San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

President Arias Visits Guatemala

President Oscar Arias visited Guatemala this week for a meeting of the Central American Integration System (SICA).

The Presidents of Central American inaugurated the XII International Anti-Corruption Conference in Guatemala City Wednesday, and then traveled to the famed archaeological site of Tikal to discuss reforms to regional integration plans.

At the anti-corruption conference, Arias and the Presidents of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Panama vowed to rid the region of corruption by 2010. The countries signed a similar agreement 10 years ago, said Guatemalan President Oscar Berger, but “today, Central America reaffirms our commitment to fight corruption and double our efforts toward transparency.”

Going into the integration summit, Arias stood alone on more than one issue up for discussion. Costa Rica is only country in the region that does not belong to the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN), founded in 1991 and slated for reforms; Arias has repeatedly said it has not contributed to the region’s development, and criticized the immunity it affordsPresidents and Vice-Presidents when theyleave office and automatically become members of the organization. Reforms considered at the summit included modifying this automatic inclusion process.

Another bone of contention: the negotiation process for an Association Agreement with the European Union, expected to start early next year. All of the Central American heads of state except Arias have agreed to the selection of Nicaraguan Foreign Minister NormanCaldera as the coordinator of negotiations.

Caldera told the daily La Nación thatNicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras signed on in support of hisnomination in July – when in Colombia for the inauguration of President Uribe, an event Arias also attended – and Panama, the Dominican Republic and Belize signed on afterwards.

Arias, however, maintains the countries should use the rotating spokesman system the region employed when negotiating the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA) in 2003.

“We’ll see if one country can convince seven countries that already signed an agreement,” Caldera said recently of Arias’ opposition, according to the daily.

A statement Wednesday from Costa Rica’s Casa Presidencial indicated that the heads of state are now evaluating the rotating spokesperson model, with further discussion to take place Dec. 15 when the heads of state meet again in San José.

Negotiations with the European Union are scheduled to begin in January.

Today and tomorrow, Arias is scheduled to participate in a meeting with three fellow Nobel Peace Prize-winners – Rigoberta Menchú (1992), Betty Williams (1976) and Jody Williams (1997) – and 5,000 young people in the capital. The event will honor the 10th anniversary of the Guatemalan Peace Accords, which ended the country’s civil war Dec. 29, 1996.

Arias, who won a Nobel Peace prize in 1987 for his efforts to bring peace to Central America, is expected to return to Costa Rica tomorrow.


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