San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
The Solís Administration

Solís outlines plans for Costa Rica in first Washington appearance as president

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Luis Guillermo Solís made his Washington debut as Costa Rica’s 47th president Thursday morning, speaking on an array of issues ranging from honesty in government to Central American integration and the fight against drug trafficking.

Some 130 people packed a small conference room at the Inter-American Dialogue – a Washington-based think tank – to hear the hour-long speech by Solís, who is wrapping up his first trip to the United States since his inauguration as president one month ago.

“We need to strengthen the internal market in order to level the economy, which has been running only on one engine,” said the former history professor and Fulbright Scholar. “We are defining that market as not only Costa Rica – which is very small – but the Central American and Caribbean market as well. I’m paying a lot of attention to the Central American integration system and new opportunities in the Caribbean, and this is going to be one of the foreign policy priorities of my administration.”

Solís, 56, is hoping to create jobs following announcements in April by Intel and Bank of America that they would dismiss 1,500 workers each. Intel, the world’s largest computer chip maker, accounted for 14 to 20 percent of Costa Rica’s total exports, depending on which government agency is cited. (The Costa Rican Investment Board, or CINDE, says 14 percent while the Foreign Trade Ministry says 20 percent.)

“Prior to my swearing-in, Intel and Bank of America decided to partially leave the country. There was some question regarding Costa Rica’s capacity to compete, so I committed myself to an early trip to the U.S. to talk to investors and assure them of our commitment,” he said, adding that the California-based giant would, in fact, expand its San José testing facility, hiring 350 people in the process.

“This is a landmark decision that takes investments to Costa Rica, moving from the manufacturing of highly sophisticated products to R&D,” said Solís, who met with top Intel officials in Santa Clara, California, before arriving in Washington.

Accompanying Solís to the Inter-American Dialogue panel were several members of his Cabinet, including Foreign Minister Manuel González and Foreign Trade Minister Alex Mora, as well as Muni Figueres, Costa Rica’s ambassador to the United States, and Gonzalo Gallegos, chargé d’affaires, a.i. at the U.S. Embassy in San José.

Strong mandate

Solís, who was introduced by Inter-American Dialogue President Michael Shifter, was inaugurated May 8 after a runoff election in which he won 79 percent of the vote.

“I was given a very strong mandate, but was also given the responsibility to use it in the context of a very divided Congress, and that was not accidental,” Solís told his audience, which included Fortune 500 executives, State Department officials, scholars and diplomats from 10 foreign embassies in Washington. “That’s the way the people wanted it to be. I understand this to be a very strong call for social dialogue. I want to be out there. People want that from the president, and I’m convinced you can do that without being a populist in the traditional way.”

Solís, a relative newcomer to politics, also vowed to fight corruption from within.

“Clearly there is a social challenge. Inequality has grown, and we need to take care of that,” said the president, a member of the center-left Citizen Action Party. “But most significant is the question of transparency, accountability and fighting corruption, which has special weight in the Costa Rican establishment. I was elected as a nonprofessional politician. This is the first time in 60 years Costa Rica is ruled by a party that doesn’t belong to the two blocs that have traditionally governed the country.”

He added: “We have to be careful administering ethics in politics. As we all know, not everything that’s legal is ethical. You can get into a very complicated debate of where’s the frontier between ethics and legality. Having said that, I’m convinced there’s a lot to be done in terms of producing more transparency and accountability in the decision-making process.”


Let the people know

During the Q&A that followed the president’s speech, someone asked Solís what he would do differently than his predecessor, Laura Chinchilla, who ended her term of office with only a 16 percent approval rating – the lowest of any leader in the Americas.

“The first thing I’m going to do is provide Congress with a ‘state of the nation’ address, and tell them what I’ve found. It’s necessary for the people to know. President Chinchilla didn’t do that, and it was a political mistake,” Solís responded.

“The second thing we’ll do is stimulate social dialogues with different sectors of society – and I will continue doing so. We have not been able to dialogue with each other for a long time,” he said. “There’s a sensation which we have to break that everything in Costa Rica adds up to a zero-sum game, where one group gains and the other loses. That’s the wrong approach. As a mature democracy, we should be able to look for win-win agreements.”

