San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

New Legislators Seek Consensus

Meetings last week between legislative leaders and Presidency Minister Rodrigo Arias, the President’s brother, helped define the areas of consensus and disagreement within the 2006-2010 Legislative Assembly. A constitutional reform to increase educational funding from 6% to 8% of the gross domestic product (GDP) is among the top priorities, with solid support from the National Liberation Party (PLN), opposition Citizen Action Party (PAC), and Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC).

 Areas of probable disagreement between President Oscar Arias’ Liberation Party and other parties in the assembly include the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA), which PAC opposes, and new taxes, which the Libertarian Movement opposes.

Libertarians have requested the formation of a special committee with the Executive Branch to discuss “tax alternatives,” according to the daily La República.

 The party that came within a percentage point of the presidency in February’s elections seems determined to prove it’s not crying over spilt milk. Citizen Action leader and former presidential candidate Ottón Solís told The Tico Times this week that despite his party’s continuing opposition to CAFTA, PAC legislators will use dialogue, not filibustering techniques, to get their point across. Along those lines, the party’s 17 legislators invited Foreign Trade Minister Marco Vinicio Ruíz to meet with them Tuesday; they provided Ruíz with a document explaining PAC’s objections to the trade pact, which Solís maintains should be renegotiated. According to the daily Al Día, faction head Elizabeth Fonseca said at the meeting that “if CAFTA comes to a vote and we lose, we’ll be good losers.”

Tuesday also marked the first meeting of the Foreign Affairs Commission, charged with discussing CAFTA. Six of its nine members have said they are in favor of the agreement, including commission president Jeanina del Vecchio (PLN), who told the daily La Nación the commission will discuss CAFTA “without pause and without rushing.”

All legislators were in agreement last week when the assembly approved a new Special Permanent Commission on Tourism by unanimous vote. The Libertarian Movement proposed the commission, which will be in charge of reviewing and voting on all tourism-related bills.

Libertarian leader Evita Arguedas also proposed increased assembly organization after three weeks of negotiation among parties to reach consensus on the legislative agenda. In a statement, Arguedas called for faction heads to “define not only the (assembly-wide) agenda for this period of ordinary sessions, but also to advance on the agreed-upon agenda of the legislative commissions that have been installed… This should be the year of the rescue of the Legislative Assembly.”

Casa Presidencial has taken steps to streamline the legislative process as well. Marco Vargas, whom Arias named as his “ministro sin cartera,” or unassigned minister, has now become the Minister of Inter- Institutional Coordination. Casa Presidencial spokeswoman Eugenia Sancho told The Tico Times this week that Vargas will review any new bills proposed by government institutions and work with Rodrigo Arias to determine when to submit the bills to the assembly.

The Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE) is predicting low voter turnout for the municipal elections scheduled for Dec. 3, thanks to Christmas shopping, school exams and the rainy season. Tribunal president Oscar Fonseca told La Nación he expects an abstention rate of approximately 77%, similar to the turnout in 2002, the first time mayors were popularly elected.

One of the faces on the ballots that day will be a familiar one: Fernando Trejos, former Labor Minister, plans to run for mayor of Montes de Oca, east of San José, La Nación reported.

And now, for some news that really matters: President Arias still likes Nicole Kidman. In a two-page spread May 20, Al Día documented Arias’ tendency to mention the U.S.-Australian actress – during the presidential campaign, he said he wanted her to attend his inauguration, and on another occasion asked the press to stop speculating about his love life in case it should drive Kidman away. Al Día speculated about issues such as what the would-be lovebirds have in common (the daily’s conclusion: wealthy backgrounds and a love for reading) and peppered Arias with questions about Kidman.

The President praised Kidman’s beauty and elegance. “She’s won two Oscars… could she win a third?” Al Día asked.

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