Friday, May 17, 2013

Costa Rican President Borrowed Private Jet from Colombian with ‘Drug Ties’

Costa Rica President Laura Chinchilla is engulfed in a scandal after it was revealed that she recently made international trips using a private jet belonging to a Colombian with alleged ties to drug trafficking. Two cabinet members have stepped down in response to public outrage, but questions remain about her links to the suspect.

Reuters reports that the Costa Rican attorney general's office is investigating Chinchilla over two flights she made, one in April to Caracas for Hugo Chavez’s funeral, and another last week to Lima to attend a private wedding. These trips were apparently arranged by an individual who introduced himself to Communications Minister Francisco Chacon as Gabriel O’Falan, and claimed to represent Colombian oil company THX Energy. However, this week it emerged that the man was in fact Gabriel Morales Fallon, who is suspected of links to drug trafficking and money laundering ties.

Chacon stepped down on Wednesday as the revelation became public. According to La Nacion, the head of Costa Rica’s Intelligence Directorate (DIS) and Chinchilla’s drug czar have now stepped down as well, citing a failure to properly investigate Morales’ background.

Despite the resignations, responsibility for the incident will likely fall squarely on Chinchilla’s shoulders. As analyst James Bosworth notes, the country prohibits politicians from accepting undisclosed gifts.

The scandal also has implications for the status of organized crime in Costa Rica. While the Central American nation has largely avoided the drug-fueled violence that has gripped other countries in the region in recent years, there is widespread concern about powerful criminal interests exerting increasing influence over Costa Rica’s traditionally stable democratic institutions.


News Briefs
  • El Nacional reports that after a ten-day audit of the results of last month’s elections, the Venezuelan National Electoral Council (CNE) has released a statement saying that President Nicolas Maduro’s victory was valid, with a margin of error of only 0.02 percent.  Upon hearing the news, Capriles repeated claims that the audit was “a farce."
  • According to the Wall Street Journal, President Maduro is warming up to the food production industry after weeks of attacking it for allegedly driving up prices and fueling scarcity. Maduro reportedly met with Venezuela’s largest food producer Empresas Polar SA this week, and agreed to work together to resolve the country’s historic levels of food shortages.
  • The government of Bolivian President Evo Morales has accused the country's largest union of inciting rebellion in recent days. La Razon reports that the president announced that the union is attempting to push for a police coup in the country, ahead of a major demonstration in La Paz scheduled for April 23.
  • BBC Mundo has an in-depth investigation on foreign workers in Brazil -- mostly Bolivians, Peruvians and Paraguayans -- who work in conditions of slavery. According to official estimates, some 300,000 Bolivians, 70,000 Paraguayans and 45,000 Peruvians live in the metropolitan region of Sao Paulo, most working in slave-like conditions.
  • Sources within Colombia’s Ministry of Agriculture have told local press that the Colombian Institute of Rural Development, which oversees land redistribution to and restitution to victims of the country’s armed conflict, has been systematically granting land to wealthy landowners and alleged criminals around the country since 2006. El Tiempo, La Opinion and Colombia Reports have more.
  • The Financial Times looks at Uruguayan President Jose Mujica’s attempts to bring his country closer to neighboring Brazil amid a period of cooling relations with Argentina.  Argentine trade restrictions have damaged relations with Uruguay, and Mujica hopes to make up for this by deepening trade with Brazil, calling it a “terrific market we have on our doorstep.”
  • Mujica endorsed the marijuana regulation bill under debate in the country’s lower house again this week, in an interview with Spanish news agency EFE. The president cautioned that while he was against marijuana -- he called it a “plague” -- regulating it is better than the alternative, which is letting the market stay in the hands of drug traffickers.
  • In another EFE interview, Ecuadorean Policy Minister Betty Tola discusses political opposition to President Rafael Correa’s sexual education and family planning initiatives. Although the teen pregnancy rate in the country rose by 78 percent between 2000 and 2010, conservative and religious sectors remain opposed to  education programs which emphasize birth control use.
  • The New York Times profiles the murder of Malcolm X’s grandson, Malcolm Shabazz, last week in a Mexico City bar. Police say he fell for a common tourist trap: “women offering company, cheap drinks or both who lure unsuspecting visitors to a dive bar near the plaza. Staggering tabs await them at last call.” The Times also points out that the incident is proof of the city’s seedier side that persists despite recent economic development.
  • The anonymous female author of Blog del Narco, the most popular blog on crime and insecurity in Mexico, has been forced to flee the country due to threats on her life, Animal Politico and The Guardian report. The young woman -- who goes by the pen name “Lucy” -- has told the press that she fled to the United States and then Spain after a colleague of hers vanished last week.