Though Costa Rican President Oscar Arias met Tuesday with his counterparts from the rest of Central America to work towards for regional integration, he showed a certain willingness to step apart from the pack, criticizing the European Union’s prerequisites for free-trade talks and reiterating Costa Rica’s unwillingness to join the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN).
“It seems to me (the E.U.) attitude is a little arrogant, to tell us: we only negotiate under these conditions,” Arias told the press at the summit, referring to the requirements the Union laid out at the Fourth E.U., Latin American and Caribbean Summit, held in Vienna, Austria, in May. “Eventually… I’m going to speak with the Europeans.”
According to Arias, the Union’s requirement that Central American countries advance in the regional integration process, particularly by finalizing the Central American Customs Union, is unrealistic.
“They (shouldn’t) ask us to build in a few years what they built in more than half a century,” he said.
Negotiations for a free-trade agreement with Europe are expected to begin at the end of this year (TT, May 19).
At Tuesday’s summit, Costa Rica assumed the presidency of the Central American Integration System (SICA), which rotates between member countries every six months, taking over from Panama. In a speech before the assembled leaders, Arias said priorities during his country’s term at the helm include making progress toward the Customs Union; creating a SICA Comptroller to improve distribution of the system’s funds; and supporting measures to reevaluate the integration process.
The leaders at the summit resolved to form a special commission to study proposed reforms to the Central American Parliament and Central American Court of Justice, both of which have been questioned for their alleged inefficiency. Costa Rica does not belong to either organization and, as a result, has been criticized as anti-integrationist (TT, July 2, 2004). The country has also held back from eliminating its Immigration and Customs border stations, despite its nieghbors’ advances in this process (TT Jan. 28, 2005).
After meeting with Guatemalan Vice-President Eduardo Stein to discuss the parliament, Arias told reporters there’s no possibility Costa Rica will join the organization. Parliament members include former Central American Presidents and Vice-Presidents who become members automatically upon leaving office and are given diplomatic immunity.
“It has no justification because it only makes recommendations, it has a very high economic cost, and it’s served as a refuge for corrupt politicians,” Arias said. Stein said Guatemalan President Oscar Berger and Honduran President Manuel Zelaya are considering changes to the parliament, including eliminating automatic membership for ex-Presidents, and requirements that leaders who choose to serve in the parliament forgo immunity and work without a salary.
However, Arias said Costa Rica will maintain its position even if such changes are made.
Also at the summit, the leaders participated in the groundbreaking ceremony for a power transmission line for the Central American electricity interconnection system, according to a statement from the Inter-American Development Bank. The 1,830-kilometer line will link to six national power grids – of Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. The bank is financing the project with $170 million in loans to the six participating countries, the statement said.