Arias now wants more power in Costa Rica

posted at 3:00 pm on August 30, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

The Organization of American States (OAS) and the US put its hopes for a settlement of the Honduran crisis in Oscar Arias, president of Costa Rica, who agreed to arbitrate between deposed president Manuel Zelaya and the current government in Tegulcigapa, headed by Roberto Micheletti.  Those negotiations have proved fruitless, but perhaps that’s because Arias may not exactly be an honest broker in the dispute.  Juan Carlos Hidalgo at Cato reports that Arias wants to do exactly the same thing in Costa Rica that got Zelaya the boot in Honduras:

President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica has joined the trend in Latin America of calling for a new constitution that would expand executive powers and get rid of “unnecessary checks” on the president’s authority. Although Arias has less than 9 months left in office and can’t run for reelection, his brother and current minister of the presidency — a primer minister of sorts — has openly said he’s interested in running for president in 2014. A new constitution with expanded executive powers would fit him just fine.

Arias’ call has been received with broad skepticism. La Nación, Costa Rica’s leading newspaper, said that trying to make the government more efficient through a constitutional convention was like “killing a mouse with cannon fire.” The newspaper also said that the idea of dismantling the checks and balances on executive power sounds like an effort to create an “imperial presidency.” Maybe we should send our colleague Gene Healy to study the case.

However, the most disturbing aspect of Arias’ call was his harsh criticism of the media. Borrowing from the script of Rafael Correa in Ecuador and Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, Arias described news outlets as “corporations interested in making a profit” that don’t necessarily pursue the “public good.” He asked the media to “tone down” its criticism of government officials, and said that journalists “should understand their role within a higher framework.” He complained that news outlets claim to represent the public interest, without any control or accountability.

And the answer to that, for Arias and Zelaya as well as Chavez, Ortega, and the Castros, is to make the presidency less accountable to the other political institutions.  We’ve seen how well that works in Cuba , Nicaragua, and Venezuela.  The people of Honduras didn’t want that for themselves, but the US and Costa Rica appear determined to impose it anyway.  And now we know why; Arias has a vested interest in having Honduras tread that ground before he demands it for his own family at home.

The US should be on the side of self-determination and the rule of law.  Instead, we’ve ended up on the side of power-grabbing future despots and potential ruling cliques of nepotism.  How did this happen, and why hasn’t the national media shined its light on Arias’ interests in this dispute?  Could it be that it would make Obama look like a bumbling fool on the international stage — or worse?


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