A key aide to Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla resigned after chartering a flight from a businessman he said was involved in “questionable activities,” becoming the 15th minister to step down in three years.
Communication Minister and presidential spokesman Francisco Chacon, who often appeared and traveled with Chinchilla, resigned late yesterday. Chacon said he had booked the president on a private jet to Lima this month through someone named Gabriel O’Falan, who purported to work for a unit of a Colombian energy company. Both O’Falan’s name and the association with the company are now thought to be false, he said.
The resignation comes as Chinchilla, who took office in May 2010, struggles to sustain her agenda in her final year in office. The leader of the main opposition party called the latest incident the “the cherry on top” of a disappointing administration and asked the ethics committee of the public prosecutor’s office to start an investigation.
“This exposes us in front of the world as a weak country in terms of security,” said Carmen Munoz, head of the opposition Citizen Action Party, in a phone interview from San Jose. “It also demonstrates a weakness in the responses of the government as they attempted to cover up their mistakes when facing crisis. This government is failing to learn from its mistakes.”
Chinchilla started this year with 12 percent public support, the lowest of any leader in the Americas, according to surveys by San Jose-based newspaper La Nacion and Mexican polling company Consulta Mitofsky. The La Nacion poll, taken Jan. 24 - Feb. 4, had a margin of error of 2.8 percentage points.
Costa Rican Finance Minister Fernando Herrero resigned last year after an investigation by newspaper La Nacion said he underpaid taxes for 12 years, a charge he rejected. Transportation Minister Francisco Jimenez was removed from office in May 2012 for alleged corruption regarding funding for the construction of a road along the border with Nicaragua. He denied the accusations.
Earlier in the week, Chacon defended the trip to Peru and acceptance of the private flight as a “collaboration between the state and a businessman.” Chinchilla, 54, said on May 15 that the trip to Peru, to meet President Ollanta Humala and attend a wedding, had followed the same parameters as other presidential visits abroad. Costa Rica’s government does not have a private presidential plane.
“He presented me with a business card of false representation with the clear and express purpose of tricking me,” Chacon said of his May 8 meeting with O’Falan. “I realize that I did not request sufficient enough verification into the background of the representatives of the company.”
Attempts to contact O’Falan via an e-mail account that appeared on a business card with his name weren’t successful.
Chinchilla expressed indignation with the use of a false identity to trick Chacon and said the situation threatened the image of the country and her integrity, according to an e-mailed statement from the presidential offices last night. The President is currently “focused on analyzing the situation” and will not give additional comments today, according to a second statement from the presidential palace.
Under Chinchilla, Costa Rica’s economy expanded 4.3 percent in March from a year earlier, faster than than 3.5 percent and 3.9 percent growth recorded in January and February, respectively.
The Costa Rican currency, the colon, fell 0.1 percent to 498.85 per dollar at 2:35 p.m. New York time.
To contact the reporter on this story: Adam Williams in San Jose, Costa Rica at firstname.lastname@example.org