Though our recent interview with President Oscar Arias focused on his international disarmament initiatives, he also spoke about other issues. After nine months in office, his administration boasts promising economic figures and decent approval ratings, but the President nevertheless maintained a defensive tone – against criticisms he’s received not only at home, from the opposition Citizen Action Party (PAC), but also from Cuba, where the government published a series of articles in January attacking Arias.
TT: I’ve heard many Costa Ricans – and not just PAC members – criticize your dedication to international issues. When someone asks you how you can spend time abroad when Costa Rica has so many problems, what do you say?
OA: I can’t (choose) not to attend the inaugurations of (Presidents) Daniel Ortega, Felipe Calderón or Alvaro Uribe. Nor can I turn down President (George W.) Bush’s invitation to visit the White House. It’s nonsense, pure nonsense. My primary worry is getting Costa Rica on track again, which we’re achieving. We finished 2006 with 7% growth, one-digit inflation for the first time in 14 years, 6% unemployment – one of the lowest rates on the continent – almost $1.4 billion in foreign direct investment, more than $8.5 billion in exports. We’ve given hope back to the people of Costa Rica.
I remember when Ronald Reagan said of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, “We declared war on poverty, and poverty won.” Not us. We’re going to spend more on pensions, education, health…
Those people criticize me no matter what I do…The PAC is the party of “no, you can’t do it.”
If a regular Costa Rican citizen were to ask you, without malice, “Don Oscar, why should we care so much about Costa Rican foreign policy?” how would you answer?
I’ve always believed that to govern is to educate, right? And the Costa Rican people need education. They need to know that the Costa Rica Consensus will bring us only well being, if it’s approved someday. They need to know that if I propose to President Bush that he allow us to use our $104 million debt to the United States for education, for the protection of nature, that brings us only benefits.
Do you ever feel regret about returning to the Presidency and the reduced time that gives you for your international work?
No. My agenda is primarily domestic, as you will have noticed.
Rodrigo Arias (the President’s brother and legislative liaison) has announced reforms to the Legislative Assembly’s regulations as a major priority. However, PAC faction head Elizabeth Fonseca said this legislature shouldn’t change the rules midstream, but rather approve reforms and leave them ready for the next assembly in 2010. Couldn’t midterm changes cause confusion with the bills already under discussion?
No. That just shows her lack of will to help the country – because it’s not helping the Oscar Arias administration, it’s helping the country. What she should be doing as a faction head is demanding that I live up to my campaign promises.
Reports about you in the Cuban press have received a great deal of attention lately. [After Arias publicly criticized Cuban President Fidel Castro, that country’s Foreign Relations Ministry called Arias “a servile parrot of Yankee imperialism,” a “vulgar mercenary” and “egomaniac,” and “a vain, mediocre person sick with prominence,” among other names (TT, Jan. 6).] Did the comments surprise you?
The virulence of the language surprised me. Very, very, very harsh words. It didn’t surprise me that criticism of any kind would bother a dictatorial regime. Their opponents are in prison or in the cemetery, or in exile.
Where are all those people who raised their voices in favor of self-determination, during the years of dictatorship in Latin America? The only thing I’m asking of the Cuban government is, why don’t they ask the Cuban people what they want? It’s a very simple question. Do they want Raúl Castro to continue as President for life, or do they want to start the path toward democracy with liberty?