Oscar Arias

Costa Rica’s Open-Pit Gold Mine

August 9, 2010

by Alex Leff

Opponents of open-pit mining in Costa Rica have been delivered yet another blow. After their hopes had risen that recently elected President Laura Chinchilla would strike down any attempt to dig here, the Chinchilla administration refused to repeal an executive decree issued by her predecessor, Óscar Arias, green-lighting a gold mine project near the border with Nicaragua.

The Crucitas gold mine has caused contention for years. Environmentalists claim that the mine would cause serious harm to the land and to families in surrounding villages if it goes forward. Nicaraguan authorities are also up in arms over the possible danger an open-pit mine near its Rio San Juan could cause. Concerns focus not only on clearing forest but also on the use of cyanide in open-pit mining. Environmentalists have said that a cyanide spill would cause irreversible harm.

But then President Arias surprised the country’s fervent environmental community and neighbors by decreeing in October 2008 that the Crucitas mine is of national interest.

The project went forward, chopping down trees that conservationists note are vital to endangered species such as the great green macaw. Then a high court halted the project while it mulled over complaints. The project remains at a standstill, tied up in courts amid a pile of environmentalists’ legal action.

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Tags: Oscar Arias, Costa Rica, Laura Chinchilla

Chinchilla’s Cabinet Appointments Demonstrate Costa Rica’s Continuity

March 18, 2010

by Alex Leff

Laura Chinchilla has selected a few good men and women to fill out her cabinet ahead of her May 8 inauguration as Costa Rica's president, choosing from within the ranks of outgoing President Oscar Arias' government as well as borrowing officials from past administrations.

On Tuesday, the president-elect said women will be in charge of “80 percent of national production:” Mayi Antillón, Arias' communications minister, will be the economy minister; Anabel González, who served as vice minister of foreign trade from 1998-2001, will now be the foreign trade minister; and Gloria Abraham, currently an adviser to the agriculture minister, will replace her boss.

Last week, Chinchilla named José Marino Tijerino to be public security minister, a post that in recent years has had to bear an increasing load as the country finds its peaceful image being tarnished by a crime problem. Tijerino is seen as a veteran in Costa Rica's crime fight, having served as chief prosecutor in the early 1990s, at the same time that Chinchilla was public security vice minister under then-President José María Figueres Olsen.

Mario Zamora, President Arias' immigration chief, will be moved to the seat of Tijerino's number two.

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Tags: Oscar Arias, Laura Chinchilla, Mayi Antillón, Gloria Abraham, José Marino Tijerino

Truth or Dare in Costa Rica’s Presidential Campaign

February 1, 2010

by Alex Leff

Costa Rica's presidential campaign has become quite tense in the lead-up to the February 7 elections, but it also has turned rather goofy.

One of the latest displays of wackiness took the form of a lie detector test, which several leading candidates actually agreed to take on national television.

I was eating dinner at a Japanese restaurant here on the east side of San José, when right-wing candidate Otto Guevara popped on the restaurant's TV screen strapped to a polygraph machine.

"Have you profited in any way while carrying out your duties for which you could be legally charged?" a moderator asked Guevara, 49, of the Libertarian Movement. "Have you lied to the media during your election campaign?" she asked.

Guevara replied "No" to both, and the machine gave him a green light—Canal 7 told viewers he was telling the truth. The front-runner in the campaign, National Liberation Party's (PLN) Laura Chinchilla, refused to participate in the televised interrogation. Guevara is in second place in the polls, hovering at or under 30 percent. Not to miss the opportunity to capitalize on the polygraph test, he bought a two-page spread in national newspapers that boasted he is the only honest candidate in the race.

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Tags: Oscar Arias, Costa Rica, Laura Chinchilla, Otto Guevara, Luis Fishman

Costa Rican President's Approval Rating Lowest on Record

January 19, 2010

by AQ Online

Costa Ricans’ confidence in the administration of President Óscar Arias has reached its lowest level in four years according to a poll released by Unimer Research International. An approval rating index maintained by the firm showed a significant drop in the first month of 2010 to 1,697 from 2,260 in November 2009. A drop in voter satisfaction was recorded in a range of areas from the government’s management of public funds to the president’s own performance.