Asked about fiscal policy, Solís said he supports switching from a sales tax to a value-added tax.

“We have tried everything in the last 15 years,” he said. “Some people think we have to do it the usual way, which is simply to tax more. But when a country has a 6 percent deficit, I think a VAT is the right approach. We’re moving forward with a proposal which I hope will be ready by the second year.”

Regarding foreign relations, Solís said he’d aggressively pursue Costa Rica’s membership in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development while expanding its influence in South America through the Pacific Alliance (which already includes Mexico, Peru, Chile and Colombia).

Still friends with China

“We also have a very intense agenda with China,” he said. “Costa Rica is the only country in Central America that has diplomatic relations with the PRC, and there are a number of projects that are important for both them and us.” The most important of those deals, he said, is a $465 million Chinese project to improve the highway that connects central Costa Rica to Puerto Limón, its main shipping port on the Caribbean.

In 2007, then-President Óscar Arias Sánchez broke relations with longtime ally Taiwan and switched diplomatic recognition to China, becoming the first and only Central American head of state to do so.

Nevertheless, China’s various economic initiatives in Costa Rica have become bogged down in controversy, ranging from improprieties associated with San José’s soccer stadium to allegations of corruption involving a $583 million contract to Chinese firm Huawei to build a nationwide 3G cellular communications network.

“We are dealing with Chinese projects we inherited from previous governments,” Solís noted. “My experience with China is limited, but I would like to say that in many ways, Costa Rica’s relationship with China has been complicated by our lack of clarity in dealing in ways which may have been misinterpreted by the Chinese.”

As the Q&A was wrapping up, The Tico Times asked Solís if his administration would follow the example of the U.S. states of Colorado and Washington and the country of Uruguay in legalizing – or at least decriminalizing – the smoking of pot.

“I don’t see marijuana legalization happening in Costa Rica in the next few years. It’s not one of the things I’d propose,” he replied. “I want the issue discussed, because I don’t want it to be a taboo in Costa Rican society. But the biggest problems we have with violent crime are not associated with marijuana, and I don’t think it’s a wise thing to do.”

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There are several serious issues in Costa Rica, of which many should concern future and continued investment in Costa Rica.

2014 rankings, Costa Rica nowhere to be found.

To whom it may concern,

I normally write on political and economic issues but I have lived and operated a manufacturing and export business in Costa Rica for over 7 years.  I have since moved to Panama for many of the following reasons.

The reasons for dropping Costa Rica in ratings barely scratch the surface.

I feel travelers and investors deserve to know the truth about the countries they plan on traveling to.  I feel they have a better chance of getting this truth from someone who does not have conflicts of interest as many blogers do.

I find Costa Rica the leader of the pack when it comes to corruption.  The surrounding countries are learning from Costa Rica and corporate America.

From my experiences in Costa Rica with the police, OIJ, court system, the government insurance company, postal service, the regulatory agency for telecommunications; SUTEL, and the ministry of health, Costa Rica is by far the most corrupt.  It makes me wonder if Transparency International is really on the up and up.  Based upon their misleading reports, it appears to me they are on the take.

How is it Transparency International can write on corruption issues the local media will not even write on out of fear of reprisals?   I know this for fact because I tried to get the media to investigate and report on some corruption issues and they have no problem letting you know of this fear.  

Yet many ill informed individuals and companies, with more money than brains, bring their hard earned cash to Costa Rica just to loose it.  Go figure.

I am able to shed light on several aspects such as:

1.  Environmental issues

2.  Rental car insurance scam

3.  Insurance company fraud

4.  Judicial fraud

5.  Police corruption

6.  Telecom Fraud

7.  Border fraud

8.  Crime in general is on the rise and unchecked.

9.  You cannot leave your home unattended ever.  This makes it difficult to even leave your home to go grocery shopping, much less leave your home unattended to go out of the country.

10.  High taxes

11.  High cost of living

12.  Costa Rica appears to be run by a bunch of selfserving children.

13.  Everything is overrun with red tape and bureaucracy, the reason why it is next to impossible to get anything done.

And much more.

a.  The media is afraid to report on government crime.  So there is little to no freedom of the press.

b.  The people of Costa Rica are afraid of their own government.

c.  Crime in the court system is rampied.  You have a judicial system designed to disenfranchise the public when it comes to cases involving the state owned insurance company which uses claims as a profit center. The courts use the system to make justice unaffordable for the common man.  Delays in the court are set up for bribes.  

