LatinNews Daily - 03 February 2022

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COSTA RICA: FGR calls for Alvarado to face legal action over UPAD scandal

On 2 February Costa Rica’s attorney general’s office (FGR) requested that President Carlos Alvarado be stripped of his immunity from prosecution and face legal action in relation to alleged crimes including prevarication and abuse of authority.

Analysis:

The FGR’s request, which also calls for his former minister for the presidency (2019-2020), Víctor Morales Mora, to face justice, relates to the scandal stemming from the creation of a data unit (UPAD) within the executive branch which first broke in March 2020. It could damage already meagre support for the ruling centre-left Partido Acción Ciudadana (PAC), just days before the 6 February general elections (in which President Alvarado is constitutionally barred from running again), and which is already expected to go to a second round run-off on 3 April (which takes place if none of the candidates secure 40% + 1 of the valid vote). This lack of support for the PAC and its competitors reflects widespread public disillusionment with the political establishment which stems in part from public sector corruption, a major voter concern following recent scandals such as the ‘Diamante’ case involving municipal officials and the ‘Cochinilla’ public works scandal.

  • Back in March 2020, President Alvarado said that the UPAD, which was effectively operating since May 2018, was set up to help shape public policies, through compiling and analysing private personal data collected from various government entities. However, outcry erupted after the decree, which was signed in October 2019, was published in the official gazette on 17 February 2020 and revealed that the UPAD would have access to confidential information.
  • This prompted a string of complaints which led Alvarado to revoke the decree on 21 February, admitting that there were issues with its wording, but not before the FGR announced an investigation.
  • The FGR yesterday presented its request before the supreme court (CSJ), which must now determine whether to proceed with it, in which case it which would then go to the 57-member unicameral legislature to be voted upon.
  • It could damage already poor backing for the PAC whose presidential candidate Welmar Ramos, a national deputy, currently garners just 1.0% support according to the latest survey by the Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR)’s centre for research and policy studies (CIEP), released yesterday.
  • The frontrunner is the candidate for the main opposition right-of-centre Partido Liberación Nacional, PLN), former president José María Figueres (PLN, 1994-1998), who is on 17.0%, up from 15.0% a week earlier. Second, on 12.9% is Lineth Saborío, a former vice president (PLN, 2002-2006), now of the right-of-centre opposition Partido Unidad Social Cristiana (PUSC), down from 13.7%. The 2018 shock first round winner, evangelical preacher Fabricio Alvarado (Partido Nueva República, NR) is on 10.3%, down from 10.6%.
  • The CIEP survey showed 31.8% of respondents were undecided, down from 40.8% a week earlier, although much of the support from the newly ‘decideds’ seems to have gone to candidates with less chance of winning.
  • The legislative contest is even less certain, with 47.1% of respondents saying they were undecided. The PLN, which currently has 17 seats, was on 13.4% of voting intention, followed by the PUSC, which has nine seats, on 10.5%, and leftist Frente Amplio, which has just one seat, on 6.8%.

Looking Ahead: President Alvarado has yet to respond to the FGR’s latest request which could further damage public trust in the establishment ahead of the electoral contest and affect turnout, which is already likely to be low due to the current surge in coronavirus (Covid-19) cases as a result of the omicron variant.

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