Former GW professor Miguel Angel Rodriguez resigned as Organization of American States secretary general Friday afternoon amid charges that he accepted bribes as president of Costa Rica.
“I do not want to subject the organization to a cruel and protracted persecution of its secretary general, not only in the courts but also in the media. Nor do I want to subject my beloved family to the cost of a long-distance defense,” Rodriguez said in a statement released late Friday afternoon.
“It is with humility, sadness and anguish that I ask you and your countries for forgiveness for putting you through these difficult moments and I trust that my decision will enable the organization to focus its full attention on the important tasks entrusted to it,” he continued.
The current president of Costa Rica urged Rodriguez to resign because of allegations that the former professor accepted a $550,000 bribe from French telecommunications company Alcatel.
Professor Terry McCoy, a Latin America expert at the University of Florida, said the accusations might be well-founded because Rodriguez admitted to accepting money and “justified it in terms of funding his campaign for secretary general of the OAS.”
Rodriguez served as president of Costa Rica from 1998 to 2002, and joined GW in 2002 as the Elliott School of International Affairs’ Shapiro visiting professor. The Shapiro position is awarded to individuals who have experience in international affairs. Rodriguez taught two courses: Trade and Development in Latin America and Human Rights in the Western Hemisphere.
In July, Elliott School Dean Harry Harding said he was disappointed to see Rodriguez leave GW but hoped to have a relationship with him.
“He contributed a lot,” Harding said. “He is a scholar and a political leader with a broad range of international education and governance. He was one of the most successful Shapiro professors we have had at the Elliott School.”
Harding and several of Rodriguez’s former colleagues could not be reached for comment on his resignation. Tracy Schario, the University’s director of Media Relations, said GW would not comment Friday on Rodriguez’s resignation.
McCloy said he was surprised by the resignation of Rodriguez, who was elected unanimously to the OAS’s top post in June. The OAS, headquartered at 17th Street and Constitution Avenue, is a 35-country body that has helped solve Western Hemisphere flare-ups such as the Cuban Missile Crisis and the recent recall campaign against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
“It comes as a surprise, except for the last couple days,” McCoy said. “He had his supporters and what not – I think the OAS members reached a consensus which was supported by the U.S., so obviously if they had known any of this was going to happen, he wouldn’t have been their selection.”
McCoy said the most recent allegations come on the heels of a wave of scandals in Costa Rica associated with mass privatization. The current president has also been accused of corruption.
“Costa Rica has always had an image on being a country that had strong democratic institutions and was relatively free of scandal and corruption, so this is a real black mark on its reputation and will reverberate through Costa Rica’s politics,” he said.
Rodriguez’s resignation could also mean a black eye for the OAS, which is struggling to cope with crises in Venezuela and Haiti. Rodriguez had only formally held his post for two weeks.
“It’s an organization that has struggled to build influence and institutional strength, and under the past secretary general … it had succeeded in building an amount of prestige. This is going to set the organization back a lot,” McCloy said.