President says she is dumping road concession to preserve peace

President Laura Chinchilla said Monday night that she was terminating the concession with the contractor who was supposed to build a modern highway to San Ramón.

The president said she was doing this to guarantee the social peace of the country.

“I recognize that in the current environment it is not possible nor convenient to carry forward a project that has received the rejection of diverse sections of the population, among them communities, social organizations and even business chambers,” said the president. She was speaking on television.

This is the project with the Brazilian firm OAS that has generated so much opposition along the route. The main reason is the 2,000-colon toll the company planned to impose once the route was constructed from San José to San Ramón.

Ms. Chinchilla reminded viewers that the concession received approval in 2004 in the Abel Pacheo administration and that she was faced with the option of pushing the project forward or starting over when she took office.

She said the project was one of three that her administration had as priorities. She named the northern route, the Chilamate Vueta de Kooper highway that connects the northern zone with the Caribbean. She also cited the widening of the Interamericana Norte from Liberia to the Nicaraguan border. She did not mention the roadway along the Río San Juan that is involved in scandal over corruption and poor workmanship.

The president said that by terminating the contract, she was exposing the country to possible financial penalties from the contractor and also imposing a delay on the eventual construction of the route. She estimated the delay to be at least two years.

Despite giving a summary of the history of the proposed highway, Ms. Chinchilla failed to mention that the government of Taiwan was bankrolling the job but stopped in 2007 when former president Óscar Arias Sánchez dumped Taiwan in favor of diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China. Ms. Chinchilla was vice president then.

There was no indication how much the country will have to spend to pay off the contractor. There also is the chance of renegotiating the deal, as Ms. Chinchilla noted.

The president said that the concession project was always out in the open and that those who now oppose it never sought to discuss it.

She also said that she was concerned with the firm in which some sectors due to narrow interests decided to attack the project and increase the opposition. She said the government should confront those who for economic or political interests frequently slow projects simply to agitate or because their firm did not get the job. She was referring to local companies that did not win the concession and also to the political football that the concession had become. This was the reason citizens protested last April 11 when Ms. Chinchilla spoke at the Juan Santamaría day ceremonies in Alajuela.  There was a heavy police presence.

She criticized cowardly rumors and defended public employees and officials who have been involved in the project.

She did not mention by name Pedro Castro, the minister of public works, who has been a frequent target.

The political opposition has leveled allegations of corruption and illegalities. José María Villalta, of the leftist Partido Frente Amplio made a point to say on the Internet that OAS had a headquarters in the British Virgin Islands, which is a tax haven, he said. He suggested without any evidence that the firm was engaged in tax fraud and money laundering.

Although she did not say it, Ms. Chinchilla might have acted to reduce any public protests in the first days of May when heads of state, including U.S. President Barack Obama, will be in the country for a summit.

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