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Cablegate: Health Ministry Orders Assembly to Comply With

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (U) Summary: The Health Ministry ordered the Legislative
Assembly on November 7 to either make health and safety
repairs in the buildings it occupies within the next two
months or shut down various offices. President of the
Legislative Assembly Gerardo Gonzalez reacted to the order by
accusing the executive branch of attempting to delay debate
of the U.S.-Central American-Dominican Republic Free Trade
Agreement (CAFTA-DR), which was scheduled to begin soon.
Gonzalez does not dispute the existence of serious health
hazards in the Assembly, only the timing of the order and the
impossibility of making the repairs in such a short time
frame. President Pacheco told the press: "No one is trying
to close down the Assembly." End summary.

2. (U) On November 7, the Ministry of Health declared offices
of the Legislative Assembly to be "uninhabitable" for health
and safety reasons and ordered the Assembly to either fix the
problems or vacate the offices. The problems include
overcrowding, open sewers, infestation by rats, cockroaches,
and mosquitoes, bare electrical wires, and fire and seismic
vulnerability. Depending on the problem, the Assembly was
given 15 to 60 days to make necessary repairs.

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3. (U) Antonio Ayala, executive director of the Legislative
Assembly, told the press on November 8 that he will need to
rent temporary offices for 800 of the 1,000 people who work
in the Assembly and that it will take approximately six
months to make the repairs. The cost of the repairs is
likely to be higher than the cost for construction of an
entirely new Assembly structure.

4. (U) Assembly President Gerardo Gonzalez, who for the last
several months has been complaining about the conditions in
the Assembly and urging the construction of a new building,
noted the impossibility of complying with the order to repair
on such short notice. He said that Assembly proceedings
could be interrupted and further observed "I don't know
whether to believe it or not, but there are some in the
Executive Branch who do not want CAFTA-DR to be debated in
the legislature."

5. (SBU) Health Minister Rocio Saenz, who is known to be a
CAFTA-DR skeptic (like President Pacheco), responded
indignantly to Gonzalez, saying of her ministry, "We are a
serious entity." She noted that the health inspection was
prompted by complaints over the last two years from deputies,
employees, and visitors to the Assembly. She said that the
Assembly has the right to request a longer time period to
correct the problems.

6. (U) President Pacheco told the press on November 8: "No
one is trying to close down the Assembly, unless it is by
force majeure, like a fire or hurricane. Then they will meet
somewhere else." He said he would be happy to talk to
Gonzalez about the matter, but that Gonzalez is not
interested in meeting with him because "he says I have
Alzheimer,s and forget everything." (Gonzalez denied
speaking about Pacheco in such disrespectful terms but did
confirm that past meetings with the President have not been

7. (SBU) Comment: Embassy officers who frequently visit the
Legislative Assembly can personally attest to the truth of
the findings by the Health Ministry. The Assembly is made up
of several buildings and a confusing warren of offices, parts
of which are dirty and malodorous. Polcouns recalls one
visit to a deputy's office when, on being escorted inside, he
pointed out a live bat on the ground in front of the doorway.
The deputy kicked the bat aside, and the meeting commenced.
Similar health and safety hazards
exist in many public buildings in Costa Rica. A fire broke
out in a public hospital last July, killing 19. It was later
discovered that there were no fire alarms, sprinklers, or
hoses in the vicinity of the fire. So the Health Ministry,
heavily criticized then for being too lax, has reason now to
be cautious.

8. (SBU) Comment cont.: Nevertheless, we cannot blame
Gonzalez for being suspicious. All of the problems pointed
out by the Health Ministry are longstanding, and it is
curious that action is being taken now, just as CAFTA-DR is
about to be debated. It is widely believed that President
Pacheco, though he is the one who introduced the legislation
on October 21, wants it to move slowly through the Assembly
so as not to provoke anti-CAFTA-DR demonstrations. But if,
as Pacheco says, the Assembly can meet anywhere, debate on
CAFTA-DR can begin.

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