The results come three weeks from Costa Rica’s February 7 elections during which Arias’ successor will be decided. Polls indicate that Laura Chinchilla, who resigned as vice-president in the Arias administration to run for president, is the leading candidate. However, it is likely she will face a runoff election against presidential hopeful Otto Guevara. It seems unlikely that Ms. Chinchilla will suffer due to her past association to the current administration, as both candidates are using the growing dissatisfaction with President Arias to bolster their own campaigns.

Tags: Oscar Arias, Costa Rica Elections, Laura Chinchilla, Otto Guevara

Honduras: Sides Harden, Logic Breaks Down, and Tragic Silliness Begins

July 26, 2009

by Christopher Sabatini

Although President Manuel “Mel” Zelaya prefers to wear a white hat, there are no men in white hats in the escalating situation in Honduras. Unfortunately, now with the military’s statement supporting Costa Rican President Óscar Arias’ seven-point plan to resolve the impasse between the ousted President and the de facto government that replaced him, the implication is that again the men in the barracks will save the day.  But by announcing its support and, in effect, contradicting the position of de facto President Micheletti, the military is again insinuating itself in politics and serving as a political broker.  It was dangerous and wrong when it did it on June 28th, and it’s dangerous now.

As I wrote here earlier, de facto President Micheletti’s refusal to accept President Arias' San José Accord was a serious mistake. The stumbling block was the provision to allow President Zelaya to return to Honduras to a shorter mandate and with severely curtailed powers in a coalition government.  Micheletti stated that he would not allow Zelaya to return to Honduras and then never budged.

The intransigence led to the breakdown in the talks and drove Zelaya—never a cool head to begin with—out of a sensible, moderate process and back into the arms of Presidents Chávez of Venezuela and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua. Zelaya swore he’d return to Honduras and on Friday led a caravan and a television crew briefly over the Nicaraguan border into Honduras then flitted back across the border to set up a camp on the Nicaraguan side.  To anyone (myself included) who supported the idea that the events of June 28th were a coup and that Zelaya should be returned in a limited capacity, the clownishness of his actions made his stunt Friday and Saturday tough to watch.

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Tags: Oscar Arias, Coup in Honduras, President Zelaya, Honduran armed forces, Micheletti

Arias Led Mediation for Honduras, Close but No Cigar…Yet

July 21, 2009

by Christopher Sabatini

In a logical world, President Oscar Arias’ seven-point plan for resolving the Honduran impasse is the best—and perhaps only—way forward after the Honduran coup. In many ways it reflects the things that we have promoted on this website: move up the date of the elections (in Arias’ plan to October), allow President Zelaya to return with a significantly curtailed role in a coalition government, an amnesty for the charges against him pre-June 28, and a commitment by the ousted president not to press for re-election. Pretty straightforward.

And it almost got the parties there—except for the de facto government of former Congressman Micheletti which has dug in its heels, refusing to allow the ousted president to return. There are three major problems in their position, though: 1) it only deepens Honduras’ isolation; 2) it will only serve to radicalize Zelaya and the alliance of the more extremist presidents who support him; and 3) the coup itself is not as popular as the de facto government wants to portray it to the outside world. (Which really shouldn’t matter anyway because it was, in fact, a coup even if orchestrated by institutions.) The truth is that coups have received popular support. Yes, even the Chilean coup of 1973 was supported by a broad segment of the population. That didn’t make it right, though—nor certainly did it justify the bloodshed that followed. (This is a side note to those who want to argue that this wasn’t a coup: there have been plenty of coups that haven’t followed the classic playbook and have enjoyed both popular and institutional support. But they were still coups.)

Concerning the first, on Monday, July 20, 2009, the European Union announced that it was suspending $92 million in assistance. This is on top of the $270 million World Bank loan and $200 Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) loan that have been put on hold, the U.S. assistance to the Honduran military and the more than $180 million in U.S. bilateral assistance that hangs in the balance. And there’s the suspension from the OAS, the condemnation of the UN, and the pulling of most foreign ambassadors from Tegucigalpa—and Honduras looks like it’s become a political pariah and economic loner. There’s also the issue of remittances, which represent 25 percent of Honduras’ meager GDP. If the de facto government hews to the original timetable for elections in November and the transfer of power in January, it’s going to leave its people pretty high and dry. And let me venture a guess here: at that point for most Hondurans, living in the third poorest country in Central America and the Caribbean, the coup and the government that came in its wake are going to look a heck of a lot less inspiring.

