WITH the elections two months away, two of themajor presidential candidates announced this week howexactly they will achieve their lofty goal of making CostaRica a better place from 2006 to 2010.Rebuilding 7,000 classrooms, creating a drug treatmentand detoxification center for at-risk youth, adding4,000 trained police officers to the national police forceand dedicating 1% of the gross domestic product (GDP) tofinancing scientific research and development are just afew of the pledges made in the National Liberation Party(PLN) platform released Wednesday morning.The Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC) respondedthat evening with promises to provide financial incentivesto companies that set up shop in rural areas; incorporatespecialized doctors in community health-care clinics(known as EBAIS); and offer low-interest, 30-year mortgagesto young people.“The presentation of a platform is one of the mostimportant acts of a democracy,” said Rodrigo Arias, campaignmanager for his brother, candidate Oscar Arias, duringthe presentation of the Liberation platform.The platform not only informs voters of a party’s proposals, allowing them to make a “reasonedand responsible” vote, but alsogives citizens a way to hold their governmentaccountable, he said.“The platform isn’t just a simplepromise; it is a contract that is signed withCosta Ricans, from which, as with anyother contract, one should only depart forvery significant reasons,” he said.THE theme of the Liberation platformis Arias’ oft-made call for CostaRica to become the first developed countryin Latin America by 2021. To do this,the platform prioritizes job creation,fighting corruption and delinquency, andimproving education and infrastructure.Both presidential candidate Arias andvice-presidential candidate Kevin Casasacknowledged the ambitious nature ofthese goals, and of the entire 155-pagedocument.“Eighty percent of this plan won’twork without improving tax collection,”Casas said.Arias, President from 1986-1990 andthe 1987 Nobel Peace Prize-winner, said aLiberation majority in the LegislativeAssembly is key to making the plan areality.It is “essential that our people notdivide their vote (by voting for legislatorsof another party),” said Arias, who leadsin the polls by such wide margins – asmuch as 25% in a recent poll – that someconsider him locked in for the next presidency.IN the Unity platform, one of themost ambitious proposals is to convoke ademocratic and pluralist NationalConstituent Assembly to develop andenact a new constitutional text, definingthe central role of local governments anddetermining the role of the presidency aswell as that of the legislature, explainedUnity presidential candidate RicardoToledo.While this is a priority, reduction ofpoverty is the number one goal of Unity,from the current rate of 21% of the populationto 10%, according to the platform.(The Liberation platform also aims toreduce poverty, but sets a goal of a 4%reduction.)Despite his party’s pledge, Toledosaid speaking of numbers is “irresponsible.”For example, “if another party saysit will build 50,000houses for the poor, Ican say I will build60,000,” he said, referringto a Liberationpromise to build55,000 houses annually.“I give concretesolutions, not numbers.”Unity says it willturn the NationalTraining Institute(INA) into aUniversity of Labor,where poor Costa Ricans would receivetechnical training in order to start theirown businesses. Toledo also promisesuniversal access to computers and theInternet in elementary schools, highschools and universities, and strengtheningbilingual education.Liberation proposes closing the educationgap by providing continuing adulteducation to poor households and offeringthem conditioned subsidies so theirchildren can stay in school until they are17 years old.“Universal, obligatory education inCosta Rica is a lie, and we all know it,”Casas said.ENVIRONMENTALLY, Liberationplans to make Costa Rica the first countryin the world to use 100% renewable energysources by 2021; prioritize sewagetreatment in the greater metropolitan area;and increase programs based on paymentsfor environmental services. Water servesas the axis of Arias’s environmental policies.The platform also proposes improvingfinancing of nationalparks, allowing themto administer theirown funds.Neither mining noroil drilling isaddressed in the platform.“It is complicated,”Casas told TheTico Times whenasked about theabsence of theseissues, declining tocomment further onthe matter.Both open-pit mining and oil drillingare currently prohibited in Costa Rica bya presidential decree signed by PresidentAbel Pacheco when he took office in May2002. However, the future of the bans isuncertain.The Unity platform includes a provisionsaying the ban on open-pit mining,with the exception of quarries, wouldcontinue if Toledo were elected. RobertoJiménez, who led the development of theUnity platform, said that although oildrilling is not specifically mentioned, thecurrent stance will not change.UNITY and Liberation formed CostaRica’s two-party political system fordecades before myriad new parties burston the scene in recent years. The strikingsimilarities of their platforms reveal whysuch minority parties may have emergedin the first place.Both parties stick to the tradition ofCosta Rican politics for the past half-centuryby insisting that their platforms are based,first and foremost, on social democracy.Both platforms propose increasingeducation spending from 6% of the GDPto 8%; both advocate approval of theCentral American Free-Trade Agreementwith the United States (CAFTA) and thecreation of more free-trade agreements;both propose offering small and mediumbusinesses low-interest loans through theDevelopment Bank; and both promotethe use of concessions as a way toimprove the country’s infrastructure.Toledo goes a step further in suggestinglocal pension funds should be invested ininfrastructure projects rather than seekinginternational financing, and Ariascommits $130 million annually in hisproposal to roadway improvements andmaintenance.THE Citizen Action Party (PAC) andits candidate Ottón Solís have alreadyreleased their platform. All three platformsare now available on the parties’Web sites at www.pac.or.cr, www.ricardotoledo.com, www.oscararias.com.The Libertarian Movement and candidateOtto Guevara said Wednesday their platformwill be released in 15 days, whilethe Union for Change and its candidateAntonio Alvarez Desanti said their platformcan be expected next week.Arias remains far ahead in the polls –capturing 45% of the vote if the electionswere held today, according to the latestCID-Gallup poll published in the daily LaRepública. However, Solís, at 20%, isgaining ground on Arias in the poll, whichonly measures those who said they arelikely to vote.The remaining top candidates –Toledo, Guevara and Alvarez – each captureabout 10% of the vote, essentially adead heat considering the 3% margin oferror of the poll.According to the poll, three out of tenadult Costa Ricans say they will choosenot to vote in the Feb. 5 elections.