- The Washington Times - Friday, September 29, 2000

Costa Rica triangle

Costa Rican Vice President Astrid Fischel is leading a war on poverty by enlisting townsfolk and villagers instead of relying solely on central-government bureaucrats.

"The program operates on the belief of every human being able to work for his own welfare," Mrs. Fischel told editors and reporters at The Washington Times yesterday.

Her goal is nothing less than to "change the culture" of poverty through Costa Rica's "Solidarity Triangle." The three-pronged approach involves the national government, local governments and, most important, the people.

The unique quality of the program is that the citizens tell the government what projects they want developed to help promote the welfare of their communities. It also relies heavily on businesses to contribute to the projects and on citizens to volunteer their time to help build them.

After two years, the results are evident in new schools, roads, water systems, electrical works and housing projects, she said.

The approach has reduced the cost of development. For example, a new schoolroom costs the national government $11,000, but the price under the Solidarity Triangle is $3,000, she said.

"The one thing that makes me the happiest is the support of private enterprise," she said.

A banana company has donated land to build homes, and the country's two largest supermarket chains have agreed to buy produce from farmers involved in the program.

The Solidarity Triangle was conceived in 1998 after conservative Miguel Angel Rodriguez was elected president and decided to scrap the traditional method of fighting poverty.

"We have transformed passive receptors into active participants," Mrs. Fischel said.

"This is the first step in helping break the cycle of poverty."

Mrs. Fischel said Mr. Rodriguez overcame initial resistance from some government bureaucrats who doubted that people could manage their own welfare and some members of the Legislative Assembly, who worried about the threat to their political power to direct government spending into their districts.

Mrs. Fischel said the Costa Rican approach is attracting interest from other Latin American countries and from the Washington-based InterAmerican Development Bank.

Costa Rica will host a summit on the Solidarity Triangle next week and is planning a larger one for all Latin American countries in February in Washington.

"We do not expect to change in two years the whole traditional way of doing things," Mrs. Fischel said. "We are laying the foundation. We have started to change things."

Azeri leader recovers

Azerbaijan President Haydar Aliyev is in good health and has checked out of a U.S. hospital, the Azerbaijan Embassy said yesterday.

Mr. Aliyev had a routine physical exam earlier this month at a hospital in Cleveland, where he underwent heart-bypass surgery last year. His release was delayed for two weeks because of a severe case of influenza, the embassy said.

That illness raised speculation that he was dying. The Russian press reported rumors of his failing health, and a Russian Internet news service Tuesday said he had died.

Embassy spokesman Elin Suleymanov insisted Mr. Aliyev is healthy.

"He left Cleveland [Wednesday] at about 8 p.m. and flew to London for a stopover," he told the Reuters news agency.

Caution in Jerusalem

The State Department yesterday urged visitors to Israel to exercise "careful judgment" when visiting Jerusalem's holy sites, following a outbreak of violence after an Israeli politician visited the site known to Muslims as the Haram as-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary.

"This is a very sensitive and holy place, and all sides need to respect that fact," State Department spokesman Philip Reeker told reporters.

"And in view of the sensitivity of the site, everyone needs to exercise careful judgment on actions that are taken there."

Mr. Reeker avoided criticizing Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon for visiting the site, which Jews call Temple Mount. After the visit yesterday, Palestinians clashed with Israeli police, who fired rubber-coated bullets into the crowds.

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