Concerning the second, as the clock ticks and Zelaya’s return is delayed—under any form—the new-found populist is threatening again to go back to the silliness and rhetoric orchestrated by his puppeteer Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. We’ve already seen this before with the irresponsible (though unfortunately ultimately deadly) stunt he performed on July 5 when he tried to return and the military blocked his way. When that failed he returned to a more sensible fold: the U.S. and a mediated solution through Arias. As the possibilities appear to be closing down, Zelaya is returning to his position of going back to Honduras as soon as possible with or without an agreement. Maybe it’s just a—misguided—negotiating tactic. But it does indicate that he could resort again to the destructive, polarizing and deadly tactics of before. 

The de facto government shouldn’t have to yield to such irresponsible posturing. But it demonstrates that beyond the Micheletti government’s unconstructive intransigence the success of any negotiated solution will depend on Zelaya accepting a symbolic return to power. Ultimately, that’s all he’ll get—a shortened term and constrained powers—but it will be what is necessary to restore some modicum of institutionality to Honduras and demonstrate the hemisphere’s and international community’s capacity to enforce constitutional processes. But is Zelaya enough of a stateman to do this?

I wouldn’t hold my breath, especially as time goes on. But this should be put to the test for world public opinion to see. It all boils down to whether Zelaya prefers to be seen as a responsible symbol of democracy for the world community or a political martyr. The latter would allow him to someday stage a comeback as the wronged advocate of the poor ousted by the elite. This may seem like a stretch now, but should things go south in the next administration, with the financial and rhetorical support of President Chávez, Zelaya could return as a populist symbol. In other words, the opposition’s intransigence today could lead to their being steamrolled later, as Zelaya roars back as a victim of the past and champion of the poor. Letting him return now in a defanged form will help head this off. 

Third, as unpopular as President Zelaya was in office, the coup has split the country down the middle. At the time of his removal, President Zelaya was enjoying a measly 25 percent approval rating. Today according to polls, 46 percent of the population opposes the coup. Should Honduras’ economic and political isolation drag on, support for the coup will only decline further. Some governments and observers have even the questioned the legitimacy of the de facto government to convene new elections. Worse case scenario? Without a compromise that brings in a more legitimate government to oversee the November or October elections (whenever they’re held) Honduran citizens may be looking at another four years of isolation. Unlikely, but a disaster should it happen. 

In short, for all the flaws of President Zelaya (and there are many) the short-(and even medium-) term future of Honduras hinges on these negotiations. There are plenty of reasons for either side to dig in its heels. But neither Honduras’ future, the interests of its citizens, or the rule of law internationally would be served by their doing so. Let’s just hope for the sake of their country they do accept something close to what’s on the table now.

Tags: Oscar Arias, President Zelaya, Honduras coup, Honduras negotiations

Arias Mediation Efforts - Not U.S. Sanctions - Offer Best Hope for Honduras

July 7, 2009

by Eric Farnsworth

Secretary of State Clinton’s meeting today with deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was intended to show the support—visibly—of the United States for a return to the status quo ante, but it also served a more important purpose: by getting Zelaya on board with the idea of allowing Costa Rica’s President and Nobel Laureate Oscar Arias to mediate the constitutional crisis, the United States buys time to consider all appropriate options and actions.  Cooler heads can now prevail, because we’ll presumably be spared additional acts of the theater of the absurd that saw Zelaya circling high above Tegucigalpa with a camera crew from Venezuela’s TeleSur on board and a number of other regional actors on a chase plane in tow. Repeated attempts to return would have been polarizing and unhelpful, potentially adding to the violence on the ground.  And really, do Hondurans of any political stripe need to be lectured about the practice of democracy by the Presidents of Ecuador, Nicaragua, Paraguay, or Argentina

Now, everyone can take a deep breath and attempt to resolve the crisis away from the Tegucigalpa tinderbox.

That includes the United StatesA number of loud voices have already been heard urging that the United States should attempt to isolate Honduras, cutting off trade, aid, education, military, and other benefits beyond the pause that has already been announced. Others suggest that individuals in the de facto Honduran government should have their U.S. visas yanked.  Some even go so far (quietly) as to suggest that Temporary Protected Status for Hondurans living in the United States should be suspended to pressure the Honduran economy through reduced remittances and the forced return of migrants. 

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Tags: Oscar Arias, Honduras, Hillary Clinton, Manuel Zelaya, military coup, Roberto Micheletti