Monday, February 8, 2010

Costa Rica elects new president to succeed Arias

Latin American business leaders probably were delighted with Sunday's easy victory by Laura Chinchilla in Costa Rica's presidential election. Chinchilla, currently vice president in the administration of Nobel Peace Prize winner Oscar Arias, well-outpaced her two closest rivals and garnered 47 percent of the vote, enough to avoid a runoff. Her election means a continuation of pro-business policies that have proved controversial in the Central American country but are credited with helping Costa Rica avoid the worst effects of the global economic slowdown, according to the Reuters international news service. Chinchilla is the first elected female president in Costa Rica, which has long been one of Latin America's most stable countries. She and Arias, who is finishing his second term in office and plans to retire, championed the U.S.-backed Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) that relaxed trade barriers between the United States, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and the Dominican Republic. But CAFTA met with widespread opposition in Costa Rica before being narrowly approved by voters in 2007. "I am thankful for the good work of the outgoing government and thankful our country is again moving forward and refuses to allow this advance to stop," Chinchilla said told cheering supporters in San Jose. She promised to expand existing trade pacts and attract new investment to Costa Rica's vibrant economy in the campaign, and received twice as many votes as either of her two strongest opponents, center-left Otton Solis, a CAFTA opponent, and conservative Otto Guevara. Costa Rica's economy is thriving on a mixture of tourism, manufacturing and exports of its popular coffee, pineapples and bananas, Reuters said.

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