In his last public speech as Costa Rica’s president, the 69-year-old Oscar Arias called on the country to continue the push to become a developed nation.
Criticizing those who stood against him as he attempted to muster political support for the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States, and who blocked his other initiatives in the Legislative Assembly, he said, “We have let the (political) opposition … become a voice that attacks and hampers … and this benefits nobody.”
His 58-minute speech to the Legislative Assembly combined reflections on his accomplishments in office with thoughts on the country’s future.
The second-term president mentioned among his government’s accomplishments a reduced poverty rate, new infrastructure projects and increased environmental protection.
He called his economic stimulus package in the face of last year’s economic crisis the best in Latin America, and said Costa Rica was on the doorstep of the developed world.
“For the first time in its history, Costa Rica has the opportunity to become a developed nation,” he said. “But this possibility depends on whether we are capable of building a culture of political progress.”
He said the country needs to move beyond the five years it takes to approve a law and must stop the practice of the legislature submitting every bill for judicial review as a ploy to avoid making decisions.
Urging opposing forces to become less of an obstacle and more of an ally in moving the country forward, he advised putting leadership ahead of party unanimity: “As I have said many times, the search for a consensus is a negation of leadership.”
He considered his greatest accomplishment to be restoring confidence to the people of Costa Rica.
“Four years is a small amount of time to make profound transformations, but it was sufficient to achieve the most urgent change in Costa Rica: a change in attitude,” he said.
“For this reason, the return of confidence (to the people of Costa Rica) is the principal fruit that I have offered.”
Arias officially steps down on Saturday, May 8, when he hands the reins of power to the country’s first female president, Laura Chinchilla.