Search

 

Cablegate: National Assembly Gets Busy - Passes New

VZCZCXYZ0000
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHSJ #0715/01 2360821
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 240821Z AUG 09
FM AMEMBASSY SAN JOSE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1147
INFO RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEAWJA/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHINGTON DC
RUEABND/DRUG ENFORCEMENT ADMIN HQ WASHINGTON DC
RHMCSUU/FBI WASHINGTON DC
RHMFIUU/HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL

UNCLAS SAN JOSE 000715

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

DEPT FOR WHA/CEN, WHA/PPC, INL/LP

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KDEM PINR PREL ASEC CVIS PTER SNAR PREF
KTIP, CS
SUBJECT: NATIONAL ASSEMBLY GETS BUSY - PASSES NEW
ANTI-ORGANIZED CRIME, IMMIGRATION REFORM, AND ELECTORAL

REFORM BILLS

REF: SAN JOSE 692

1. (SBU) Summary: Costa Rica's National Assembly capped off
an uncharacteristically productive month-and-a-half on August
11 by approving the final version of an Electoral Reform
bill. This came after the Assembly passed a new
Anti-Organized Crime bill in early July, and an Immigration
Reform bill in early August (the Electoral and Immigration
Reform bills were officially signed by President Oscar Arias
on August 19). The reforms include much-needed changes to
Costa Rican law, such as strengthening regulations against
political corruption and narco-traffickers, changing some
regulations on foreign residents, and extending further
protections to trafficking in persons (TIP) victims and
refugees. The effectiveness of these new laws remains to be
seen and some, such as the immigration law, will not go into
effect for another six months.

2. (SBU) While the last six weeks have been some of the most
productive of the past three-and-a-half years on long-needed
security reforms (not including the mammoth CAFTA laws passed
last year), we do not expect this new-found efficiency to
continue. All sides will soon shift their attention to the
upcoming national election campaign, which officially begins
in October, making further significant accomplishments
difficult to achieve. End Summary.

-------------------------
ANTI-ORGANIZED CRIME BILL
-------------------------

3. (SBU) The Anti-Organized Crime bill, passed on July 2, was
perhaps the most pressing of the three major pieces of
legislation the Assembly recently approved. The new law
establishes a legal definition of organized crime (a
"structured group of two or more people," formed for the
purpose of committing a "serious crime," i.e., one with a
possible prison sentence of four years or more), lengthens
the maximum period of preventive detention from 24 to 36
months, and establishes a statute of limitations of 10 years
for cases involving organized crime. However, the new law
does not make organized crime an aggravating factor in a
case, or create enhanced sentencing guidelines for those
convicted of activities involving organized crime.

4. (SBU) One of the centerpieces of the new law is the
creation of a Police Information Platform (PIP), a central
database for all Costa Rican law enforcement agencies to
share information. The law also revamps Costa Rica's
electronic surveillance procedures, creating a Communications
Investigation Center (CIC), through which all wiretapping
operations will be run. A court order is required for
wiretapping, and wiretaps are limited to twelve months, but
can be extended for an additional twelve months. The bill
specifically requires communications providers to cooperate
in wiretapping investigations. Not addressed, but still
needing revision is the requirement that only judges be
allowed to listen to wiretaps. This is problematic as
justices often have little time to dedicate to a case, and
rarely know what information they are seeking. The CIC will
address technical deficiencies, but certain legal problems,
such as this requirement, remain.

5. (SBU) The organized crime law also outlines procedures
governing the seizure of assets in organized crime-related
cases. The law puts the Costa Rican Drug Institute in charge
of administering the seized assets in most cases, and lays
out how various agencies will divide up seized assets after
forfeiture. Additionally, Interpol's offices have been moved
into the bureaucratic structure of the Judicial Police (OIJ).
This will align GOCR police entities more uniformly, give
Interpol more resources and arrest authority, and give OIJ
access to Interpol criminal data.

------------------
IMMIGRATION REFORM
------------------

6. (SBU) On August 4, the National Assembly unanimously
approved a new Immigration law, which makes a number of


changes to Costa Rica's policies governing foreign residents.
The law also provides additional protections (and some
much-needed reforms) to trafficking victims and refugees, and
increases penalties for alien smuggling. Though it has
already been passed, the new law will not go into effect for
six months from the date it is published in the official
government gazette, in order to give the Department of
Immigration time to implement the required changes.

7. (SBU) The new law more tightly regulates the requirements
put on foreign visitors to, and residents in, Costa Rica.
Visitors will now be given the option of paying a $100 fee to
renew their 90-day visa (for another 90 days), while those
who overstay their visa will be charged $100 per month of
overstay. The law also increases the financial requirements
for foreign residents in Costa Rica on business, requiring
that they make an income of at least $2500 per month.
Retired residents are required to show evidence of a monthly
pension of at least $1000 per month, and 'investors' must
show that they've made an investment of over $250K (which, in
a change to previous law, can include hard assets such as the
purchase of property). These changes will only apply to new
applications for residency.

