When the Asamblea Legislativa meets in afternoon session, the 57 lawmakers usually have from five to 10 minutes to express themselves on any topic. Because they are elected officials speaking in a political forum, they are protected from being sued or hit with a defamation charge.
Wednesday was a day for bashing the Partido Liberación Nacional, the party of President Laura Chinchilla, which is now in the minority in the assembly because other parties formed a bloc.
Jorge Alberto Gamboa Corrales of the Partido Acción Ciudadana began by complimenting prosecutors for arresting the mayor of Golfito and two other municipal officials on the allegations that they sought a bribe to approve a maritime concession.
The subject of corruption is nothing new, he said, adding that also not new was that Liberación party members were involved in municipal corruption.
“In fact, it can’t be a coincidence that during the last two municipal periods the corruption has increased to levels of a heart attack in almost all the municipal buildings, especially in the southern zone,” he said. “Also it is not a coincidence that in the last five years the Partido Liberación Nacional has come to control the majority of the local governments as if they were their own property.” He noted that Liberación won 58 races for mayor out of a possible 81 in the last round of elections.
He alleged that the party was an accomplice in the municipal corruption and noted that the party leader is Rodrigo Arias Sánchez, the brother of the former president. Rodrigo Arias has political ambitions of his own, so he is a frequent target of opposition members.
The mayor is Deylon Gerardo Arroyo Blandón. Also jailed for preventative detention were the president of the municipal council, Rodolfo Delgado Jiménez, and another official, Alexis Rojas Rojas.
José María Villalta Florez-Estrada of Frente Amplio picked up the theme when it was his turn to speak.
He noted that the Golfito mayor has less than a year in the job and that he belongs to Liberación. He said he wondered why Liberación party leaders do not open their own investigation. The Golfito case is not an isolated one, he said, noting that prior administrations there have been involved in concession scandals and that zoning regulations were approved illegally.
He claimed that Liberación was having a party with the property of the state and that in a subsequent session he would spell out links among the maritime zone concessions, Liberación party members and narcotraffickers.
Wálter Cépedes Salazar of the Partido Unidad Socialcristiana used his time to explain why he participated in blocking the Caribbean coastal highway July 26. That was when firebombs and rocks were thrown at police and shots rang out. Céspedes said he was not just there to defend the two hotels that were supposed to be demolished. He said that the entire area around Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is in jeopardy. The case involves properties constructed in the Refugio Vida Silvestre de Gandoca Manzanillo.
“At this moment the whole population of Puerto Viejo, including the Hotel Tamara, the restaurant, the liquor stores, the bank, all the population, the city of Puerto Viejo is within the Refugio de Gandoca Manzanillo,” he said. “If the interpretation of the Contraloría is applied that the refuge is state property, this means that no one, that no human, only animals and trees can live inside a refuge.” The Contraloría had urged the demolition of the two hotels. Las Palmas already is demolished.
He also was critical of the way in which a single minister and the president can sign a decree that has the force of law. That is in contrast to the legislature where there is a long process to pass a law, he noted. Cépedes made clear he was not just talking about the current administration but the custom that the central government has to issue such decrees.
Other lawmakers addressed the economy, in vitro fertilization and the need to have strong laws against drunk driving. There has been a wave of fatal accidents involving apparently drunk drivers. The issue is being considered along with the entire traffic code. It is in committee.
Lliberación lawmakers did not have a chance to reply to the opposition speeches because the session recessed so that Andrey Amador, the Costa Rican cyclist, could be honored in an adjacent room. He participated in the Tour de France bike race.
Exchanges like the one Wednesday sometimes become hotter. There have been no recent cases of lawmakers engaging in fist fights as in other countries, but sometimes the situation becomes tense. The transcripts of the afternoon plenario session are quickly posted to the assembly Web site. Plus the afternoon session is televised. The channel depends on the cable provider.