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Chinchilla’s holiday speech peeves opposition

July 28, 2011

On Monday, Guanacaste residents celebrated the annual Annexation Day holiday amid a tense political environment. During a speech to commemorate the day the northwestern province became part of Costa Rica 187 years ago, President Laura Chinchilla asked voters to be more demanding of lawmakers in the National Assembly.

“It’s okay to ask the government for solutions, but I also see that many of your demands need to be discussed in Congress,” said Chinchilla. “Ask your lawmakers to approve those taxes,” she said in reference to a fiscal reform package that awaits approval from lawmakers.

The speech was clearly directed at legislators, many who were present at the celebration. The day became politically charged when audience members began voicing demands that the Chinchilla administration improve the economy and impose higher taxes on tourism megaprojects in the area, particularly Papagayo.

In recent days, Chinchilla’s speech has led to criticism in the Assembly, where an opposition bloc of lawmakers labeled the president as ineffective.

“She’s trying to wash her hands of the situation, and this is a very dangerous thing to do in politics,” said Assembly President Juan Carlos Mendoza, of the Citizen Action Party. “Every year, the head of the executive branch has the habit of going to Guanacaste and making promises. This year [Chinchilla] avoided acknowledging her mistakes by criticizing Congress.”

The signs of political friction come at a time when Chinchilla’s National Liberation Party (PLN) no longer controls the Assembly’s top post, the presidency. Luis Gerardo Villanueva, head of the PLN’s congressional bloc and former head of the Congress, agrees with Chinchilla’s statements that political progress depends on tax reform. “Opposition legislators are working hard to block the new tax plan, which is crucial to moving the country forward,” Villanueva said.

On Tuesday, opposition lawmakers returned the favor by saying that tax and the fiscal reform are the administration’s responsibility.

“We insisted on the need for a meeting with President Chinchilla once a month in order to set a clear direction for the country. But we have been able to see her only once since the PLN lost control of the president’s seat in Congress,” Mendoza said.

The political spat is evidence of a deepening rift between the legislative and executive branches, one plagued by a lack of communication, experts say. While members of the opposition say Chinchilla is not open to dialogue, the ruling party’s Villanueva says the opposition doesn’t want to negotiate.

In the meantime, opposition lawmakers say they have been left in the dark about the issues that Chinchilla will call up during the upcoming legislative session, which is controlled by the president. “We still have not heard from [Chinchilla], and we don’t know which issues she wants to prioritize,” Mendoza said. “It’s a shame that we have to deal with a government that refuses to open up different channels of communication with us.”

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