San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Arias: More Hard Times Bearing Down on C.R.

President Oscar Arias has been issuing somber warnings this month about the economic outlook.

We re at the 11th hour. It s clear our growth will be half, or less than half, as before, Arias said, speaking Tuesday at a corporate responsibility award ceremony hosted by the Costa Rican-American  Chamber of Commerce.

Arias highlighted several measures that he believes will help steer Costa Rica through upcoming hard times: the recently passed law infusing national banks with credit funds, a pending loan from the Interdevelopment Bank that could improve infrastructure and his pet English program (Costa Rica Multilingual) that aims to have every student learn the language by 2017.

He even pointed to the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States as a positive for the challenges confronting the country.

Costa Rica is an unfinished product that could produce miracles for its inhabitants, Arias said. But we have to abandon the idea of perfection.

He said the economic crisis will encourage change, something the country needs.

If the world and Costa Rica can t change now, when can we? he asked.

Arias, who has sharply criticized opponents of the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States for delaying the treaty s implementation, said the nation must end its tendency to kill proposals with talk.

We talk about things interminably, even when we all agree, he said.

Last week, at the inauguration of the medical device company Hologic s second plant, Arias declared the government alone is unable to steer Costa Rica through a coming economic slowdown, encouraging the private sector to expand despite the current financial climate.

Hard times will continue for a few more months, he said. The government can take the most vulnerable people in its ship until we arrive at port. But it falls on (the private sector) to take care of the rest.

Located in Alajuela, north of San José, the Hologic plant represents a $17.5 million investment and will create about 150 jobs next year.

Arias also promised to increase monthly cash transfers next year to poor families, including his signature Avancemos program, which pays parents for keeping their kids in school.

The administration also announced that it will funnel a total of $117.5 million to three state banks to stimulate lending and try to avoid further dips in employment.

Banco Nacional and Banco de Costa Rica will receive $50 million each, and Bancrédito will receive $17.5 million.

The economy is expected to grow 3.3 percent in 2008, down from 7.4 percent in 2007. Unemployment increased to 4.9 percent in July from 4.6 percent 12 months earlier.


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