Si se puede! Si se pudo!

Luis Guillermo Solis Rivera President of Costa Rica
Luis Guillermo Solis Rivera President of Costa Rica
Yesterday, the eighth of May, Luis Guillermo Solis Rivera was installed as President of Costa Rica.
‘Si se puede’ – a chant of football fans in Costa Rica – became the slogan of the candidate that rose from nowhere to challenge and overthrow the then ruling party…’you can do it’ and the national stadium, where the official transfer of powers took place, resounded to the counterpart…’si se pudo’ – ‘and you have’… as the President elect entered the arena with his companion and his family.
As always in Costa Rica the ceremony was low key and had its unrehearsed moments….which is one of the reasons I like the country so much….as well as the usual youth choirs and orchestras and the singing of the national anthem.
The Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Jose was miffed that he had not been asked to officiate and conservative opinion was outraged that the new tourism minister was accompanied by his male partner…the times are indeed a’ changing.

And they need to.

Solis sees the task of governing Costa Rica as being the equivalent of taking over a farm that has been abandoned for years…fertile soil supporting parasitic plants….
He has to rebuild not only the institutions of the country, but also public confidence in those institutions and he faces an uphill task.

People expect changes…and have short memories….

The party that lost the elections have the greatest number of deputies in the National Assembly…

Institutions left to their own devices for years resent the arrival of new brooms….

The outgoing government installed supporters in key positions before leaving office…..

It’s not going to be easy.

I’ve always been interested in politics – the buggers are spending my money after all – and know just how regularly good intentions get bogged down by the sheer immobility of the government machine, let alone outside interference…but I hope that this Costa Rican spring brings forth the summer of good governance that the people here deserve.

And I can’t resist putting up another photograph from the handover of powers yesterday…. the new president and his old dad….a shoemaker.
It’s a good omen…historically it was the shoemakers who fought for civil and workplace rights in Costa Rica so it is – dare I say – fitting that it is one of their sons, descended from the Chinese and Jamaican labourers brought in to build the railways and cut the sugar cane, who is today President of Costa Rica.

Father and son... photograph from La Nacion
Father and son…
photograph from La Nacion

November 11th

On this day…11th November…we remember the armistice that ended the Great War, that of 1914 – 1918 and in Europe we tend to think of the rows of stones in the cemeteries scattered over France and Belgium like the petals of the poppies that fall in the Albert Hall during the British Legion service of remembrance.

But it was not just a European war….nor one just involving the troops of the colonies and commonwealth.
It was a war fought on many fronts…including Gallipoli…. and I would like to bring to the fore one memorial there, on the clifftops.

A memorial in English, placed there by the Turks.

ataturk memorial

Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives …

You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.

Therefore rest in peace.

There is no difference between the Johnnies

And Mehmets to us where they lie side by side

Here in this country of ours …

You, the mothers,

Who sent their sons from far away countries

Wipe away your tears;

Your sons are now lying in our bosom

And are in peace.

After having lost their lives on this land they have

Become our sons as well.

Atatürk, 1934

Kemal Ataturk was not just the military commander who held those heights…who repulsed all that valour could do on the part of the forces of Britain and the Commonwealth…he became the man who led Turkey out of feudalism, of subjection to religion…who brought that sleeping giant to life after the long years of the decay of the Ottoman empire.

For those moved by what is written on that memorial – please take a look at what is now happening in Turkey: the reintroduction of religious oppression, the attacks on freedom of speech, the violent crushing of dissent.

Those words could not be written by the current leaders of Turkey…who pay lip service to the man whose every tenet they wish to overthrow.

Paris is Rather a Mess

palace elysee guides.restaurants.frThus the Sellar and Yeatman version of the end of the sixteenth century Wars of Religion in France where the Protestant victor, Henry of Navarre, turned Roman Catholic (again) in order that his victory should gain acceptance.
Paris, he is reported to have said, is worth a mass.

Given current conditions…the Sellar and Yeatman version seems distinctly appropriate.

Eighteen months into his five year stint as President of the French Republic, Francois Hollande is not a happy bunny.
Things are not going according to plan.

Hollande is a graduate of the ENA – where the elite of France are formed to be worthy leaders of their country’s institutions.
Where to succeed you need to know that not only is there only one answer to a question…but also only one question to be asked.

Accordingly Hollande knew the one question to be asked….how to be elected in 2012?
He also knew the answer….be anyone except the retiring President, Nicolas Sarkozy.
Nowhere in this process will you find matters such as how to conduct the governance of France.
All ENA graduates know the answer to that one….carry on as before with all the posts of power, private and public, in the steady hands of themselves or other graduates of the ENA.

The ENA would have been gratified at the success of his plan.
He was elected President of the French Republic and set about proving he was not Sarkozy by getting shafted by the German Chancellor at their first meeting and wandering round in baggy bermudas on his hols in the south of France.

Then he got the bit between his teeth.
Sarkozy had given a tax exoneration for overtime worked. Hollande removed it.
Sarkozy had overseen the setting up of the auto-entrepreneur scheme, whereby people setting up in business paid social charges only on what they earned after they had earned it…not on what a bureaucrat thought they would earn and so charged them upfront before they started. Hollande wanted to overturn it….but met opposition, especially from those who found that if they sold the business they had founded they would have to pay a 60% tax on the proceeds.

The grand plan began to run off the rails….

Even the EU had noticed France’s budget deficit and urgent measures had to be taken to reduce it. The people had to be prepared to make sacrifices.
Well, some people.
Not politicians for a start.
Nor top civil servants.
Nor big business.
Nor the state.

No, the little man could stump up.

To have the least malcontents, keeping hitting the same people all the time
To have the least malcontents, keeping hitting the same people all the time
The ENA teaches its students to operate on the Shadok system…..

If there is no solution it is because there is no problem (the only one question principle)….

If there is only one chance in a thousand of success, hurry up and make the first nine hundred and ninety nine cock ups.

This was an unfortunate moment for the budget minister to be found to have had secret Swiss bank accounts.

Then foreign manufacturing companies started to pull out of France….jobs have been lost.
Taxation is hitting hard.
And the one Sarkozyism that Hollande did not boot out – the ecotax on heavy goods vehicles – has provoked riots in Brittany and vandalism to installations elsewhere.

But the ENA has the answer…the only one…..the traditional one.
Bribes.
So billions to Brittany, billions to road transport groups, and probably billions to buy off the Italian firm who were going to run the ecotax

Buit who is going to pay the bribes….yes, the little man through increased taxation.

And the deficit? …Oh; that….

Paris is rather a mess.

Normally when disatified with one main stream political party people turn to the other…but the UMP has its own scandals and infighting to occupy it….so no leadership there.

The journalists (given a whopping tax break by Hollande after Sarkozy had previously removed it) worry about people looking to a strong man…they see the rise of totalitarianism in France….they fear the Front National coming to power.

So today, on the anniversary of the death of General de Gaulle, his tomb has been visited by a range of politicians on the make, anxious to wrap themselves in the mantle of the last strong man to rule France.

They could all be put into one of the pockets of his greatcoat and pass unnoticed.

One, however, has not made the journey.

Moi-je, Francois Hollandouille, President of the French Republic.

Perhaps he worries that, should he pay a visit, the speed at which the General would be revolving in his grave would be sufficient to achieve lift off….and that the resulting encounter would be a re-run of the finale of Don Giovanni….

Hollande going up in flames.

memorialcharlesdegaulle