February 6, 2006 [LINK]

Costa Rican election: razor thin

To most people's surprise, the election in Costa Rica is too close to call. With 89 percent of the votes counted, former President Oscar Arias, who belongs to the long-dominant National Liberation Party, has a lead of 40.5 percent to 40.3 percent over Ottón Solís, of the Citizen Action Party. Solís has called for a renegotiation of the terms of CAFTA, which could be tricky given the large number of countries that signed it. Voter turnout was unusually low, reflecting popular disillusionment from all the recent corruption scandals in the country. It's an odd situation, because two candidates have exceeded the 40 percent minimum threshold to win the presidency. There will be a manual recount, and the official results will be annouced within two weeks. See Tico Times and La Nación (Spanish).

Coincidentally, Nicaragua today brought to the Interamerican Court of Human Rights (ICHR) a formal grievance over the case of Nicaraguan citizens who were mistreated in Costa Rica. It so happens that the ICHR is headquartered in Costa Rica.

Venezuela deports U.S. diplomat

U.S. naval Capt. John Correa has been declared persona non grata by the government of Venezuela, accusing him of spying and making contacts with Venezuelan military officers who may be against the regime of Hugo Chavez. The State Department denied the espionage charges and responded in kind by expelling a Venezuelan diplomat. CNN.com Given that the United States is preoccupied with the crisis over Iran's nuclear program, and the fact that Hugo Chavez has been consciously inflaming U.S.-Venezuelan tensions to bolster domestic popular support, it seems far more likely that the impetus behind this diplomatic spat originated with Caracas.

Haiti election is on

In spite of continued turmoil, Haitian officials have decided to go ahead with the election on Tuesday. The favorite to win is Rene Preval, who belongs to the party of ousted President Aristide and who also served as president (as a stand-in) from 1996 to 2001. Preval did try to calm the nerves of property-owning Haitians, many of whom are more inclined to rely upon warlords for security than the official police. See CNN.com. Unless Aristide, who is in exile, makes some kind of conciliatory gesture to his opponents, it is doubtful that the elections will serve to overcome the enormous social distrust that plagues Haiti.