A felony car accident can take between 4 to 6 years.  A civil action could take 6 or more years.  You have a system were judges are coaching each side.

There are cases where fiscalia is suppose to represent the victim, more often than not, they do not work on your case but require the victim to pay for substandard services or no service at all.  Then there is the risk of a bribe to sell you out.

Rather than insurance cases being decided by the courts, INS usually makes the final decision.  The testimony from INS carries more weight than the real facts.

The Costa Rican court system facilitates criminal activities to profit a few court employees, judges, attorneys, and in some cases the banks.  There is currently a case before the court now were a woman is being defrauded out of her home, while the criminals get away with it. 

All of Costa Rica’s media ran from the idea of investigating or reporting on this case.

d.  State owned insurance company; INS runs it’s claims department as another profit center by defrauding both the victims and the insured by using the court system to further it’s goals.  If a victim does not go along with sham, INS files insurance fraud charges against the claimant.

e.  There has never been an accounting of the departure tax money which was ear marked for highways, bridges, schools, and hospitals, of which not one colones has been spent on any of these projects.  These projects have been paid for by the Chinese or Mexico.  Where is this money?  Where is the investigative reporting on this by the media?

f.  Many laws are designed to encourage and facilitate police corruption.  Such as empowering a police officer to take your car licence plate for a parking violation, rather than a simple ticket or just having the car towed.

Then there are the speed traps designed to fleas the pockets of those with nice cars, mainly gringos and unsuspecting tourist.

g.  Costa Rica’s claim to being ecologically minded is a fantasy at best.  There are homes all along the rivers dumping their waste water into the rivers because they do not have septic tanks or leach fields.

As far as battling the mosquitoe 
populations, this is another joke when most of the homes in Costa Rica are dumping waste water from the kitchen sink, bathroom sinks, and showers directly into the gutters or into the street through a 4″ PVC pipe.  This water either stands in the gutters or finds it’s way to the nearest river which ends up in the ocean near the beaches.

This is why viral diseases, such as malaria,  yellow fever, dengue fever and chikungunya are rampied in Costa Rica.

In Heredia there is a mountain side full of trash, with two or three waterfalls in the midst of this trash, which is all going into the river.  There are times the foam in this river are 3 to 4 feet high.  The sad part is, thousands of people cross this bridge daily to witness this.  This type of apathy is a sign of a lack of pride of ownership by the people of a wonderful country.

h.  In coming mail of packages has become more difficult over the years not better.  The postal service in Zapote holds your packages for several days before notifying you.  They do this so they can charge a storage fee.  I wonder where this money goes.

i.  Crime in Costa Rica is on the rise and has pretty much gone unchecked.  This has lead to a mass exodus of expates to other Latin American countries.

j.  Ridiculous taxes on imported used cars.  The tax in many cases is at least double the price of the car from the country of organ.  The real reason for this tax is it is a great business for the government, because the customs agents normally do not disclose to the unsuspecting shipper what the taxes are going to be in fear of loosing business.  This is also designed to protect the new car dealerships.  It has nothing to do with the pollution from old cars.  The net affect is the public is denied affordable used cars.

k.  The effort of the school system to teach English to support the number of American companies moving to Costa Rica is non existent in the public school system.

l.  Too much energy is spent and wasted by the Costa Rican politicians and bureaucrats on being defensive and making excuses for the country’s short comings.  Common excuse is; “we are a small country”.  There are states within the United States which are smaller and operate more efficiently than Costa Rica.  Costa Rica should be getting down to the business of making change to move the country forward.

m.  Costa Rica seems to be a country run by self serving elementary school children, bent on reinventing the wheel.  There is very little that the rest of the world has not already dealt with and solved, yet they continue to waste time, energy, resources, and money on bad ideas.

After living through two Costa Rican presidents, I would not put my hopes up for ANY change.  It will be status quo, business as usual.

If there is any interest, please feel free to contact me.

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