JOURNALIST, lawyer, diplomat, studentleader, statesman, peacemaker. . .Costa Rican Rodrigo Madrigal hasdedicated his adult life to furthering theprocess of Central American integration.That’s why the Secretariat for CentralAmerican Economic Integration (SIECA)last month awarded Madrigal, 80, its highesthonor – the Distinguished CentralAmerican award.Madrigal’s efforts to forge a strongerand more interdependent Central Americabegan in 1947 when he was president ofthe Federation of Students of theUniversity of Costa Rica (FEUCR).“Central America lived under very difficultconditions at that time,” explainedthe dapper, articulate former publisher.“Costa Rica was the only democracy in theregion. The other four countries were governedby military dictatorships that oftenjailed and killed students and professors. Iwas involved in protests over what washappening to our colleagues.”AFTER he graduated with degrees inlaw and journalism, Madrigal began workingas a journalist and in 1962 was nameddirector of the daily La República. Soonafter, he joined the Inter-American PressAssociation (IAPA), which representsnewspapers throughout the hemisphere,and was elected its president.As president of IAPA, he led the battleto save Nicaragua’s daily La Prensa afterthe dictator Anastasio Somoza closed itdown. Eventually, the paper was reopened.Madrigal then ventured into public service,becoming a prominent legislator. In1979, while president of the LegislativeAssembly, he was invited to several forumsin the United States to discuss the worseningsituation in Nicaragua and the rest of CentralAmerica. There, he made a bold proposal toresolve the region’s ongoing conflicts.“It was clear that Somoza was about tofall,” he explained. “I gave a speech basedon two theses. I recommended that thedemocracies of Europe and the UnitedStates form an alliance to defend and promotedemocracy in Central America. I alsorecommended implementing somethingsimilar to a Marshall Plan for CentralAmerica to relieve poverty.”THE Marshall Plan, named for U.S.Secretary of State Gen. George Marshall,was the highly successful initiative of theUnited States for the reconstruction ofEurope after World War II. The UnitedStates poured more than $13 billion in economicand technical assistance to aid therecovery of European countries ravaged bythe war.Madrigal’s proposal aimed to do thesame to help improve living conditions ofCentral Americans, whose countries hadbeen devastated by decades of dictatorship,economic exploitation and civil wars.After Madrigal’s legislative term endedin 1982, then-President Luis AlbertoMonge (1982-1986) named Madrigal specialenvoy in charge of representing CostaRica in Washington D.C.Madrigal used the position to continueattempting to convince U.S. officials tosupport his vision for Central America.Although eventually a commission wascreated to study the matter, the results were“modest,” he said.IN 1986, then-President Oscar Arias(1986-1990) appointed Madrigal ForeignMinister, giving him the chance to assumean active role in trying to resolve longstandingconflicts that threatened theregion. He was a key player in negotiatingand drafting the Arias Peace Plan, whichhelped bring peace to the isthmus andearned Arias the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize.While he was minister, Madrigalstepped in for a second time to rescue LaPrensa – this time shut down by theSandinistas. After several meetings, heconvinced Sandinista leader Daniel Ortegato change his opinion.“As I have said in the past, history situatedus here in this position,” Madrigalsaid. “We, the countries of CentralAmerica, were born together in history.This is something we cannot ignore. Wecome from a same colonial process, webecame republics at the same time, developedthe same agricultural products, wespeak the same language.“It’s pointless to attempt to ignore thisreality,” he said. “We have to work togetherto improve the situation of CentralAmerica. We can’t ignore our neighborcountries. In that sense, I have been a smallbuilder of the idea of Central Americanintegration.”THAT’S his main goal as president ofthe non-profit Foundation for Peace andDemocracy (Funpadem), which he helpedcreate in 1988. The San José-based foundationworks to build a Central Americathat can offer better conditions to its morethan 30 million inhabitants, using cooperationand social justice as the base of development.In addition to his work toward CentralAmerican integration, Madrigal is a familyman, devoted to his wife Miriam, his childrenand many grandchildren. His hobbiesinclude playing tennis and stamp collecting.Speaking with characteristic intensityand occasional flashes of humor, Madrigalshared his ideas during a recent interviewwith The Tico Times. Excerpts:TT: What have been the most significantadvances in the Central Americanintegration process since the peaceaccords