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Viewing cable 06SANJOSE2379, COSTA RICAN IMMIGRATION DIRECTOR PLANS MAJOR

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06SANJOSE2379 2006-10-27 10:10 2011-03-08 16:04 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy San Jose
Appears in these articles:
http://www.nacion.com/2011-03-06/Investigacion/NotasDestacadas/Investigacion2702320.aspx
http://www.nacion.com/2011-03-06/Investigacion/NotaPrincipal/Investigacion2702324.aspx
http://www.nacion.com/2011-03-06/Investigacion/NotasSecundarias/Investigacion2702325.aspx
http://www.nacion.com/2011-03-06/Investigacion/NotasSecundarias/Investigacion2702326.aspx
http://www.nacion.com/2011-03-06/Investigacion/NotasSecundarias/Investigacion2702327.aspx
VZCZCXYZ0050
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHSJ #2379/01 3001032
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 271032Z OCT 06
FM AMEMBASSY SAN JOSE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6447
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE
RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA 3705
RHEFHLC/HOMELAND SECURITY CENTER WASHINGTON DC
C O N F I D E N T I A L SAN JOSE 002379 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPARTMENT FOR WHA/CEN, INL/LP 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/04/2016 
TAGS: PGOV PINR PREF KFRD CASC CS
SUBJECT: COSTA RICAN IMMIGRATION DIRECTOR PLANS MAJOR 
 
REFORMS 
 
REF: A. SAN JOSE 1529 
     B. SAN JOSE 2054 
 
Classified By: Ambassador Mark Langdale for reason 1.4 (d) 
 
1. (C) SUMMARY: Costa Rican Immigration Director Mario Zamora 
recently told us that months of intense work with 2nd Vice 
President Kevin Casas (a personal friend who also functions 
as Minister of Planning) were about to bear fruit in the form 
of fundamental reforms to the information systems and 
personnel of his institution.  Zamora said that the reforms 
had to be thorough and simultaneous in order to counter the 
massive corruption he has encountered since taking the helm 
on May 8, 2006.  Zamora has recruited a tough-minded 
technocrat who played a key role in efforts to use technology 
to wring corruption out of customs clearance procedures.  He 
also has help from Microsoft Corporation to revamp 
information systems at Immigration.  Working with lawyers 
from the Ministry of Planning, Zamora has managed to 
streamline procedures for a "restructuring" of human 
resources that could replace up to 65 percent of his 
personnel.  By restructuring (and paying severance) rather 
than firing corrupt employees, Zamora says he was able to 
strike a deal with unions that avoids years of lawsuits and 
allows removing enough corrupt employees with sufficient 
speed to actually make a difference. END SUMMARY. 
 
------------------------ 
A New Information System 
------------------------ 
2. (C) Zamora said that his initial impressions of 
vulnerabilities in the computer systems at Immigration were 
confirmed via a diagnostic performed at his request by 
Microsoft Corporation.  The diagnostic revealed that a number 
of key functions, passport issuance for example, were 
converted into independent "islands" presumably in the name 
of transparency, under the current system.  Vital 
cross-checks and internal controls are missing, however, 
which makes each "island" a lucrative profit center for those 
who control it.  Worse, some key information can be 
manipulated or deleted without creating any record of the 
changes or of who made them.  Zamora believes the current 
system is so full of holes that it cannot be salvaged.  On 
October 10, media reported similar problems with residency 
cards issued by a $2.6 million system acquired for 
Immigration less than a year ago.  Microsoft is encouraging 
Costa Rica to examine an immigration system the company 
installed in the Bahamas.  Meanwhile, the current system with 
its "islands" of corruption remains vulnerable. 
 
3.  (C) Zamora has recruited Alicia Avendano to head the 
effort to completely revamp the computer systems at 
Immigration.  Avendano is known for her role in implementing 
a computerized customs clearance system at the Ministry of 
Hacienda.  Over spirited resistance from numerous sectors 
comfortable with the leaky old paper-based system for customs 
declarations, Avendano brought an automated electronic system 
to life that has greatly increased transparency and revenues 
at Hacienda (called Project TIC@).  Avendano's experience and 
track record at the Ministry of Hacienda should serve her 
well in facing similar challenges at Immigration. 
 
4.  (C) Zamora estimates that he will need between $10-15 
million to acquire an information system that will meet Costa 
Rica's needs.  The money, he believes, will come from the 
Central American Bank for Economic Integration (BCIE in 
Spanish).  Zamora told us that an arrangement is being worked 
out whereby the BCIE will buy the computer equipment and 
Costa Rican Immigration will rent the equipment from the 
bank.  Zamora said the arrangement was very much in Costa 
Rica's favor and was vital to the overall success of the 
reforms since it makes little sense to remove corrupt 
personnel while the information system remains so vulnerable. 
 
------------------------ 
And New People To Use It 
------------------------ 
5. (C) Corrupt practices are so widespread within Immigration 
that Zamora has concluded it will be cheaper and faster to 
restructure the entire personnel system (and pay severance to 
those "downsized") than to attempt to fire corrupt employees. 
 Zamora's calculation is based on Costa Rica's labor law and 
back-logged labor courts.  Interestingly, Zamora met several 
times with Albino Vargas, virulent anti-free trader and head 
of the large public sector labor union ANEP, to broker an 
agreement that will avoid lengthy lawsuits.  Zamora expressed 
surprise at how anxious Vargas seemed to avoid confrontation. 
 According to Zamora, Vargas said that he could ill afford a 
 
battle at the moment on behalf of public employees that 
"everyone knows are corrupt."  Zamora said the meeting he had 
expected to be long and heated ended quickly and pleasantly 
after he (Zamora) acknowledged that it would be cheaper to 
pay severance than to fire corrupt employees.  Severance pay 
was apparently the only deliverable Vargas needed. 
 
6. (C) Zamora said he is now working to develop new personnel 
requirements that will eliminate the most corrupt employees. 
Zamora hopes to replace up to 65 percent of his workforce in 
the coming months and invited the Embassy to identify any 
employees we have concerns about.  (Note: we had provided a 
list to the previous Director, Marco Badilla, which 
apparently was not passed on.  RSO has developed indications 
of corrupt activities by dozens of immigration officials that 
will be provided to Zamora.  End Note.) 
 
------- 
Comment 
------- 
7. (C) Zamora has shown himself to be an energetic 
interlocutor with an impressive combination of youthful 
ambition, private sector know-how, and previous government 
experience.  His willingness to admit the scope of the 
problem is as refreshing as his plan to address it is 
audacious.  Zamora has come up with creative solutions to a 
seemingly intractable institutional problem, and he has 
apparently succeeded in clearing one of the biggest hurdles 
by avoiding direct confrontation with the powerful public 
sector union.  Politically, Zamora has the full support of 
the Minister of Public Security and Vice President Casas. 
Albino Vargas's private eagerness to avoid being seen as 
defending corrupt government employees is a noteworthy 
contrast to his public stance against the US-Central 
America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) 
which will open state-owned monopolies to private 
competition.  For their part, the unions' leadership was 
embarrassed over the summer by revelations of perks for union 
members in the insurance monopoly. 
LANGDALE