Miguel Ángel Rodríguez Echeverría, a victim of failed justice
June 29th, 2007
He was President of the Republic of Costa Rica during the period from 1998 to 2002, and was elected Secretary General of the OAS by acclamation on 6 June 2004.
He began his mandate with a broad program of administrative reform to return the Organization to its core objectives, resolve its budgetary problems, and strengthen the OAS. Mired in this on-going transformation, the General Assembly in Panama continued to seek resources.
He was accused by one of his advisors, José Antonio Lobo, who was later a director of the public telecoms corporation, ICE, and was charged with receiving US$2.5 million for awarding a bid for 400,000 mobile telephone connections to Alcatel.
This case exemplifies the deterioration that the Rule of Law has undergone in Costa Rica, a country that thought itself immune to the abuse of due process.
The problems that the criminal procedure approved in 1996 generates for the Rule of Law and due process are set out by Rodriguez in his book “Di la cara” (I Faced the Issues), published by Planeta. In the Presentation, Enrique Ghersi, a prestigious journalist and attorney, Master of Civil Law, Doctor of Law, Director of the Center for Legal Research and Studies in Peru, ex-Congressional Deputy, and university professor, stated: “This book clearly distinguishes between what I would call the Rule of Law and the Rule of Legality, which are not the same. We attorneys and politicians have been educated over the last 50-60 years in a perverse concept of the Law, and we erroneously believe that he Law is, in and of itself, just; and any Law, no matter how atrabilious and abusive, is synonymous with justice and equity. This is precisely the danger in a democracy, in contemporary states, one must place limits and regulate power; because today one person may be the victim, but tomorrow any one of us could be. This is the history of the application of the law to my enemies, no matter who is the person that defines who my enemies are.” Ghersi is surprised by the deterioration of the Rule of Law that Costa Rica has suffered, a country that used to be an example for other countries. “Since, were this happen in Peru, it happens every day, or were this to happen in Bolivia, or were this to happen in Ecuador; but the surprise for a Peruvian Law professor is that they advise him that it is also occurring in Costa Rica, which we thought was immune –the society, but also the experience and the institutions– to the temptations of abuse, inequity, and the lack of equality.”
After more than two and a half years of legal battles, Rodríguez has been unable to obtain a fair trial. The Attorney General’s Office has still not brought formal charges against him.
The Constitutional Chambers accepted the appeal for protection brought by ex-president Miguel Ángel Rodríguez against the Minister of Police of the previous government, for the transgressions to his human rights on his arrival at Juan Santamaría Airport, which serves the Costa Rican capital.
Without even an accusation against him for the alleged crimes under investigation, and solely due to declarations of an accused and confessed criminal, seeking to reduce his own sentence, he was presented as guilty before the communications media on his voluntary arrival in the country.
He was illegally detained upon exiting the aircraft, in violation of the clear terms of a judicial order. He was exhibited and dealt with like a dangerous delinquent, even though he was still the Secretary General of the OAS. Once he had been exhibited, they removed the handcuffs to lock him into a patrol wagon, normally used for dangerous criminals. He was taken at high speed to a jail where he passed the night. The route taken, previously announced, was full of individuals hurling epithets. It was an evident violation of his human rights.
In spite of receiving the support of the Ambassadors of the Member States of the OAS, he had decided to resign from his appointment to return to his country to face his defense and be able to obtain a fair trial.
He accepted receiving a loan –already returned– from his former friend to meet the expenses of his fruitful campaign for the position of Secretary General of the OAS.
With neither sentence nor indictment against him, he was sent to jail in the common lockup, where he was held incommunicado.
This action was aimed at being an example and was designed to gain political notoriety.
The disrespect for due process, from the first statement by Lobo on interrogation, has been obvious. Each time it was convenient to the purposes of the accusation, the testimony has been leaked to certain press media.
However, for the defense, there has been systematic obstruction of its activities, documents were hidden during the interrogation, and other documents took more than a year to appear in the dossier. Defendants and witnesses were interrogated without the defense attorneys being informed, in spite of their reiterated requests, as well as an interminable list of other anomalies.
Rodríguez indicates that: “The news was highly-charged politics and the authors had done very well for themselves, so that they were unwilling to let things change. The then current President had increased his popularity, the Attorney General had been declared “Man of the Year 2004”; La Nación and Channel 7 (print and electronic media) were selling more and were more powerful, seeking awards for their activity. The Court charged the Attorney General himself to investigate my denunciations against him. For all practical purposes, the legislative investigations against the Judicial Branch have been filed.”
Nearly three years after returning to the country, and just three since his unanimous election as Secretary General of the OAS, Rodríguez promises to continue to fight for a fair trial. “I must also work to change what must be changed, to ensure that I receive a fair trial. Will this be possible after so many violations of due process, to my innocence, to my freedoms, to my human rights? The end of this history has yet to be written, God-willing it will be a good outcome: for my family, for me, and above all for the good of the Rule of Law and the freedom and dignity of all Costa Ricans.”