San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Costa Rica creates ministry for public relations

President Oscar Arias is creating a new ministerial post to manage public relations for his administration, as a weakening economy threatens to erode his popularity.

Mayí Antillón, a National Liberation Party (PLN) lawmaker and business leader, will become communications minister in mid-January.

“2009 will be a complicated year,” she said. “The government will take measures to soften the effects of the (financial crisis), and we need to communicate those measures effectively to the press and to Costa Ricans. ”

Rising crime and a souring economy caused Arias´ approval ratings to fall to 44 percent in October from 64 percent in January, according to the polling firm CID-Gallup. Some 29 percent of those polled for the October survey said that the Arias administration has poorly managed the economy, up from 17 percent in January.

The economy has become a liability for Arias, who has prided himself on spearheading social programs that reduced poverty and unemployment during the first half of his administration. A global financial crisis will erode those social gains in the coming months, analysts say.

Arias, who enjoyed a honeymoon with the national press early in his presidency, has expressed frustration with negative coverage this year.

“Hiding good news or questioning it to the point of making it look like bad news is not just unethical, it is one of the worst traps the media can fall into,” he wr ote in a February editorial in the daily La Nación.

Antillón has long been close to the Arias administration. She championed the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA) as PLN faction head and president of the International Affairs Committee. Before her election to the Legislative Assembly in 2006, she was executive director of the Chamber of Industries.

She will be replaced by Víctor Láscarez, a former Costa Rican consul to Nicaragua, who was on the PLN list for the 2006 elections and is next in line to take a departing lawmaker´s seat. Arias fired Láscarez from his consulate post in April on charges that he smuggled foreigners into Costa Rica in a diplomatic car last year.

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