San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Arias Kicks Off Campaign Amid Criticism

FORMER President and Nobel Peace Prize laureateOscar Arias (1986-1990) has officially registeredas a pre-candidate for the 2006 presidential elections,but the Jan. 14 announcement was tarnishedthis week by accusations from members of his ownparty that he is vain, oligarchic and has sold out tomultinational corporations.Not only did members of the National LiberationParty (PLN) fling criticism at the man known internationallyfor championing peace and disarmament,they did so on their way out the door.In the past week, the party has seen the resignationsof various high-level and longtime members,who say the country’s oldest party – founded in 1951– has broken from any likeness to Liberation’s originalideology and dedication to farmers, teachers andthe country’s middle class.“LIBERATION is no longer a generous protector,nor a common house. If in the past the party hadlost its course, today we believe it has also lost itssoul. The first you can find again; but when the secondgoes, it goes forever,” said a statement byMariano Figueres, son of party founder and three-timePresident José “Pepe” Figueres (1948-49, 1953-58 and 1970-74), and former party secretary generalLuis Guillermo Solís, both of whom left the partySunday.This week’s resignations – the latest wave to leavethe party in recent years – came immediately after itbecame clear Arias will be the only Liberation candidatein the February 2006 national elections.Registration for pre-candidacy closed Saturday.Legislator José Miguel Corrales, Liberation’spresidential candidate in 1998 and a 40-year partymember, announced his resignation Monday.“IT is with profound sadness that I have arrived atthe conclusion that to continue in a NationalLiberation infiltrated and kidnapped by illegitimate interests and far from their original cause,would make me an accomplice to the oligarchiceconomies that historically ourparty has fought,” Corrales said in a resignationletter he read aloud to the press.Corrales told the daily La Nación the“oligarchy” to which Arias and Liberationare a part of includes “banking interests,large producers of health-related materialsand groups interested in the sale of electricalenergy.”Arias denied he has turned his back onthe party’s roots, saying on the RadioMonumental program Nuestra Voz, if(founder) Figueres Ferrer was alive “hewould support me” and “agree with me…”“It hurts, but for every person wholeaves, I hope nine or 20 or 100 return,” headded.IN addition to this week’s resignations,last month ex-President Luis AlbertoMonge (1982-1986), the party’s last livingparty founder, announced his plans to leaveLiberation. Arias said Monge’s departure“would be very unfortunate,” adding hewould ask some estranged members toreturn, according to the wire service EFE.But Monge, 78, has found particularfault with Arias, saying his successful campaignin 2003 to lift a half-century restrictionprohibiting former Presidents fromserving another term amounts to a politicalcoup.Other Arias efforts to change the politicalsystem have also sparked criticism.Corrales, Solís and Mariano Figueresobjected to Arias’ proposals to allow himto name at least 10 legislators for theLiberation party, instead of the normalfour, and to cancel the party’s conventionin June because he is the only Liberationcandidate.“HE is behaving like a steamroller. Ina modern, pluralistic party you cannotbehave like a despot,” Solís said.Solís’ decision to leave was ultimatelyprompted by party leaders’ refusal to investigatevarious cases of alleged fraud hereported during district elections in August2004. The allegation ranged from failure toproperly register voters to sacks of votesbeing opened and changed, he claims.While Solís said all the fraud was infavor of Arias, he does not believe the formerPresident was involved. Party membersare not interested in investigating thefraud because, “irregularities always occurand it would not fundamentally change theelection,” he was told.“The underlying argument, eventhough nobody said it, was that they didn’twant to stop the process, because theywanted to accelerate Oscar Arias’ coronationat the beginning of the year.”Liberation Party president FranciscoAntonio Pacheco did not respond to TicoTimes phone calls this week. AfterFigueres’ and Solís’ resignations, Pachecotold the daily Al Día he was not surprised,as they had been previously announced,and they would not affect the party norArias’ campaign as they are not “figures ofgreat national influence.”Corrales’ resignation is considered ofgreater magnitude, according to nationalpress. He also accused Arias andLiberation of abandoning pluralism and aculture of debate, in support of hegemony.Arias did not return Tico Times phonecalls this week.LESS diversity within parties could bethe name of the game in Costa Rica’s politicalfuture, according to Solís, who is alsoa political analyst and head of theUniversity of Costa Rica’s political sciencegraduate program.The exodus seen by Liberation and tosome extent by the country’s other traditionallydominant party, the SocialChristian Unity Party (PUSC), is not ashort-term trend, but rather an overall shiftin the nature of Costa Rica’s political system,Solís said.The recent corruption scandals thathave hit the two main parties – Unity andLiberation – as well as increasing similaritiesbetween those parties, has inspired ahost of new parties (TT, Nov. 16, 2004).WHEN former Liberation member(and then the only person challengingArias) Antonio Álvarez Desanti left theparty last year, he formed the Union forChange, for which he plans to run forPresident in 2006 (TT, Dec. 17, 2004).Approximately four years ago, whenOtton Solís left Liberation, he formed theCitizen Action Party (PAC), which nearlybroke Costa Rica’s two-party system in thelast presidential elections, requiring a secondelection for the first time in history.The formation of smaller parties basedon more common goals and interests willbecome increasingly widespread, analystLuis Guillermo Solís predicted. Undersuch a system, parties would form coalitionsduring election times, he said.Such a coalition among divergent partieswill be necessary to defeat Arias, hesaid. Arias is credited as the driving forcebehind the Central American Peace Planthat helped bring an end to the civil conflictsduring his presidency. While he hasreceived international recognition, he isless known for his domestic projects duringhis presidency.ONCE thought to be the guaranteedPresident in 2006, Arias’ popularity hasbeen slipping in the polls. The latestUnimer poll for the daily La Nación lastmonth show the field is wide open, with53% of voters saying they are undecided.The number of people who said theywould vote for the former President inFebruary 2006 fell from 52% in July 2004to 22% in December 2004.With so many people undecided, popularityfor two other presumed candidates,Otto Guevara of the Libertarian Movementand Ottón Solís of the Citizen Action Party,also fell, as did the number of people whowould vote for a then-unnamed Unity candidate.Former labor minister VíctorMorales is the only person to haveannounced his pre-candidacy for Unity.

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