San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Legislators Accomplished Little

The Legislative Assembly accomplished relatively little in 2007 because lawmakers spent much of their time discussing a controversial free-trade agreement with the United States and a dozen bills related to its implementation.

Though they did approve laws to crack down on domestic violence, promote organic agriculture and authorize funds for the 2008 budget, most of the laws passed during the year dealt with non-controversial, administrative issues.

“It was a legislative agenda full of little things that did not address the great human development needs,” said Ronald Alfaro, a political scientist who worked on the annual State of the Nation report released in November.

There were also a few party shakeups, as one legislator left the Libertarian Movement Party (ML) to become an independent, and two Citizen Action Party (PAC) legislators resigned from Congress altogether.

Legislators focused mostly on bills required to implement the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA), a priority for the administration of President Oscar Arias.

After the treaty was passed in a nationwide referendum in October, legislators devoted the vast majority of their time discussing the 12 laws collectively referred to as the “implementation agenda.” The most controversial would open the state telecommunications and insurance monopolies to competition. Other bills would strengthen these sectors, change patent and copyright laws, and crack down on corruption.

Debate over these proposed laws was tense. In February, CAFTA opponents clamored for two pro-CAFTA legislators to give up their right to vote on certain bills because of conflicts of interests. The legislators were Evita Arguedas, a partner in a telecommunications law firm, and Mayí Antillón, faction head for the National Liberation Party (PLN), whose lawyer husband represents pharmaceutical companies.

In March, at the recommendation of the Government Attorney’s Office, Arguedas withdrew from the legislative commission discussing the telecommunications law. By year’s end, however, the office had given a nod to her intention of voting on the bill on the main floor of Congress. The office found no conflict for Antillón.

Though CAFTA dominated the agenda, the assembly did manage to push through a few other pieces of important legislation.

A law that penalizes violence toward women finally took effect in June after an eight-year journey through the assembly.

Under the law, a man gets 20-35 years in prison for murdering his partner, 12-18 years for raping her, and up to two years for repeatedly insulting her. The law’s most vocal opponents were Libertarian legislators, who said it unfairly favors women.

A second major piece of legislation passed this year promotes organic agriculture through tax breaks, credit and other forms of support for organic farmers. Under the law, which passed unanimously in June, small- and medium-sized organic farmers get a 10-year property and income tax exemption, as well as tax breaks on importing farm equipment and machinery.

Legislators also passed a $6.7 billion budget for 2008. The budget represents an 11.6% increase in spending in real terms over the 2007 budget. The biggest costs for the government were education, pensions, public works projects and the public debt.

The year also saw several legislative shakeups.

In June, Citizen Action Party (PAC) legislator Nidia González resigned in response to a “mistake” that sparked controversy in mid-2006. The party’s ethics tribunal began investigating González after the Northern Zone rice grower admitted she could benefit from a bill she had supported that would return certain profits of the National Rice Corporation (CONARROZ) to rice producers.

She was replaced by lawyer Sergio Alfaro.

Later in the year, PAC legislator Sadie Bravo resigned to help her daughter, who gave birth to a second child in the United States. Bravo was replaced by Patricia Romero, a lawyer.

In September, the only female lawmaker for the Libertarian Movement party, Evita Arguedas, left the party to become an independent lawmaker, citing personal and political differences with her Libertarian colleagues.


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