Costa Rica’s Oscar Arias, A Man not Without Flaws

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• Ottón Solís – A mild version of the “Pink Tide”

• Anti-CAFTA factor effects the election as does Arias’ unabashedly pro-American orientation

• Further Americanization of Costa Rica appears likely under Arias, although large “pink tide” vote will not make the State Department happy
The tight outcome of Costa Rica’s presidential election surprised many observers, and ultimately contained far more intrigue than was initially apparent. An important aspect of the unexpected ending to the race was that Ottón Solís’ unusual strong showing on the PAC line can in part be attributed to the fact that he was identified by many Costa Rican voters as perhaps their nation’s milder version of a left-leaning “pink tide” candidate, who might represent the reformist movement which today is sweeping Latin America. While Washington couldn’t be happier that Arias ultimately won, the U.S. embassy in San José must have had a sleepless night fearing the prospect that Solís might be flying off to Caracas to celebrate yet another victory for a left-leaning Latin American political movement, and yet another defeat for the Bush administration’s alarmingly foundering regional policy.

Solís also benefited from concerns about his opponent. One potentially sensitive aspect in Arias’ background is his reputed strong ties to Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, the owner of TELMEX and one of the leading cell phone empresarios in the world. Since almost all of Costa Rica’s recent presidential scandals have involved payoffs from foreign cell phone network providers, the appearance of Slim on the scene and the private meeting between alleged Slim associate, former Spanish prime minister Felipe Gonzalez, and Arias on January 25, 2006 as reported in Latin News, have to set tongues wagging (see COHA’s February 4 press release, “Costa Rica’s Elections: Not the Cleanest Game Around”).

Such backroom negotiations would not be out of character for Arias. Vain and with a dismissive personality often accompanied by an unsettling sense of self importance, Arias in recent months has become best known for wanting to be the Bush administration’s most loyal paladin in Central America, if not the entire hemisphere. The White House is certain to soon enough favor him with a presidential visit, but his near past, as well as more distant background, may suffer from too much scrutiny. There are many Latin Americans who fervently believe that it was Guatemala’s president Vinicio Cerezo, rather than Arias, who better deserved the Nobel Peace Prize for 1987, due to the former’s pioneer work to achieve peace in Central America, including his quarterbacking the break-through Esquipulas Treaty the same year. That accord gave the final impetus to a peace movement that had featured deliberations on the island of Contadora and the eventual achievement of a Central American regional peace accord. Arias had launched a campaign to receive the reward while Cerezo had left the matter to chance.