Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Costa Rica president's popularity falls on scandals

(AP Photo/Miguel Gomez)San Jose, Costa Rica (Reuters) - The popularity of Costa Rica's president has plummeted amid a series of financial scandals and revelations that the government secretly sold bonds to China, a poll showed on Tuesday.

President Oscar Arias' approval rating slid to 29 percent from 50 percent in March, according a poll published in the leading daily La Nacion newspaper, while negative opinions of the president jumped.

Arias has faced criticism in recent months after revelations that his government secretly sold $300 million in bonds to the Chinese government.

La Nacion successfully sued the government to force Arias to give details about the sale and found they were part of an agreement to break long-held ties with Taiwan last year in favor of China.

Beijing regards Taiwan as a renegade province and the two governments offer aid and development projects to try to win small countries to their side of the diplomatic struggle.

Arias has defended the secrecy around the bond deal, saying the Chinese demanded confidentiality.

The latest scandal came after Costa Rica's housing minister Fernando Zumbado resigned last month after he was accused of spending low-income housing aid from Taiwan to pay consultants' salaries.

In July, La Nacion said the government mishandled a $2 million donation from a regional development bank by spending it on consultant fees and skirting proper government channels.

The poll, conducted by the firm Unimer Research International, surveyed 1,239 Costa Ricans between Aug. 28 and Sept. 4 with a margin for error of 2.8 percentage points.

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