Posted by: Idioma Extra | December 11, 2011

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Figueres Announces His Return To Costa Rica


The news of the return of former president José Maria Figueres Olsen to Costa Rica has generated wet dreams, euphoria, passions, prolonged sleeplessness, extreme concern and many other reactions since the airing of the television interview with Ignacio Santos on Telenoticias Monday night.

Is Figueres going to clean up the government in Costa Rica? Will he be the missing element to lead the PLN to a third consecutive term?

The former president is the son of Don “Pepe”(diminutive for José), José María Hipólito Figueres Ferrer, who served as President of Costa Rica on three occasions: 1948–1949, 1953–1958, and 1970–1974 which, during his first term in office, abolished the country’s army, nationalized its banking sector, and granted women and blacks the right to vote.

José María Figueres Olsen was president of Costa Rica from 1994 to 1998, Minister of Foreign Trade 1986-1988, and then Minister of Agriculture 1988-1990.

In 1986 Nobel Peace Prize Laurate and President Óscar Arias, during his first 1986–1990, appointed Figueres to overhaul the ailing National Railway System, INCOFER. Shortly afterwards he was appointed Minister in the Arias government, first of Foreign Trade and later of Agriculture, upon the completion of the governmental period Figueres continued his academic studies at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, graduating in 1991 with a Master’s Degree in Public Administration.

Back in Costa Rica, Figueres declared his intention to seek the nomination of the political party he belonged to, Partido Liberación Nacional (PLN). After a heated and much-disputed primary election process involving five candidates, Figueres won the party’s nomination in 1993 and went on to the national election which he won in February 1994. José María Figueres Olsen was elected President of Costa Rica for four years at the age of 39, the nation’s youngest president in the 20th century.

During his presidency Figueres promoted Sustainable Development as the integrating architecture of governmental action. This program was anchored on three pillars: Firstly, to transform the Costa Rican economy towards one of higher productivity, with special emphasis on technology.

Secondly, for the Costa Rican society to express greater solidarity by opening opportunities of wellbeing for all; thirdly, for society to develop itself in harmony with nature (from the book “Gobernando en Tiempos de Cambio: Administración Figueres Olsen, by Leonardo Garnier). The administration is credited with having worked to advance and promote further integration of Costa Rica into the globalized economy.

The achievements of his government, which was also controversial to some, included reforming and reorganizing many public institutions, including closing down some of them, such as Banco Anglo Costarricense and the National Railway System (INCOFER), to increase the efficiency of the State; established a coherent strategy to boost development and create qualified higher paying jobs by attracting foreign investment to Costa Rica; reforms to modernize the state-banking sector, including opening the monopoly on current accounts held by state owned banks; created EBAIS (Primary Teams of Basic Health Care) as an effective provider of preventive medicine in the communities; opened a second international airport in Liberia, Guanacaste, that helped the tourism industry flourish in the northern region of Costa Rica; and, his government was the first in modern Costa Rican history that refrained from spending during the election cycle towards the end of his mandate.

The Chemise Case

In 1991, when Figueres was seen as a possible contender for the presidency, brothers David and José Romero published a book accusing Figueres of having participated in the extrajudicial execution of a drug dealer named Jose Joaquin Orozco, known as “Chemise”.

The basis for this allegation dated back to March 7, 1973, when the drug dealer was detained for selling marijuana, and later released by police. Shortly afterwards, he was killed and tossed into a ravine. The murder was never solved.

However a Congressional Committee questioned several persons on their possible knowledge of the circumstances surrounding this death, including young Figueres, who served as a voluntary police lieutenant. The Romero brothers also filed a complaint for murder against Figueres, but under the statute of limitations the case could no longer be opened. Figueres accused the Romero brothers of libel and in 1993 a court acquitted them while condemning their main source, former drug-enforcement officer Walter Campos. Figueres won the presidential election in 1994 and appointed his lawyer in the libel case as the new Minister of Public Safety. In 1998 another court sentenced the Romero brothers to seven years’ imprisonment for making a false accusation, but that sentence was appealed and revoked due to procedural issues.

In 2000, two years after Figueres left office, the legal proceeding ended with a settlement between the Romero brothers and Figueres’s lawyers.

On 22 January 2002, television anchor Ignacio Santos of Channel 7 in Costa Rica, interviewed John Biehl, an international figure in Latin America and a close collaborator to President Oscar Arias during his first presidency (1986–1990). In the interview Mr. Biehl speaking on the issue of dirty politics, states that for answers on the ‘Chemise Case’ with which President Figueres was attacked during his campaign, questions should be addressed to Fernando Zumbado.

