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Free-Trade Backer Favored in Costa Rica

New York Times

Free-Trade Backer Favored in Costa Rica

By The Associated Press

6 February 2006

SAN JOSÉ, Costa Rica, Feb. 5 (AP) - A Nobel Peace Prize winner who supports a free-trade agreement with the United States was favored in pre-election polls as Costa Ricans chose a new president on Sunday. He faced a rival who said the pact would hurt farmers.

Turnout was low nationwide, officials and analysts said, with the indifference stemming from scandals involving three former presidents.

"This is a cold election, because people are disillusioned with our politicians," said Elena Hidalgo, a 52-year-old lawyer who waited in an upper-middle-class San José suburb.

Óscar Arias, who won the 1987 peace prize for working to end Central American civil wars during an earlier term as president, was expected to win easily.

The president of the Citizens Action Party, Ottón Solís, who lost the presidential election four years ago, was a distant second in the polls.

The scion of a wealthy coffee farming family, Mr. Arias, 65, has pushed for Costa Rica to join the Central American Free Trade Agreement with the United States, saying it would help revitalize the economy.