San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Another New Political Party Aims for Change

NOT happy with the way the two traditional parties have governed the country during the past two decades and not impressed by the legislative track record of upstart parties, alternative groups are coming together to establish new political parties.Leaders of at least two new political movements express confidence they can provide voters attractive alternatives during the 2006 elections.One of them, organized by former legislators, union leaders, women’s rights groups and environmentalists (TT, April 30), was officially named the Alternative Leftist Movement last Saturday.Another new party, a still-unnamed movement organized by outspoken former Justice Minister José Miguel Villalobos, is off to a strong start, having already obtained the endorsement of legislative deputy Emilia María Rodríguez, of the Patriotic Parliamentary Bloc.“IT’S unprecedented for a party that has not been officially founded to already have a deputy supporting it,” Villalobos said in an interview with The Tico Times. “It shows there is strong support for our movement’s message.”Villalobos says he aims to establish a party with a campaign platform based on strong positions and concrete proposals on issues. The party’s policies will be based on five elements, he said – decency, intelligence, friendliness, security and efficiency.“We’re a party that is not defined as left or right, we are radical centrists – the place on the spectrum I believe Costa Ricans have always looked for,” Villalobos said. “More than define ourselves as Social Christians, Social Democrats or any other ideology, we plan to define ourselves based on concrete positions on specific issues.”A high-profile lawyer by trade, Villalobos is no stranger to politics, having served as President Abel Pacheco’s Justice Minister briefly in 2002. Pacheco fired him in November of that year for “being too pugnacious” and speaking out against the controversial Pococí Maximum-Security Prison concession (TT, Nov. 1, 8, 2003).He made headlines again in February 2003 when he agreed to represent investors who lost their savings when the high-interest loan business known as “The Brothers,” operated by fugitive Costa Rican businessman Luis Enrique Villalobos (no relation), shut down following government intervention (TT, Feb. 7, 2003).HE describes his party as a nationalist movement. By nationalist, he means a party that defines its positions based on the country’s interests. Since the national interest is complex and constantly changing, Villalobos insists on a pragmatic approach to defining policies.“On each issue, we offer concrete proposals, not trivial and vague ideas,” he said.“We are going to debate positions and issue our own proposals. We want to force each candidate and political party to define specific issues.”This pragmatic approach is best evidenced by Villalobos’ position on the Central America Free-Trade Agreement (CAFTA) with the United States, which Costa Rica finished negotiating in January (TT, Jan. 30).“A free-trade agreement is good; it grants more security to the commercial relationship between two countries,” he explained. “But if, to get that security, we need to open our telecommunications market or force our rice producers to compete against subsidized U.S. exports, we should say no.”He said he is certain the U.S. Congress will vote against CAFTA.VILLALOBOS said he is not opposed to opening the country’s insurance or oil importing monopolies, but is staunchly opposed to opening telecommunications.“We aim to defend public monopolies in areas that, because of their nature, won’t lead to competitive markets,” he said. “With insurance (which the country also agreed to open under CAFTA), there is no problem because it is not prone to monopolies.”“…Telecommunications is different; it’s a monopoly market,” he added. “Offering these services requires a high level of investment that can only be profitable if the rates are high or if there are one or two companies participating. In Latin America, 80% of cell phone service is divided up between two companies. The United States, which has a market of 300 million people, has only six companies competing.”The proposed party is also in favor of making the Costa Rican Electricity and Telecom Institute (ICE) more independent, banning all casinos and sportsbooks, incorporating information technology at all government institutions and creating a strict quota system to control the flow of immigrants, Villalobos said.MEANWHILE, deputy Rodríguez has pledged to bring Villalobos’ message and ideas to the Legislative Assembly and hopes other Patriotic Bloc deputies will follow her lead.The Patriotic Bloc is an alliance of six independent deputies formed in February 2003 by legislators who left the upstart Citizen Action Party (PAC), claiming its rigid ethics code made is impossible for them to serve their country (TT, Feb. 28, 2003).“Since we are not a political party and don’t pretend to act like one, each member is free to choose his or her own road,” Rodríguez said.“…José Miguel (Villalobos) and I share the same concepts, ideas and principles in terms of ethics in government and the development model we would like to see for the country,” she explained. “I am friends with him and his wife. It was easy for us to talk. He told me he would be delighted to have my support.”Rodríguez said the decision to join the party would make her a better legislator by giving her a clearer sense of direction. “Our movement has seen and learned from the mistakes of Citizen Action and does not want to repeat them,” she said.THE party, according to Villalobos, will be officially founded during its first National Assembly scheduled for May 29.During that meeting, the party’s name, flag and colors will be decided and a provisional Executive Committee named.Villalobos said he is confident his message will attract voters from all walks of life, including those from rural areas, where upstart parties did poorly during the last elections.“People know me – with me there are no surprises,” he said. “It’s clear where I’m headed.”

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