For some, Obama’s visit means a five-day weekend

This is a week filled with activities and perhaps salted with a little confusion.

Wednesday is a legal holiday, and those with gripes will parade through the downtown. Even though workers at the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad marched Monday, they will be back Wednesday, as will persons from all parts of the political spectrum.

Public offices will be closed, as will embassies. The holiday is International Labor Day.

Then Friday U.S. President Barack Obama comes to town during the afternoon, and much of the downtown will be off-limits to the average citizen. The Instituto Nacional de Seguros already said it would give its workers a holiday. The headquarters, among the tallest in San José, overlooks the foreign ministry to the east. Obama will visit there to meet with President Laura Chinchilla. Workers were putting up tents at the ministry Monday in anticipation of stormy weather.

Many public employees in the central cantons will have a day off Friday, too, and many are making the weekend a five-day one by ducking work Thursday.

Lawmakers also will not work Thursday, purportedly to digest the state of the nation speech given Wednesday night by Ms. Chinchilla. Her speech is dependent on a quick resolution to the selection of legislative leadership. Members of the Asamblea Legislativa will be picking new or reelecting officers for the coming year. This is a tradition on May 1. If a deadlock develops, as has happened in the past, the president’s speech might be put off for a few hours.

The legislative positions are largely ceremonial, although the leadership can determine which committee gets which bill to study.

Security officials are supposed to outline today the steps they have taken to protect Obama and other visiting Central American presidents. One measure that is likely is restricting access to that area four blocks around the foreign ministry. Expats will be unlikely to await Obama on the sidewalk.

Fuerza Pública officers already have compiled lists of those who live and work in this area. Some businesses, such as A.M. Costa Rica, will close offices for the day. This newspaper’s office overlooks the foreign ministry.The local police will be supervised by U.S. Secret Service agents who are not known for their humorous approaches to security.

Even credentialed reporters are likely to be herded into roped off sections like they were when George Bush’s wife visited for the Óscar Arias inauguration. Spanish-language television and the major newspapers are trying to obtain face-to-face access with Obama for a few minutes.

Typically the White House favors U.S. reporters and television personalities even when the president is overseas. Obama is not expected to say anything earthshaking in public.

James Carney, the U.S. presidential press secretary said Monday that Obama’s visits to the region “are always significant because of the president’s commitment to expanding our economic ties to the countries of Latin America. That’s very much a part of this trip. Our relationship with Mexico is especially vital and important economically and culturally and in other ways, and that remains the case.”

Obama will be in México Thursday, although the White House has not yet released a full schedule.

Carney added during the daily White House briefing Monday that “. . . our relationship with the countries in Central America is vital in many ways. It’s certainly not limited at all to the matters of immigration reform in this country. That’s something that you can expect he’ll talk about because it’s very topical here in the United States and it is of interest to countries in the region. But our relationship with those countries is vital in terms of our economic trade and other matters. And I’m sure those will be topics as well.”

In advance of such visits the groundwork is prepared by aides, so Obama is expected to confine his discussions to general terms.

Some businessmen hope Obama will champion U.S. companies that are facing problems in Costa Rica, such as a Denver oil firm that now faces a ban on drilling even though it has a concession.

Obama leaves Saturday afternoon, but Juan Santamaría airport is still closed to general aviation until midnight that day. Commercial flights might be delayed when the U.S. president actually is at the airport coming or going.

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