists the Sandinistas were clearly accomplices in a decision that could be considered the penultimate act of the power-sharing pact formed a decade ago by Ortega and Alemán.”

And writing again, for The Miami Herald:

“In a strong sign of a deal, shortly after the disgraced Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC) boss was freed, President Daniel Ortega’s Sandinista Front won the presidency of the National Assembly, effectively giving the Sandinistas control over all four branches of government.Upon being notified of his freedom, Alemán, who had been serving out his jail term under the cushy conditions of house arrest at his sprawling hacienda compound outside Managua, thanked ”God and the Virgin” that “there is finally justice.”

Within two hours of the court ruling, the National Assembly, which had been paralyzed for more than two months following scandal-plagued Nov. 9 municipal elections, had reconvened and elected its new directorate, reelecting Sandinista lawmaker Rene Núñez as president of the legislature for another two years.

Although Alemán had denied earlier rumors that he was negotiating his freedom in exchange for giving Ortega power over the National Assembly, analysts insist there’s no other way to interpret Friday’s rapid series of events.

”This is a continuation of the pacto, a renovation of the pacto,” said political analyst Carlos Tünnermann, referring to the decade-old power-sharing pact forged between Ortega and Alemán.

Tünnermann and others speculate that part of the renegotiation of terms between Alemán and Ortega is an initiative to reform the constitution to allow Ortega to remain in power after his five-year presidential term ends in January 2012.