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CLINTON NOTEBOOK: Near-perfect approval, reporters seeking autographs

May 9, 1997

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (AP) _ Basking in adoring crowds and a near-perfect approval rating, President Clinton may never want to come home.

Clinton, here for a summit with Central American leaders, awoke in San Jose Thursday to reports in the local press of a Gallup poll giving him a 92-percent favorable rating among Costa Ricans. His numbers back home aren’t nearly so good: the last USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll in April put Clinton’s approval rating among Americans at 54 percent.

Fans outside San Jose’s National Theater, which housed the day’s events, hoisted outdated ``Clinton-Gore″ campaign placards and shouted ``God bless you, Bill!″

Not all of Gallup’s Costa Rican data smiled upon Clinton.

When the 300 San Jose-area residents who were surveyed were asked what Clinton’s visit would leave that country, the most popular response _ of 25 percent of respondents _ was ``unnecessary expenses.″

``It’s a show,″ said Dr. Jaime Zomer, 48, who was leaving a conference on skin cancer at a building along the roped-off motorcade route. ``The country gains nothing from this. ... It stops the production of the country for two days.″


Inside the elaborate National Theater, where Clinton and his Central American counterparts held a news conference, the U.S. president was treated like a rock star.

After the question-and-answer session, reporters from the Spanish-speaking side of the audience encircled Clinton, thrusting papers and pens at him.

They wanted autographs.

``I’m married to an American. ... He’s from Chicago. I got it for him,″ Dixie Mendoza, of the Costa Rican newspaper La Nacion, explained in a rush of giggles.

Clinton, grasping his black crutches, signed about 20 autographs while aides tried to shoo away the fawning reporters _ none of them Americans.


Immigration was the summit’s prime topic, and Clinton pointed out that one of the leaders here _ President Leonel Fernandez of the Dominican Republic _ is a legal U.S. immigrant who went to school in mid-Manhattan.

After the press conference, Clinton brought Fernandez over to U.S. reporters to speak about his background. His father, an ex-major in the Dominican army, took the family to New York in the early 1960s.

Fernandez went to elementary school and junior high in New York and then returned home to the Dominican Republic. He often returned to the states for visits and said he still has his green immigration card.

``My family lives in the states and I’m always traveling there and after I finish my presidency, I still have the intention of living in the states,″ he said.


Clinton was experiencing back pain and not getting much sleep on his Latin American tour. The weariness showed at Thursday’s news conference.

A reporter from Spanish-speaking side started asking a question in Spanish but finished in English. Clinton, who had been listening to translation through an earpiece, was confused when the translator abruptly switched into Spanish.

With a sheepish grin, Clinton held up his earpiece, asked the reporter to repeat her question and rolled his eyes. ``It’s been a long day,″ he sighed.

The president looked tired and aides said a bout with back spasms hasn’t helped his endurance. He has undergone ultrasound treatment, a form of deep massage to help work out the kinks.


Costa Ricans don’t have an army, but they handle the press corps with military precision _ and discipline. At a picture-taking session with Clinton and his Central American counterparts, American reporters who would normally seize such a time for shouting questions were neatly arranged behind a heavy curtain.

At the appointed time, the curtain was raised and the cameras allowed their shots. Minutes later, the curtain fell _ photo-op finished, not a single question uttered.

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