Costa Rica


Report to the 72nd General Assembly

Mexico City, Mexico

October 13 – 17, 2016


In a noteworthy development during this period, the Constitutional Court upheld the decision by Banco de Costa Rica to introduce a secret code in an electronic file containing information of public interest requested by the newsweekly El Financiero. The bank's position was that it had honored its obligation to provide information of public interest because it had turned over the files. The secret code, however, makes it impossible to analyze the information on a computer, and doing so manually would take a great deal of time and resources. In practical terms, it is as though the information had never been turned over at all.

The court issued this ruling while most of its regular justices were absent. The alternate justices upheld the Bank's action "as a way of preventing the manipulation of the information and the occurrence of errors that might be attributed to the original source of information."

This ruling is so contrary to all previously issued rulings that many observers are eager to see how the court, once its regular members have returned, will rule on further cases brought before it. The justices, of course, will not be bound by this much-criticized decision.

Government advertising continues to be used as a way to reward or punish media outlets for their editorial positions or reporting. La Nación filed a complaint, with proof, about an outrageous act of retaliation involving the use of government advertising by the state-owned Banco Nacional. Diario Extra made a similar complaint about Banco de Costa Rica, another state-owned bank.

The case is under investigation by the Legislative Assembly's Committee on Public Revenue and Expenditure and also by the Constitutional Court, where La Nación filed an application for judicial protection. Both of these entities could issue their decisions within the coming weeks.

The Constitutional Court set an important precedent when it voided the five-day unpaid suspension levied by the Costa Rican Railroad Institute against its workshop director for making statements to the press on deficiencies in train maintenance.

The justices concluded that the suspension handed down in April against Javier Moreira Cajina was a violation of freedom of expression and the right to information. This case has had a positive impact on the relationship between the press and its sources.

The president stopped talking to the media, except at the weekly cabinet meetings on Tuesdays, when he can or he feels like it. Using the excuse that he has "limited time," he refuses to answer journalists' questions and he conceals public information.

The president and foreign minister withheld public information on the grounds that it was classified, while offering no explanation to the domestic media and claiming that he had already given statements to the internaitonal network CNN. The case is about how the president, at a September meeting at the United Nations, left his chair when President Michel Temer of Brazil was about to speak. When asked why he had left the room, the president said the information was classified and gave no further response.

Communication Minister Mauricio Herrera, in a WhatsApp messsage sent to legislators in his party and later published by the newsweekly Universidad, said that the president's actdions at the UN were intended to "strain relations between the two countries." Solís denied this explanation.