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President’s Speech Criticized

When President Abel Pacheco took officethree years ago, he declared as priorities reducingpoverty and protecting the environment.This week, moments after the President used hisannual May 1 speech to boast his progress inthese areas, critics blasted his comments, sayingthey are far from the reality Costa Rica findsitself in today.With the rising cost of living a growing concernamong Costa Ricans, sluggish job creation testingemployment rates and lack of funding threatening thenation’s national park system, representatives of thesocial and environmental sectors are asking howPacheco will use the remainder of his term to fulfillpromises made long ago.Despite the title of Sunday’s speech, “A crucial yearfor Costa Rica,” critics argue his address – given annuallyto the Legislative Assembly and the nation – lackedany passion or direction for his final year.Pacheco seemed to confirm this accusation Tuesdayafter his weekly Cabinet meeting, when he told thepress, “Next Tuesday, we will begin the fourth and final year of the administration. Thank God.”FOR nearly one hour, Pacheco used hisannual address to enumerate the successesof his administration in education, health,housing, culture, security, environment,tourism, agriculture, exports and foreigninvestment.With new and better schools, educationalcoverage has increased, he said.The infant mortality rate is at its lowest inhistory, at 9.25 deaths for every 1,000births. The country has seen three years ofgrowth in exports, foreign investment andtourism, he said.The list in its entirety failed to impressmany in or outside the assembly.“Whatever the President presented canbe challenged. It is inconsistent and doesn’tprovide an accurate view of the country,”political analyst Luis Guillermo Solís said.“Poverty is not down, because socialinequality has increased.”Legislator Ruth Montoya, a member ofthe ruling Social Christian Unity Party(PUSC), called the statistics, percentagesand positive outlook in Pacheco’s speech,“divorced from reality,” particularlyregarding the state of education.Critics also found fault with whatPacheco did not include.“The speech did not reflect the realityof the country… he did not address the lowsalaries and rising costs that have limitedthe quality of life in Costa Rica,” saidFabio Chaves, president of the Associationof Costa Rican Electricity and TelecomInstitute Employees (ASDEICE).THE President cited increased accessto education and health care in his fightagainst poverty. He said his administrationhas provided homes for the poor, andloans for the working class to build theirown homes.Despite these efforts, the poverty ratehas increased from 20.6% in 2002, whenPacheco administration started, to 21.7%in 2004 (TT, Dec. 3, 2004).Otto Guevara, presidential candidatefor the Libertarian Movement Party, challengedany progress Pacheco has made inthe war on poverty he proclaimed at thestart of his administration.“We have the highest inflation in thelast 10 years; unemployment is at 6.5%,”he said. “Sure, exports are up, but that isbecause of the efforts of the private sector…”In his speech, Pacheco blamed povertyin Costa Rica on two things: high oil pricesand the Legislative Assembly’s inability topass his administration’s Permanent FiscalReform Package, a three-year-old bill tooverhaul the country’s tax system. Hemade a direct reference to the Libertarians’efforts to derail the plan.PACHECO also turned to the LegislativeAssembly for help accomplishingone of his environmental goals – passing abill to amend the Constitution to includeenvironmental guarantees.The novel concept of constitutionallyguaranteeing conservation was celebratedby environmentalists in the months followingPacheco’s election, particularly whenhe signed the seven new constitutional articlesover to the assembly in September2002 (TT, Sept. 20, 2002).This, coupled with Pacheco’s campaigndeclaration, “We declared peace withourselves and peace with all nations; nowwe must declare peace with nature,” gavemany the hope of an “EnvironmentalPresident” (TT, May 17, 2002).Although the guarantees remain stuckin the assembly, Pacheco told his Sundayaudience he has been faithful to thatpromise for peace with nature by workingtoward environmental sustainability.He boasted his administration hasfinanced reforestation programs, protectedindigenous reserves and fought against corporatepolluting.“HE has achieved some good things…petroleum companies have been stopped,new park guards have been hired. But thecountry’s conservation system is in a crisis,and it will take more than guards. We needan integral plan,” said Luis Diego Marín,president of the Association for thePreservation of Wild Flora and Fauna(APREFLOFAS).Efforts to protect the country’s naturalresources were assisted by internationalfunding amounting to $30 million in thepast three years, Pacheco said.Partially because of this help, the countryhas successfully “eradicated illegalhunting” in Corcovado National Park onthe Osa Peninsula, he said in his speech.Marín agreed illegal hunting inCorcovado has decreased, with the help ofmore guards, but denied it has endedentirely, “and that says nothing of thepoaching that goes on in other parks in therest of the country.”ALTHOUGH Pacheco boastedefforts to stop urban pollution and protectaquifers from contamination, Marínclaimed the administration has abandonedits urban agenda.The Costa Rican Federation forConservation of the Environment (FECON)was even less friendly to the assertionsmade in Pacheco’s speech.“Don Abel’s speech… details a numberof small actions derived from the everydayworkings of a public institution that do notcorrespond to anything out of the ordinary.Pacheco’s speech reflects his good intentions,but they lay in contrast to the factthat we lack an (able) environment ministry,”said FECON president Isaac Rojas.CRITICS further charge thatPacheco’s speech offered little idea as tohis administration’s goals or vision for hisfourth year in office.“He doesn’t provide any clue as towhat is going to happen next year,”Solís said.The political analyst went on to say thatit is a missed opportunity for Pacheco.Although the President urged the passingof the environmental guarantees, aswell as a new immigration bill and ratificationof the free-trade agreement betweenCosta Rica and the Caribbean Community(CARICOM), he barely mentioned theexponentially more controversial CentralAmerican Free-Trade Agreement with theUnited States (CAFTA).He spent only seconds on CAFTA (seeseparate story), compared to several minutesadvocating fiscal reform. He did, however,urge the passing of CAFTA’s “complementaryagenda,” a series of bills thatwould strengthen Costa Rica’s ability tocompete in the international market.“By not discussing CAFTA, he furthersuncertainty rather than calming theclimate, which is getting tense,” Solíssaid. “It was an opportunity. He couldhave said things to tell us what he isthinking, honestly.”THE past year has been a tough one forthe Pacheco administration, explainedpolitical analyst Edgar Cascante.“The administration has been veryquestioned – with strikes and blockades,the fiscal plan, rising costs of living, Riteve(the controversial firm that has a concessionto perform mandatory vehicle inspections)… It has not gotten what it desiredfrom the past year. So now Pacheco is tryingto take care of his public image, whichis still doing okay, according to the polls,”Cascante said.According to a recent Unimer pollpublished in the daily La Nación, Pacheco’spublic approval rating fared betterthan his administration. He scored a 67%favorable rating, while 56% of pollrespondents say his administration is notdoing a good job resolving the country’sproblems (TT, April 29).The tone and form of Pacheco’s speechis par for the course for the presidentialMay 1 reports, the analyst added.Presidents typically focus on the positivecontributions of their administrations.Although Pacheco managed to keep hisspeech under an hour, as promised, he couldn’tkeep the attention of several legislatorsand by the end, several seats were empty.


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