A presidential election that could determine the political and economic direction of Costa Rica, traditionally the most stable of Latin American democracies, is locked in a dead heat — yet you would be only dimly aware of that fact from reading our country’s major papers today.
In an unforeseen electoral cliffhanger, Nobel Peace Prize winner and former Costa Rican president Óscar Arias holds the slimmest of leads over challenger Ottón Solis, as officials tally up the final remaining votes from Sunday’s election.
With 85 percent of the votes counted, reports the Associated Press, Arias has received 40.6 percent of the ballots, compared to 40.2 percent for Solis. The winner needs 40 percent to win the election outright and avoid an April runoff — so whoever ekes out the advantage here will become the small country’s next president.
It’s a dramatic political story with compelling thematic undertones, an election largely viewed as hinging on the two main candidates’ differing views of the U.S.-led Central American Free Trade Agreement — but major papers here don’t much care. A Nexis search reveals that the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times ran only the sparsest of wire summaries in their print editions today, even though the Times (alone among major papers in recent weeks) had published a lengthy preview explaining the compelling intricacies of the election only yesterday. Meantime, the New York Times and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette also weighed in with an early AP piece stating that Arias “was expected to win easily.”
That has hardly come true, as the wire services — left alone to explain the election results to American readers — are reporting today. The AP and Reuters are each filing solid reports from the capital of San José, and even United Press International is getting in on the act. “Battered by government scandals,” reported Reuters, “Costa Rica slid further into uncertainty on Monday when a presidential election that could decide the future of a trade deal with Washington hung by a thread.”
While Arias is expected to push CAFTA through the reticent Costa Rican legislature if elected, Solis wants to renegotiate the pact — even though, as we recently noted, the U.S. ambassador to the country has warned (text in Spanish) that Costa Rica needs to approve CAFTA soon or its heretofore “marvelous reputation” will quickly take a tumble. CAFTA cannot be renegotiated, the ambassador explicitly said, and Costa Rica risks being left out of any free trade agreement with the United States for close to a decade if it tries to do so.
We’re not saying readers in, say, Kansas City, should care much about Costa Rica’s election. But this is an example of a juicy, highly relevant international story from America’s backyard that the biggies have missed.
Meantime, with every pre-election poll showing Arias with a large lead, a crucial question the wire services have thus far left unaddressed and unanswered is this: How could those polls have been so wrong? The AP and Reuters don’t say, while the BBC hypothesizes “that in recent months opposition against CAFTA has grown stronger, and this was reflected in Sunday’s election.”
It is a question that the Timeses or the Washington Post could probably adeptly answer — if they were there.