New President Has Arias’ Shoes to Fill
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (AP) _ A 41-year-old lawyer from a prominent political family takes over as president today in the long shadow of Oscar Arias, who thrust this country into the global spotlight with his regional peace efforts.
Incoming President Rafael Angel Calderon acknowledges his predecessor’s international renown but says he will concentrate on internal affairs - without giving short shrift to foreign policy.
Arias spearheaded Central American peace efforts that promoted democracy and sought an end to civil wars. He won the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize for drafting a regional peace plan.
Though originally thrilled with Arias’ fame, many Costa Ricans have now come to feel that he gained it at their expense - by ignoring domestic problems. Even so, he leaves office with an approval rating of 90 percent, according to national polls.
Calderon’s Party of Social Christian Unity is slightly to the right of Arias’ social-democratic National Liberation Party. However, the two men seem to basically think alike, and Calderon is expected to steer Costa Rica on the same course that has made it a democratic bulwark in Latin America.
Years of neutrality and stability have given Costa Ricans one of the higher living standards and literacy rates in the hemisphere. The United States has long pointed to Costa Rica as an example of what countries can accomplish under democratic governments.
First Lady Barbara Bush headed the U.S. delegation attending today’s inauguration, which was being held in the national soccer stadium before 50,000 spectators.
Calderon says his administration will eliminate what the Social Christians call the ineffeciency and bureaucracy of a swollen public sector that eats heavily into the national budget.
But the new president, whose father was a president and social reformer, also advocates a broad profit-sharing program for private-sector employees.
Calderon had twice lost bids for the presidency, in 1982 and 1986, before narrowly defeating National Liberation candidate Carlos Manuel Castillo in February. Arias, who was elected in 1986, was barred by the constitution from running for re-election.
The quest for the presidency by Calderon, affectionately known as ″Junior,″ was made tougher by the reputation of his father, also named Rafael Angel.
Though the elder Calderon founded the social security system and was considered a champion of the common man, he also triggered the only major election-related violence during the past half century in Costa Rica.
The father was president from 1940 until 1944. He ran again in 1948, alleging fraud when the count showed him the loser.
Several hundred lives were lost in the strife that followed, and Jose Figueres seized power. He abolished the armed forces and in 1949 ceded power to Otilio Ulate, the victor in the 1948 vote.
The elder Calderon went into exile in Nicaragua, where his son was born March 14, 1949.
The younger Calderon began his political career at age 16 when he was elected chief of high-school affairs for the Calderonist Youth movement.
At 21, he was named director of Social Security. He was elected to the national legislature at 25 and four years later became foreign minister.
In an interview last week with The Associated Press, Arias said he will now dedicate himself to working for the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress.