January 10, 1999
Costa Rican president faces backlash over salary hike

                  SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (AP) -- Facing the greatest wave of criticism
                  since taking office in May, Costa Rican President Miguel Angel
                  Rodriguez has begun the new year defending his 155 percent pay raise.

                  The raise, which the president ordered for himself, has unleashed a storm of
                  criticism from unions and opponents of Rodriguez's conservative

                  The dispute also has pulled attention from Rodriguez's efforts to revitalize the
                  ailing Costa Rican economy, which over the past decade has seen weak
                  growth, double-digit inflation and a poverty rate that encompasses 20
                  percent of Costa Ricans.

                  Rodriguez's administration is counting on wide support for privatizing state
                  telephone and insurance monopolies by 2002 and for other economic
                  reforms the legislature is now considering.

                  Economic recovery also depends much on unpopular austerity measures
                  such as public spending cuts and increasing income from taxes.

                  Government 'doublespeak' criticized

                  Alicia Fournier, head of the opposition National Liberation Party legislative
                  bloc, attacked the president's raise as proof of the "doublespeak of the
                  government that asks with great pomp for austerity and sacrifice by the

                  Details of the raise have turned into a daily source of criticism of Rodriguez,
                  who began earning a monthly salary equivalent to nearly $23,000 at the start
                  of the year. It is Rodriguez's second raise since assuming the presidency.
                  The first increased his monthly income from $6,000 to $8,600.

                  In comparison, private sector workers receive an annual salary adjustment
                  of 6.5 percent, and those in the public work force get 5.9 percent hikes. The
                  average Costa Rican professional earns the equivalent of about $1,000 a

                  To worsen matters, Rodriguez's raise was approved "almost under the table"
                  during the December holidays when there was little public attention on the
                  government, according to Albino Vargas, secretary-general of the National
                  Association of Public Employees.

                  Rodriguez has defended himself, saying that he never hid his intention to raise
                  the presidential salary -- which he notes had been nearly stagnant since

                  "Everything that has been said are political positions. With that, I don't get
                  involved," he said.

                     Copyright 1998   The Associated Press.