- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 9, 2010

COSTA RICA

Chinchilla becomes first female president

SAN JOSE | Laura Chinchilla, a social conservative who opposes abortion but wants more help for the poor, became Costa Rica’s first female president after a convincing election triumph.

Her main opponents conceded defeat and the 50-year-old ruling party candidate joined thousands of supporters celebrating in San Jose early Monday.

First results showed she won 47 percent of the votes counted, way ahead of her rivals and above the 40 percent needed to avoid a run-off.

Latin America now has five female leaders.

Center-left opposition candidate Otton Solis won 24 percent of the votes counted and right-wing lawyer Otto Guevara garnered 21 percent.

“With a lot of respect, we accept the reality,” Mr. Solis, who lost to President Oscar Arias in 2006, told his followers. Mr. Guevara congratulated “our president Laura Chinchilla,” shortly after.

The opposition had criticized Ms. Chinchilla, a Georgetown University graduate, as being a puppet of Mr. Arias, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. She is expected to continue his policies of promoting free trade and international business ties.

ECUADOR

Regional meeting to focus on Haiti

QUITO | South American leaders deeply divided by political differences may take a break from their usual recriminations Tuesday when they meet to discuss the continent’s response to the crisis in quake-shattered Haiti.

Previous meetings of the UNASUR group of countries have been marked by insults between its left- and right-leaning members.

This time investors will watch to see if leaders can unite behind the cause of Haiti, soften their political rhetoric and set the stage for better trade as South America tries to pull out of the economic doldrums of 2009.

Conservative Colombian President Alvaro Uribe will attend in his first visit to Ecuador since a 2008 diplomatic break after he ordered the bombing of a rebel camp on Ecuador’s side of the border.

The raid prompted the leftist governments of Ecuador and Venezuela to temporarily increase troops on their frontiers with Colombia, which has received billions of dollars in U.S. aid aimed at fighting cocaine-funded Marxist guerrillas.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez will also be at the meeting. He has clamped down on Venezuela’s $7 billion per year trade with Colombia over Mr. Uribe’s close military ties with Washington.

No separate talks have been scheduled among Mr. Chavez, Mr. Uribe or Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa Tuesday. The focus instead will be on Haitian President Rene Preval, who will appeal for help in rebuilding his desperately impoverished country after last month’s earthquake killed more than 200,000 people.

HAITI

Aid groups launch mass vaccination

GENEVA | Aid groups say they are launching an emergency vaccination campaign for 140,000 people in Haiti to protect them against measles and other diseases.

The campaign is being conducted by the international Red Cross federation, the World Health Organization, UNICEF and the Haitian Health Ministry.

A Red Cross statement said the campaign will focus on the capital Port-au-Prince because the disease risk to earthquake victims there is greatest.

The federation said it expects to start by vaccinating about 1,800 people Monday at a camp on the old airport runway and then move on to hundreds of other camps over the next two weeks. Vaccinations will also be against diphtheria and tetanus.

ARGENTINA

Kirchner recovering after surgery

BUENOS AIRES | Former Argentine President Nestor Kirchner, husband of President Cristina Fernandez, is recovering well after undergoing emergency arterial surgery, his doctor said Monday.

Mr. Kirchner, who remains one of the country’s most powerful politicians, was rushed to hospital Sunday and had an operation to remove plaque from his right carotid, a main artery in the neck that carries blood to the brain.

Mr. Kirchner, 59, is “recovering well, with all vital signs normal,” Dr. Luis Buonomo said. He said the former president could be released from hospital in two or three days.

Mrs. Fernandez suspended her official schedule to remain with her husband but was expected to resume work later Monday, local media said.

Mr. Kirchner served as president from 2003 to 2007, when his wife was elected to succeed him.

He was sworn in as a member of the lower house of Congress in December and is widely expected to run for president again in 2011. His wife’s approval ratings have dropped to around 20 percent.

BAHAMAS

Migrants to be sent back to Haiti

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico | More than five dozen Haitian migrants detained as they sailed north through the Bahamas will be returned directly to the earthquake-ravaged country, the Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham said Monday.

Two Royal Bahamas Defense Force vessels intercepted a boat carrying the 62 Haitians on Saturday, Mr. Ingraham said.

While the Bahamas has made it easier for Haitian immigrants already in the country to stay since the earthquake, Mr. Ingraham said the government will not change its policy toward undocumented migrants found at sea.

The Jan. 12 earthquake has raised fears of mass migration from the desperately poor country south of the Bahamas. Since then, fleeing Haitian migrants have been stopped on two vessels in the Bahamas and another in the nearby Turks and Caicos Islands.

The issue is particularly sensitive in the Bahamas, an archipelago of 330,000 people off the Florida coast that Mr. Ingraham says has a higher percentage of Haitian migrants than any other country.

The government has taken some steps to ease Haiti’s burden: It released 102 detained Haitians awaiting repatriation before the earthquake, granting them temporary status for six months, and has stopped apprehending undocumented Haitians for now, the prime minister said.

A larger Defense Force boat was being sent to pick up the newest migrants and return them to Haiti, Mr. Ingraham said. U.S. Coast Guard ships will also be available to repatriate migrants if needed, said guard spokesman Mike Lutz in Miami.

• From wire dispatches and staff reports

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