San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

U.S. President Bush Reelected, Country Reacts to U.S. Vote

With thoughts of free-trade agreements andU.S. foreign policy floating in their heads, CostaRicans watched the U.S. elections Tuesday withcuriosity, concern and relief the democraticprocess appears to remain intact.While opponents of U.S. President George W.Bush expressed confusion and dismay as to howthe U.S. electorate could have reelected the controversialleader, Costa Rican government officialsextended their heartiest congratulations.“I have the certainty that with his reelection, we willstrengthen the bonds of friendship, cooperation andshared commitment to the values of liberty and democracybetween the United States of America and CostaRica,” said Costa Rica’s Vice-President Lineth Saborío,acting President while Abel Pacheco is in Brazil thisweek, in a statement Wednesday.COSTA Rican business leaders also embracedBush’s election enthusiastically, primarily for its implicationson the future of the controversial CentralAmerican Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA).The CAFTA approval process hadbeen put on hold until after the U.S. electionsbecause Democratic candidate JohnKerry had said he would ask for environmentaland labor reforms to the treaty.With the reelection of Bush, aRepublican, participating countries canresume the process of approving the tradepact in their respective legislatures,according to Costa Rican Chamber ofCommerce president Evita Arguedas.Costa Rican-American Chamber ofCommerce (AmCham) president CarlosDenton agreed.“I don’t know how much time wespent agonizing over what would happenwith CAFTA if Kerry was elected,” hesaid. “Now I am absolutely convinced thatwith the increase in GOP senators,CAFTA has the support it needs and willgo to (U.S.) Congress early next year.”The trade pact helped mobilize thevote of Latinos with U.S. citizenship whoown or work in businesses in CentralAmerica, according to RepublicansAbroad chairwoman Frances Givens.“What has really mobilized Latinos isthey realize globalization is coming, ishere, and they need access to the U.S. market,”she said.SOME of the most vocal anti-CAFTAgroups express opposition to “U.S. imperialism”in Central America. Others worryTuesday’s election results may heightenanti-U.S. sentiment abroad.“I don’t think the image of the UnitedStates has been enhanced in the eyes of theworld, here or anywhere else,” said JoStuart, president of Costa Rica’sDemocrats Abroad.Political analyst Luis Guillermo Solís,director of the political science graduateprogram at the University of Costa Rica(UCR), warned against outsider judgment.“People in the United States knowwhat is best for their country, and the decisionwas reached through a democraticprocess,” he said.Denton expressed no worries aboutstrains on relations between citizens of thetwo countries as a result of the election.“Generally, if there is a group of peopleoutside the United States who likeAmericans, (Costa Ricans) are them. Thiswon’t change one way or another. The sentimentsremain the same, and the admirationtowards U.S. businesses remains,” hesaid.SEVENTEEN-year-old Sarah Mustafa-Kamel, a duel French-Egyptian citizen,said she does not admire the U.S. electionresults, but doesn’t blame the voters.“A lot of them are closed up inAmerica and they don’t really know whatis going on outside (the United States)because the government and the mediamake them hear what Bush wants themto hear,” she said. “I can’t hate thembecause it is not really their fault, theyare convinced of what Bush is tellingthem.”Mustafa-Kamel, the daughter of adiplomat in Costa Rica, was one ofapproximately 500 guests at an electionnight party hosted by the U.S. Embassy atthe Costa Rican-North American CulturalCenter in Sabana Norte, in western SanJosé.The goal of the event was to introduceand explain the U.S. electoral process toCosta Rican government, business andcommunity leaders.A Republicans Abroad party Tuesdayin Escazú, southwest of San José, drew 50-60 Republicans. The festive atmospherewas encouraged by printouts and stickersstating, “Vote Kerry, it’s easier than thinking,”and another with a picture of SaddamHussein that said, “My candidate is JohnKerry.”The embassy-sponsored event in SanJosé was relatively free of political opinions,as most U.S. attendees – many fromthe embassy – remaining tight-lippedabout their political affiliations, and woreboth Bush and Kerry stickers.Instead, conversation was basedaround hopes this year’s election wouldn’tturn into the debacle of 2000.Many were relieved Wednesday afternoonthat the election results were knownwithout a court battle or a two-month wait,regardless of the outcome.“It was truly a tight race and Bush’svictory was more substantial than oneexpected, compared to the previous experiencein 2000,” Solís said. “But it is avery clear decision. This is how electionsare supposed to work.”THE reasons behind the decision werealso different from what one expected,Solís said.“I am really surprised by the fact thatfear and sense of vulnerability had somuch weight in this election,” he said. “Ofsecondary importance were economicvariables.”“Faith and fear are greater motivatorsthan economic justice and health care,”agreed Stuart.The role moral and religious issuesplayed in the election took analysts such asSolís by surprise.“The abortion question, the gay andlesbian question, the stem cell question …the religious coalition behind (Bush) hasbecome a very predominant factor,” hesaid. “This is particularly interesting in acountry where the church and state havehistorically been so strongly separated.But it is still too early to make any generalizations.”WHAT did not appear to be an issue inthe election was Latin America, analystsagreed.“Latin America continues to be forgottenby the Bush administration,” saidRoberto de la Osa, director of internationalrelations at Universidad Nacional(UNA).But as situations in Uruguay, Braziland Venezuela move further to the politicalleft, the region could become a thornfor Bush in his second term, de la Osasaid. Relationships with Mexico and Cubacould also complicate matters, he added.“The future of Bush in Latin Americalooks dark to me,” he said.Solís hopes the region becomes a higherpriority in Bush’s second term, not toneutralize leftist governments in the hemisphere,but because “more mutual collaboration– beyond free-trade and anti-terrorismefforts – in labor issues, the environment,economic development, could be abenefit to all,” he said.“PRESIDENTS in the first term arethinking in terms of reelection. Presidentsin the second term are thinking of theirlegacy in history,” he said. “Does he wantto go down in history with a legacy as aPresident who helped the world maturewith a broad agenda, or as one who wentfrom one war to another fighting off terrorists?”(Tico Times reporter Robert Goodier contributedto this report.)

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