Oscar Arias - by Jörn Malek
Take the train from San José to the port of Caldera and you'll see many families with hopes for a better future. A recent study of the University of Costa Rica indicates that many have more hope for their future today than they used to have in the near past. I think this is partly due to the wonderful inauguration speech of our new president Oscar Arias.
Costa Rican's were hoping and voting for change, but change needs direction. And what is the right direction?
Let's look at cars. They poison our planet and kill more people every year than most wars combined even though we have the technology to produce vehicles that don't. Here we are not going in the right direction.
Looking at the very young Internet Technology. Are we going in the right direction there? In certain places in Europe today, there are entire towns where each electric-outlet is also an Internet connection and you can make your online-order right from a screen of your refrigerator. There are cell-phones the size of a cigarette box which are able to take pictures, pay the bus-, and train-fares, pay for the purchases in stores and for the gas at gas stations. True convenience for some, but unemployment for others.
Oscar Arias has world clout like no other Costa Rican President before him. He is proposing to lead Costa Rica into deeper global economic integration in order to benefit all Costa Ricans, especially the most needy.
But in the end who will win and who will lose? - the rich or the poor? And what will really happen to our quality of life? Are we going, as Bob Dylan said, "90 miles an hour down a dead-end street"?
Have a happy day
Oscar Arias - by Bruce Jakob
Oscar Arias (see pictures) is the President of Costa Rica. And once again, he has the capability, popularity and charisma to bravely lead the nation into new directions…or lead Costa Ricans down the same old road of empty promises, despair and poverty.
It seems that his centerpiece policy is to deepen ties with the world economy and thereby provide opportunities of investment and employment and solutions for poverty and inequality. Sounds great! But the questions remain, "How is Costa Rica to accomplish his stated goals?" and even more to the point, "Does his compass indicate the best direction?"
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Costa Rica is a much different place than it was over twenty years ago during Arias' first term - more diverse and populated, more fragmented and unequal. Without the neighboring dictatorships of the past, talk of peace plans won't be enough. One thing is for sure - there are many more questions than answers at the beginning of new Presidencies.
Let's look at four central issues:
1Opening trade and attracting foreign investment: More exports bring us jobs, income and foreign currency. But free trade also means more imports which could threaten jobs, local incomes and economic security.
2Rebuilding the crumbling infrastructure and strengthening of universal public services especially in education, health and housing benefits everyone - directly and indirectly. But who is going to pay for it? Will higher taxes scare off local and foreign capital alike? Or is Oscar hoping for some help? Debt forgiveness? A little foreign aid? ...in exchange for what?
3Modernizing and reforming the state institutions. What's that supposed to mean? Could we be looking forward to cheaper, more efficient phone, electric and internet services? …or massive job cuts and more expensive services?
4Arias aims to close the growing gap between rich and poor. But is making concessions to wealthy investors only strengthening the current trend? On the other hand, a progressive and well-enforced tax structure would provide revenues to pay for his proposed social infrastructure improvements and reduce poverty and inequality. Could he pull it off in the face of some very powerful interests?
In the past, Arias stood up to the US pressures to support the contras. Today, he opposes the war in Iraq. He does have courage. But does he have foresight?
Can the globe sustain the growing populations increasing consumption levels? Are we speeding up the propensity to war over scarce resources? Are we promoting consumption at the expense of future generations? Has he moved from pro-environment to pro-industry?
Arias does not seem to mention sustainable development. He does, however, mention responsibility. In a 2005 campaign speech, Oscar said, "Every road I see in ruins, every school I visit where there are no desks ….convinces me that we, the most privileged of this society, have an urgent responsibility."
Congratulations, Mr.Arias! And good luck…we'll need it!
Article by Bruce Jakob, who has lived in Costa Rica for over 18 years and currently teaches economics at the British School of Costa Rica.