President will set up committee to study democracy here

One of the more unruly demonstrators at the Asamblea Legislative Tuesday afternoon made clear how she feels about the politicians who were inside. Others used a megaphone. The woman wears a visor from a teachers group, the Asociación de Profesores de Segunda Enseñanza, but that does not mean she is a member.

President Laura Chinchilla said Tuesday that she soon would set up a committee of experts to improve the functioning and quality of the country’s democracy. She said she is seeking a discussion with practical consequences.

The announcement follows the president’s obvious frustration with her inability to get measures passed by the Asamblea Legislativa. She was speaking in her state of the country address to the lawmakers.

As she has said before, she told her audience that the process of making laws that is shared by the three major powers of the government results in confusion and long waits. She repeated her claim that the minority can impose its will on the democratically elected majority. She was critical of union and corporate pressures.

This is the same statement she made when the Sala IV constitutional court ruled that her massive tax plan had been passed improperly by the legislature. Opposition lawmakers brought the process to the court.

Former president Óscar Arias Sánchez had similar ideas, and he, too, suggested changing the Costa Rican Constitution after his long battle to win passage of the free trade treaty with the United States.

A.M. Costa Rica photo Red was the color of the day for leftist marchers. One group even had a sound truck play the 'Internationale,' the socialist anthem.

Ms. Chinchilla’s statements are unusual because she has a political science education, and she must know that the role of any constitution is to protect the minority from the majority.

Other than her announcement of a committee, which she did not describe in detail, the president’s speech contained little new for anyone who had been reading the newspapers. She outlined many new programs, took credit for a reduction in crime and said organized crime was a serious threat. She also seemed to take credit for an increase in tourism. She said that the country saw 2 million tourists last year. She did not mention that more than 400,000 were from Nicaragua. She also took credit for an improved economic situation.

At the end of her speech she apologized, saying:

“I know that I have committed errors in these first two years of my administration, and I appreciate the frank and constructive criticism that allowed me to fix them. However, I can guarantee you that I acted with absolute honesty and good faith, moved only by my deep convictions and desire to serve my people.”

The president made no mention of the tax scandals and others that have ravaged her administration. She did appear to expect that her tax proposals would again come before lawmakers. She is pushing for an expanded 14 percent value-added tax and has also asked lawmakers to pass interim measures against evasion and improved tax collections.

The president has good reason to be hopeful because her Partido Liberación Nacional forged a new coalition with the minority Partido Accesibilidad Sin Exclusión to win control of the legislature. A member of that party, Víctor Emilio Granados, was elected assembly president for the coming year in a vote earlier Tuesday. Two other members of the four-member party obtained directorate positions. Meanwhile, Liberación gained control of most of the assembly committees, including the one that considers financial measures.

During the morning parade celebrating the International Day of the Worker, Accesibilidad Sin Exclusión was the object
of scorn for having broken a coalition that ruled the assembly since May 1, 2011. Then in the early afternoon a vocal group of about 25 persons gathered outside the assembly complex and shouted at the lawmakers who were meeting inside. There was one megaphone.

One concern voiced by the small, unruly group was that the new assembly president was convicted of fraud against Banco Nacional in the 1980s. They were so vocal that employees of the assembly left their jobs to watch the spectacle. One women continued to make rude gestures. They still were there when Ms. Chinchilla spoke in the evening, but police ended up dispersing them.

That was the most passionate display during the day. Most of the nation’s public employee unions marched accompanied by a handful of independent bands and sound trucks. The various parties of the political left had a strong turnout. Frente Amplio, which has just one lawmaker in the assembly augmented their numbers by promising a party after the parade.

At one point some union members associated with the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social joined hands and encircled the block on which the Caja headquarters stands. A theme of the day was to protect the Caja against aggressive politicians. The Caja, the nation’s health provider, has experienced a shakeup in its board of directors. Some unions seek to put a member of their organization on the board.

There was a heavy police presence, but no disturbances were reported until the incidents at the legislative complex where officers had erected barriers.

The Cámara de Industrias quickly responded to the president’s talk by saying its members were pleased that Ms. Chinchilla reported on procedures to improve the submission of paperwork and pushed for private electrical generating. The president had said that creating a corporation had been reduced to just 20 days during her administration.

The chamber cited paperwork for approvals at the Ministerio de Salud and environmental approvals by the Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones. However, the chamber statement noted that the president was short on specifics when she spoke of small business and agriculture.

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