Mr. Zumbado had been Minister of Housing during President Arias’ first administration, and is again a Minister in President Arias’ second term (2006 – 2010). During the political campaign to elect Jose Maria Figueres, Mr. Zumbado was first a contender of Mr. Figueres, and later retired to support candidate Margarita Penon, who was then married to President Arias

Alcatel Case

In 2004, Costa Rica’s Attorney General opened official investigations against two other former presidents, for alleged financial misconduct. Both were placed under arrest. Shortly afterwards local media reports claimed Figueres had also received bribes from Alcatel.

It was revealed that Figueres received nearly US$900.000 dollars from Alcatel, for a consultation on telecommunications. Figueres was hired by the firm H.F. Desarrollos Interdisciplinarios S.A. (DISA), owned by Roberto Hidalgo, who was an advisor during his presidential term. Carmen Valverde Acosta, former Secretary General of the PLN also received nearly US$900.000 from DISA.

Valverde elaborated texts for DISA and provided editing services through her company, Grupo de Asesores Lingüisticos Asociados. Carmen Valverde Acosta is the sister of Edgar Valverde Acosta, Alcatel’s general manager in Costa Rica at the time of the bribery scandal.

Roberto Hidalgo signed three contracts between 2000 and 2001, with France’s Alcatel intended to provide political advice to Alcatel on Costa Rican politics and interpretation of the Costa Rican reality. In total, Alcatel paid Hidalgo’s DISA a total amount of US$2.7 million, shared proportionally by the three people involved, Figueres Olsen, Hidalgo and Valverde Acosta.

Alcatel payments were conditional on the success of Alcatel in its dealings with the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad (ICE). In August, 2001 Alcatel won a contract to install 400 thousand land lines, at a cost of US$149 million. It also won a contract from ICE in 2002 to expand the land-line system, a project of US $109 million.

The revelations of these payments triggered strong reactions from former allies of Figueres Olsen.

Oscar Arias stated that he felt wretched by the news of the revelations. He also stated that Figueres’ actions imply “a treason to the party and the heritage of Don Pepe”. Arias announced at the time he intended to demand to the party authorities the expulsion of Figueres Olsen from the PLN.

Following the media allegations, Mr. Figueres was forced to resign from the World Economic Forum (WEF). The WEF issued a statement that it, “through the press, has discovered that Jose Maria Figueres had, during two and a half years, a significant contractual agreement with another enterprise while holding a directorial post in the Forum.”

A Costa Rican Congressional Commission took it upon themselves to investigate the allegations. The Comisión de Control del Ingreso y el Gasto Público sent a subpoena to Figueres. He ignored the Commission’s requests, preferring to present them a sworn affidavit with a detailed account of his professional services in the field of technology and communications (accessible on request in the Costa Rican Congressional Records).

At the time, the Commission requested of the Ministry of Public Security to demand the assistance of Interpol in order to bring Mr Figueres to the country. Members of  Figueres’ party, the PLN, in the commission also supported the resolution. However, on September 6, 2005, Judge Maria Morales of the First Circuit Court of Costa Rica pronounced a ruling in Figueres’ favour, and against the Congressional Commission’s procedures. The Commission also failed to register a report on the findings before the Congress, as stipulated in Congressional Procedural Regulations.

Figueres was never summoned nor charged by the Attorney General.

On September 19, 2007, the Attorney General formally announced that there were no grounds on which to summon, or press any charges against Figueres.

Figueres has since resided in Europe and has not returned to Costa Rica since 2004.

Word of the Day

eu·pho·ria: \yü-fȯr-ē-ə\
Origin: New Latin, from Greek, from euphoros healthy, from eu- + pherein to bear — more at bear
First Known Use: circa 1751
: a feeling of well-being or elation
— eu·phor·ic adjective
— eu·phor·i·cal·ly adverb

More Vocabulary

Allegation: n. a positive assertion; specifically: a statement by a party to a legal action of what the party undertakes to prove
Anchor: n.
a reliable or principal support : mainstay
Architecture: n.
a unifying or coherent form or structure
Contender: n.
a competitor for a championship or high honor
Flourish: v.
to achieve success : prosper
Nomination: n.
the act of formally choosing someone as a candidate for a job, position, office, etc.
Overhaul: v.
to change (something) completely in order to improve it 
Settlement: n.
a formal agreement or decision that ends an argument or dispute
Summon: v.
to order (someone) to appear in a court of law
Treason: n.
the betrayal of a trust
Wretched: adj.
deeply afflicted, dejected, or distressed in body or mind

Love those Phrasal Verbs

Clean up: to rid of undesirable persons or features

  • The presidential candidates promise is to clean up the government by getting rid of the corruption.

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