were signed?RM: The greatest advance is the reductionin the role played by the military in theregion’s governments. Before the peaceaccords, the President was usually a general.These are governments that wentagainst the will of the people.This has completely changed. Today,there are legitimately elected governmentsin all Central American countries, whichwon elections that are accepted by all parties.This is extremely important.However, democracy has failed to givecitizens the well-being that many hadexpected. There is still a large concentrationof wealth. Large sectors of the populationstill live in poverty.What is the main challenge for theprocess of Central American integration?To strengthen the institutions created togovern the process. Such institutionsalready exist in the form of the CentralAmerican Integration System (SICA) andits organizations. However, those institutionsneed to be made more effective.Have the recent negotiations for theCentral American Free-Trade Agreementwith the United States (CAFTA)helped regional integration?I don’t believe the free-trade agreementis a panacea; it won’t solve all the problems.It is not an integration treaty. It is a treatybetween the United States and five CentralAmerican countries. (The DominicanRepublic joined the agreement later).In the end, each country fought individuallyfor what it could.It’s possible the agreement, whenapplied, will help the integration process.Is a Marshall Plan for CentralAmerica still a viable alternative?No. I proposed that in 1979, and a lothas changed since then. There’s very littlewill to implement such a plan. The UnitedStates is focusing its resources on the waron terror and the European Union hasacquired obligations to assist its 10 newmembers (TT, May 1).What is the state of press freedom inCentral America?For a man who has been linked to thepress all these years, the situation is verypositive. If we conduct a detailed analysis,we would find reforms need to be made topress laws to strengthen certain rights.However, I believe there has beenmuch improvement in recent years. Maybenot in laws or institutions, but in people’sobligation to respect the press. It’s nolonger acceptable to act arbitrarily anddestructively against the press.What are the main challenges formerPresident Miguel Angel Rodríguezwill face as secretary general of theOrganization of American States(OAS)?The secretary general does not have thepower to do what he wants. He can issueproposals and serve as a leader from thisposition, but must obtain member support.It’s too early to tell if don Miguel Angelcan give new direction to the OAS, whichhas lost strength during the years.Since the creation of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), thebank has been the entity that has played theclearest role in the region’s social economicdevelopment, given the impressiveamount of funding it controls. This hasreduced the OAS’ importance.The OAS originated because of theUnited States’ need to have an entity thatgrouped American countries against doctrinesthat threatened democracy –Nazism, Communism, etc. It was convenientto have an organization that challengedthese currents.With the exception of Cuba, all LatinAmerican countries are now democracieswhere the OAS no longer has to wage abattle.Also, oftentimes, such as during theSalvadoran and Guatemalan peaceprocesses, the United Nations handlespeace processes. The OAS has beenreduced in its participation and missions.We’ll have to see if don Miguel Angelcan change this.How would you describe the directionthe United States’ foreign policy hastaken?I believe it’s been a modest changeimposed by the circumstances. I believethe lack of appreciation for multilateralismhas not been completely overcome. TheUnited States decided it could not coverthe entire military, monetary and humancost of the operation in Iraq, and decided torequest assistance.Iraq proved itself a failure on severalfronts. Contrary to what was expected, theIraqi people did not receive U.S. troops asliberators. The war was justified as asearch for weapons of mass destruction,which weren’t found. It aimed to teachabout respect for human rights, unfortunatelythe opposite has been confirmed –horrible and immoral torture.The Middle East has not calmed down.This is in part because of (U.S. PresidentGeorge W.) Bush’s consistent and unconditionalsupport for Israeli Prime MinisterAriel Sharon, a definite hardliner.How might U.S. foreign policychange if Democratic Sen. John Kerrywins November’s presidential election?There would definitely be changes.However, I don’t think Sen. Kerry has beendefinitive and firm in terms of initiatives orprojects, which could shed light on how hisforeign policy will be.At times he has seemed inconsistent onsome issues. I don’t know if Kerry will beable to take actions to correct the Bushadministration’s policies.