8. (SBU) Additionally, the new law requires immigrants
applying for residency based upon a marriage to a Costa Rican
to actually prove that the marriage exists. Marriage fraud
is often committed in Costa Rica to obtain legal residency,
or fight deportation or extradition proceedings. The new
legislation tries to end or at least mitigate this practice,
by giving Costa Rican authorities the legal ability to
question the legitimacy of marriages in certain cases.

9. (SBU) The law creates a new migratory category for TIP
victims, giving Immigration the ability to grant them
temporary visas. The new legislation also sets out increased
penalties for alien smuggling, setting the punishment at 2-6
years imprisonment, or in aggravated circumstances 3-8 years
in prison.

10. (SBU) Finally, the new law creates a separate office
within Immigration to deal specifically with refugee issues
(Reftel). This includes the assignment of specific
immigration officials to the new office, who will be given
specialized training in refugee processing procedures. The
law also grants additional protections to refugees by
clarifying and strengthening the application appeal process.
Finally, the new law removes or lowers some of the financial
costs involved with the refugee application process. These
changes should help the GOCR reduce the current six-to-eight
month wait time for refugee applications, and help address
the backlog of over 80 cases awaiting appeal.

----------------------
ELECTORAL CODE CHANGES
----------------------

11. (SBU) The final major piece of legislation to pass was
the Electoral Code Reform law, which primarily focused on
campaign finance reform. The law, which was passed on August
11, outlaws campaign contributions by groups or businesses,
instead requiring that all donations come from individuals.
It also prohibits contributions directly to political
candidates, instead requiring that all donations be made to
the candidate's political party. This new legislation lays
out finite prison sentences for those who violate these new
campaign financing regulations.

12. (SBU) In a move that favors smaller, regional parties the
law opens up public financing of campaigns to municipal
elections. However, the law reduces the budget for public
financing of campaigns for the 2010 election by over forty
percent. Additionally the new law extends current mayoral
terms by two years to create a mid-term election in 2012,
restricts presidential candidates from also running for seats
in the National Assembly, and eliminates a prohibition on
alcohol that has traditionally surrounded election day.
Finally, the new law lays out plans for the 2014 election,
specifically creating the possibility of voting from abroad,
and a requirement that political parties have equal numbers


of men and women among their candidates for the National
Assembly.

-------
COMMENT
-------

13. (SBU) In comparison to its anemic record previously, the
work of the National Assembly over the past month and a half
has been nothing short of monumental. The new Anti-Organized
Crime bill puts in place a legal framework which should help
Costa Rica better deal with an ever-growing security
situation. The new immigration bill modernizes some
immigration procedures and policies, while enhancing the
Department of Immigration's ability to deal with foreigners
living in the country. And the electoral code changes put in
place solid anti-corruption standards in campaigning. A
number of these reforms have been languishing for years at
the National Assembly, and their passage is definitely a
welcome sign.

14. (SBU) We, nonetheless, do not expect additional reforms
or the lingering 14th CAFTA-DR bill will pass anytime soon,
especially with election season kicking into full gear in
October. These are probably the last major pieces of
legislation that the Assembly will be able to pass until
after a new administration is elected in February, 2010.
Post will continue to work with our contacts to push the
passage of the 14th CAFTA-DR bill before December 31;
however, this could prove increasingly difficult if the
Assembly stalls amidst political campaigning and disputes, as
most observers expect.
BRENNAN

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
World Headlines

 

IPPPR: The Independent Panel Calls For Urgent Reform Of Pandemic Prevention And Response Systems

Expert independent panel calls for urgent reform of pandemic prevention and response systems The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response is today calling on the global community to end the COVID-19 pandemic and adopt a series of bold and ... More>>

NGO Coalition On Human Rights: Call For A Stop To Police Brutality In Fiji

A viral video has circulated online showing two police officers utilising disproportionate and excessive force in detaining the suspect, an individual half their size. In the video it shows the man’s head being pressed down on the ground, his arms being ... More>>

UN: India’s New COVID-19 Wave Is Spreading Like ‘Wildfire’, Warns UN Children’s Fund

7 May 2021 A new wave of COVID-19 infections is spreading like “wildfire” across India, leaving many youngsters destitute, the UN Children’s Fund UNICEF said on Friday. In the last 24 hours, India registered 3,915 coronavirus deaths and 414,188 ... More>>

Focus On: UN SDGs

UN: Economic Recovery Under Threat Amid Surging COVID Cases And Lagging Vaccination In Poorer Countries

New York, 11 May — While the global growth outlook has improved, led by robust rebound in China and the United States, surging COVID-19 infections and inadequate vaccination progress in many countries threaten a broad-based recovery of the world ... More>>

Study: Cut Methane Emissions To Avert Global Temperature Rise

6 May 2021 Methane emissions caused by human activity can be reduced by up to 45 per cent this decade, thus helping to keep global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius in line with the Paris Agreement on climate change, according to a UN-backed ... More>>

UN: Learning From COVID-19, Forum To Highlight Critical Role Of Science, Technology And Innovation In Global Challenges

New York, 4 May —To build on the bold innovations in science, technology and innovations that produced life-saving solutions during the COVID-19 pandemic, the UN will bring together experts to highlight measures that can broaden the development and deployment ... More>>