San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Oscar Arias

Costa Rica’s ex-President Óscar Arias says the country is on the wrong path

Costa Rica’s former two-term President Óscar Arias Sánchez (1986-1990 and 2006-2010) hasn’t even waited a full year before twice publicly criticizing the new administration of Luis Guillermo Solís, who once belonged to Arias’ political party, the National Liberation Party, and was a member of the 1980s peace delegation that helped end the wars in Central America and delivered Arias a Nobel Peace Prize.

“The greatest concern is that the country is not on a good path,” Arias told Diario Extra last Friday. “If we continue as we are currently headed, we’ll end up with more poverty and more inequality, which is the opposite of what [Solís] pledged during the campaign.”

Arias, 74, who was admitted to a private San José hospital over the weekend for a pacemaker adjustment, said he is worried that members of the Legislative Assembly rejected proposed cuts to Solís’ 2015 budget, which by law must be passed by Nov. 30. Arias said the support for Solís’ budget – which is 19 percent higher than this year’s budget – “sends a bad signal to international organizations,” particularly in light of the country’s growing fiscal deficit.

“We could very soon suffer the consequences,” he said.

Unlike his political diagnosis, Arias’ health seems to be doing fine, with doctors discharging him from the Clínica Biblica on Monday.

Last September, Arias spoke out against the administration’s approach to reducing the fiscal deficit, which prompted Solís to fire back: “It seems to me that Dr. Arias had the chance to lower the deficit during his administration after having two years of surplus, but he didn’t.”

Related: Stick to peace planning, says PAC founder of ex-President Arias’ plan to reduce Costa Rica’s fiscal deficit

In last week’s comments to the daily, Arias also appeared to feel snubbed: “If he [Solís] doesn’t want me to help him with some ideas, well, then I simply won’t help him,” he said. “My attitude always has been to help the government of the republic, regardless of whom is president.”

Arias, who is the author of several books including, “Quién gobierna en Costa Rica?” (1976), “Grupos de presión en Costa Rica” (1970) and “Horizontes de paz” (1990), called Costa Rica’s democracy “dysfunctional,” adding that “it doesn’t progress, it doesn’t resolve problems and it doesn’t permit decision-making.”

He also mentioned infrastructure, saying the country is 50 years behind on public infrastructure projects, with a stagnant public-private concessions framework as the culprit. Concessions, he said, “are still criticized when it is the norm in all of the rest of the world.”

Arias also accused the Solís administration of dragging its feet on free trade, citing the handling of an invitation for Costa Rica to join the Pacific Alliance trade bloc, composed of Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru.

“The president hasn’t said if we’ll be members or not,” Arias said. “Not joining would be an enormous error. But, on the other hand, [Solís’] political party colleagues are the ones who fought against a free trade agreement with the United States, and they’re the ones who don’t believe in free trade.”

However, the usually opinionated former two-term president didn’t have much to say when asked about the current state of the Liberation party, which was handed an embarrassing defeat in the last presidential election.

Said Arias: “That’s a topic I’d rather not talk about. I’m not involved and I prefer to leave my opinions for later.”

Last week, the magazine ES Global included Arias in a list of the “50 most influential intellectuals in Iberoamérica.” He appeared along with Chilean novelist Isabel Allende, Pope Francis, Costa Rican economist Rebeca Grynspan, Mexican journalist Javier Sicilia, Cuban blogger and activist Yoani Sánchez and Mexican writer Enrique Krauze, among others.

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I was wary of the government but if Oscar Arias says we are going on the wrong path then we must be going in the correct one.

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Ken Morris

Solís nailed it when he said, “It seems to me that Dr. Arias had the chance to lower the deficit during his administration after having two years of surplus, but he didn’t.”

I actually respect Arias and welcome his opinions, some of which strike me as right, but it’s a bit of a cheap shot to criticize the economic policies of a president who hasn’t been in office six months yet and only recently released his ambitious economic development plan. Maybe this year’s budget is too high, but it’s hardly the first budget with red ink and sometimes you do have to spend money to make money. Neither is the economic development plan one of raising taxes to thwart productivity. Its aim at least is the opposite.

Meanwhile, infrastructure would be a lot better today if the bulk of the government spending on it hadn’t been stolen. Forget the process: Solís is right that corruption has to be weeded out before anything else gets done.

I would also find Arias more credible if he had his pacemaker tuned in the Caja rather than a private hospital. When those who spout social democracy don’t participate in it themselves, their opinions carry less weight.

And let’s remember that Arias annointed Chinchilla only to remain silent too long about her missteps.

The bottom line is probably that Arias is still pissed at the PAC for giving him such grief over CAFTA, a political battle that basically dominated his second term and prevented him from doing the great things he hoped to do. It’s personal for him, as well as partisan.

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what ES fails to note is that Arias is probably the only ” top influential iberoamericans” who is detested by most of his compatriots. his influence is not well regarded at home as much as his words might ring true to those in other countries. it is important to ask why this is so before so readily relying on his unwelcome insights into things.

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Rick Nelson

He is right on, pacemaker and all.
It is simply mind-boggling how this administration, as well as most previous ones, propose no plan to increase productivity, creativity, entrepreneurship, or simply get out of the way so that private individuals can make things happen. In fact they are doing all they can to scare away any potential investors and business owners.

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