President Oscar Arias’ travels through Europe this week and last have taken him to some varied destinations – from a stadium packed with screaming soccer fans, to art galleries, to the Vatican. Along the way, he promoted Costa Rican trade and tourism and also international issues he’s championed for years, such as disarmament.
After visiting Geneva, Switzerland, to attend the United Nations’ Ministerial Summit on Armed Violence and Development and, the next day, the annual conference of the International Labour Organization (ILO) – where he urged participants to support debt forgiveness for countries that reduce their military spending (TT, June 9) – Arias headed to Germany, where he met with Chancellor Angela Merkel and watched the Costa Rican National Soccer team lose to Germany 4-2 in a respectable performance (see separate story).
During his visit, Arias said he’s confident that German investment in and trade with Costa Rica will increase; now, Germany is Costa Rica’s third most significant trade partner, following the United States and the Netherlands.
On Monday, Arias headed to Italy, where he said his administration is considering opening the state petroleum monopoly as a means to spur economic growth. The National Oil Refinery (RECOPE) has had the monopoly since 1993.
Arias has already set as a priority legislation to lift the monopolies of the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE), which controls the telecommunications sector, and National Insurance Institute (INS); opening the telecom and insurance monopolies is among the requirements of the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA), passage of which is another of Arias’ priorities. The President said the Executive Branch will submit the ICE and INS bills within the next few months, with a similar bill for RECOPE to follow.
In Florence on Tuesday, Arias turned his attention to art, showing support for two Costa Rican artists. He visited the famed Uffizi Gallery to present a self-portrait by painter Rafael Hernández and take a guided tour, then attended the inauguration of a sculpture exhibit by Jorge Jiménez. Forty large marble sculptures by Jiménez have been distributed throughout the city and in the famed Boboli Gardens.
Arias is scheduled to return to Costa Rica on Sunday. During the final days of his trip, Arias was expected to attend an audience with Pope Benedict XVI, scheduled for today; return to the theme of trade and investment in Costa Rica during meetings in Mantua with a group of Italian business executives; and meet in Rome with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, Vice-Prime Minister Francesco Rutelli and Mayor Walter Weltroni.
Costa Rican Cabinet members who accompanied Arias along the way included his Presidency Minister, brother and spokesman Rodrigo Arias; Foreign Relations Minister Bruno Stagno; Inter-institutional Coordination Minister Marco Vargas; Tourism Minister Carlos Benavides; and Trade Minister Marco Vinicio Ruíz. Labor Minister Francisco Morales also traveled to Europe and made a presentation before the ILO’s Commission on the Application of Standards in Geneva June 9.