Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla has suggested the scandal surrounding her use of a jet linked to a Colombian drug trafficking suspect could be revenge for her attempts to push legislation allowing for the extradition of suspected Costa Rican criminals.
Revelations last week that Chinchilla flew to former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s funeral and to a wedding in Peru on a private jet loaned by Gabriel Morales Fallon -- a Colombian who is under investigation by Costa Rican authorities for possible involvement in drug trafficking and by Colombian authorities for money laundering -- seriously embarrassed the president and led to the resignation of her security chief, communications minister and a senior aide.
President Chinchilla told Colombian newspaper El Tiempo Wednesday that she had been let down by her security team, who had "not asked the questions they were obliged to ask" and had exposed her to risk, while pointing out that all allegations remained unconfirmed.
Referring to a recent El Tiempo report revealing an agreement between the US Drug Enforcement Administration and Colombian authorities to relocate Morales to Costa Rica in return for information on criminal activity, Chinchilla said, "These facts have come out after I announced, with great determination, something that no one has ever dared do in Costa Rica: push for the extradition of Costa Ricans wanted by international justice."
Asked if the situation could have been engineered as a reprisal, she said she would "not rule out any hypothesis.
"I can't confirm it, but I want to say to anyone who thinks that this will frighten me, because it is going to affect my image, what you are doing is the opposite."
Speaking to Colombian television network RCN on Tuesday, Morales denied any criminal activity and said he had no links to Chinchilla.
"I do not know the President of Costa Rica, I have not seen her personally, I have not spoken to her personally," he said.
The jet had been loaned to public figures and politicians from other countries, including some from Colombia, he added.
InSight Crime Analysis
This does not look good. Either she did not know it was his airplane, which is bad. Or she did know, which is worse.
President Chinchilla has made fighting organized crime a priority, as Costa Rica continues to grow in importance as a transit nation on international drug trafficking routes. Her latest moves to push for extradition legislation, increase prison terms for organized crime and make it easier for mysterious assets to be confiscated - proposals she has described as an "act of bravery" - could have persuaded some that is it time for her to go, making the theory of a trap and/or a smear campaign plausible.
There is also a lot of extradition history in Latin America to consider. Most famously, the Medellin cartel led by Pablo Escobar waged a violent campaign against the implementation of an extradition treaty between Colombia and the United States during the 1980s. This year, two high-profile killings in Honduras have sparked fears a similar crusade is being launched there, where the government has taken steps to institute extradition.