PRESIDENT Abel Pacheco made an about-face regarding his stance on the war in Iraq Wednesday, claiming he never supported it to begin with.When asked by The Tico Times whether his decision to support the war had changed in light of the recent scandal over prisoner abuse by U.S.-led forces, the President responded, “You are misinformed. I never supported any war.”President Pacheco’s decision to offer “moral support “for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq led to Costa Rica being named among the “coalition of the willing” – the list of nations that supported the invasion, though it was not sanctioned by the United Nations, the European Union or NATO.THOUGH opponents said being named in the list violates Costa Rica’s policy of neutrality, Pacheco maintained his position.He defended his stance by quoting former President Luis Alberto Monge (1982-86) as saying “When confronted with terrorism, Costa Rica cannot remain neutral.” The President declared his support soon after the war began last year, both in an official press release and a full-page ad in the daily La Nación newspaper (TT, March 28, 2003).“We are supporting the cause of freedom, and opposing terrorism,” Pacheco said last year. “On one side there is good, and on the other side there are terrorists.” THE decision is perhaps the most controversial of Pacheco’s administration.An injunction against him was filed before the Supreme Court because of the decision, which received sharp criticism from Ombudsman José Manuel Echandi, who said Pacheco had violated 15 laws and international treaties ratified by Costa Rica. The court has not yet ruled on the case.Thousands of Costa Ricans protested the President’s decision almost daily last year (TT, April 4, 2003).Former President and Nobel Peace Laureate Oscar Arias (1986-1990) met several times with Pacheco about his war stance.ARIAS announced publicly that it was unwise for Costa Rica to back the “illegal” war, adding that the invasion was “like beating up a drunk.”Former President Rodrigo Carazo (1978-1982) said he was “very, very pained by Pacheco’s decision to support the war,” and claimed the President was “putting Costa Rica’s tradition of peace at stake.”Sources from within the Legislative Assembly told Tico Times’ reporters last year that Pacheco had considered asking U.S. President George W. Bush to remove Costa Rica from the list of countries supporting the war.But spokespersons from the Casa Presidencial said the Executive Branch “never even contemplated the possibility” (TT, April 4, 2003).AFTER the capture of Saddam Hussein in December of last year, Pacheco said he wished the conflict would end soon. “I hope the United States begins to think about evacuating and letting the Iraqis take over their own country,” Pacheco said (TT, Dec. 19, 2003). “I hope (the capture of Saddam Hussein) is a way to close this chapter.”Despite the controversy surrounding his support of the war, political analysts say it has not had much of a long-term impact in the country.“Because we are so far away, most of our political agenda issues are home on a different track,” said Luis Guillermo Solís, a political analyst at the University of Costa Rica (UCR).THOUGH thousands of Costa Ricans protested last year, fewer than ten people attended a protest march commemorating the one-year anniversary of the war’s beginning (TT, March 26).However, protestors in Costa Rica brought up the subject again during a massive march May 1 in San José, recreating images of torture scenes published by the media and demanding an end to the war in Iraq.During his farewell speech on Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador John Danilovich, soon to leave Costa Rica (see separate story), thanked Costa Rica for its support in the war on terror, although he did not specifically mention Iraq.“Costa Rica continues to be a steadfast ally, friend, and most importantly, a partner in the fight against terrorism,” Danilovich said.
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