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October 22, 2004

Off to jail handcuffed

Since the beginning of time, stories abound of the mighty sinking to ruins by their own self-inflicted wounds.

Last Saturday’s happening in San Jose, Costa Rica was just another haunting case of deja-vu. As his jet taxied to a stop at San Jose International Airport, coming off and down to earth from his lofty heights, was Miguel Angel Rodriguez Echeveria “the immediate past president of Costa Rica and the newly unanimously elected secretary general of the Organisation of American States (O.A.S.)”. He was handcuffed. {{more}}

As president of Costa Rica nobody could wash the balm from the anointed king. He seemed to have all the sun that shone. His magical influence ran through every vein in all parts of the body politics. He was the veritable consummation of all “things good, noble and wonderful”. As a result he sat high in all the people’s hearts.

At the end of his presidency that he was unanimously elected to, the office of secretary general of the venerable 119-year-old Organization of American States (OAS) seemed assured. Known for his sound intellect, high dignity, and proven diplomatic and political skills, this was certainly a stepping stone to even higher ground – maybe to the United Nations as secretary general.

The charge

Hardly had he taken office, when the scandal broke. He stood accused of taking a kickback of some US$2.4 million from the French telecommunication giant ALCATEL. Forced to leave office by a mounting tide of protest, he became broken in spirit then was chained and air lifted to gaol in Costa Rica to await trial for corruption. In our system of justice, an accused is innocent until found guilty. It is the reverse in many other countries.

His successor from his own party did it

Initiating and superintending the entire process was his successor as president. He belongs to the same party as Miguel Echeveria. This is not the case of a vengeful opposition seeking reven-ge. This is his own laying charges against him.

Hard lessons

The hard lesson hardly needs stating. Suffice it to say, however, that power must be used for the good of those that give power. Running

afoul of the people you serve can only lead to humiliation and disgrace. How true are the words of Shakespeare: “But yesterday the word “But yesterday the word of Caesar might have stood against the world, now lies he there and none so poor to do his reverence. Indeed, for his vaunted power he is now shrunk to this little measure.”

The greatest honour in public life is to serve the public with honour and for nothing else no matter how sweet or comforting the allurement. To withstand it our human nature must at such critical times, take a transcendental flight; the alternative is to take a flight path like the one taken last Saturday by the once mighty Miguel Angel Rodriguez Echeveria.

l Writer’s note – This article follows last week’s preface on “Corruption in Public Office”. Herein lies a practical example for digestion.