San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Political Analyst Sees ‘Peaceful Revolution’

THE turmoil that has shaken up CostaRica’s political system in recent monthsand years, producing myriad political partiesthat offer a sharp contrast to the country’straditional two-party system, is not atemporary trend. Rather, it represents thebeginning of a real shift in how governmenthere will operate, according to Ticohistorian and political analyst LuisGuillermo Solís.Solís, who last month joined an exodusof party loyalists from the NationalLiberation Party (TT, Jan. 21), said thedays of the two-party system are gone forever.The former secretary general ofNational Liberation now heads theUniversity of Costa Rica’s political sciencegraduate program. He received amaster’s degree in Latin American Studiesfrom Tulane University in New Orleans,Louisiana, and was a Fulbright scholar atthe University of Michigan.He was chief of staff of the Ministry ofForeign Relations during the administrationof former President and Nobel PeacePrize laureate Óscar Arias (1986-1990).Following his departure from theLiberation Party, Solís talked to The TicoTimes about the party’s future, Arias’ candidacyfor President in the 2006 election,and what he calls a “peaceful revolution”in the future of Costa Rican politics.Excerpts:TT: What do you mean by a peacefulrevolution?LGS: After everything that happenedwith (former presidents Rafael Ángel)Calderón and (Miguel Ángel) Rodríguez,we have come to the point that everybodyhas been expecting for 25 years – the endof the welfare state, the beginning ofsomething new that needs to be built. It isnot going to be an immediate creation; it isgoing to take time, but we have to startnow, because the changes are already happening.These changes can be very positive…or they can be very negative andthrow Costa Rica into chaos.We have had painful transitions like(the civil war of) 1948, and I hope wedon’t have a new one, but it may beunavoidable. We have enough problemsin this country to imagine that as a possibility.But we can avoid that if we make theright choices. The (Liberation) party andthe political elite in Costa Rica are notaware of the fact that this country haschanged.What needs to happen under thisrevolution?The centralistic nature of governmentneeds to be transformed into a more decentralizedadministration. To do that youhave to do a territorial reorganization ofthe country, because you cannot keep rulinga country like ours with the notions of19th century geopolitics, with (only)seven provinces, 81 counties, and 435 districts– that is not enough. We are underrepresented.Also, economically, if we are going tolive with the current logic of the open marketand capitalistic accumulation, then weneed to do something to redistributewealth in a better way.What I hear from the Costa Rican eliteis an interest in generating more wealth,but a certain disdain toward establishingthe parameters that would allow more evenaccess to that wealth. The middle class hasbeen hurt, has been reduced, and theinequality in the system is increasing dramatically.How can wealth be more evenly distributed?That implies a new tax reform. The onethe President has at hand is insufficient,although it is a start.It is not an easy thing, but if we aregoing to live in a market economy, wehave to be clear that the market alone doesn’tdo enough about the distribution ofwealth.We have to open more markets. So farwe are basically relying on the Americanmarket, which is only logical, because ofgeographical reasons, because of experience.But if we are going to imagine amore developed Costa Rica, we have toopen avenues of trade with Asia andEurope. We have to move more toward aChilean type of foreign trade, where theUnited States remains our major tradepartner, but we have other significant ones.Currently, Chile exports some 40% ofproducts to the United States and 60% toAfrica and Asia.Why are Liberationists upset by theshift toward neo-liberalism and awayfrom social democracy?Liberation was always able to move inthe middle of those two extremes.Liberation was not a revolutionary party, itwas a reformist party. We did not rejectcapitalism; we worked within it to introducecertain measures to make it effective,socially speaking. Liberation’s proposalwas no different than Franklin D.Roosevelt’s in the United States in the1930s and 1940s.What we miss now is the commitmentLiberation had with the middle class, particularlywith agriculture producers,campesinos and teachers.I am not advocating Cuba… nor(Venezuelan President Hugo) Chaves.What we want to avoid is El Salvador,Colombia. The Costa Rican way is themiddle ground.I am not expecting a social revolutionin the French way, in the Chinese way.How will Arias lead Liberation, andthe country, if elected?Arias is going to be as neo-liberal as(former President) Rodríguez, but he isgoing to do things better. He is going to bean efficient and non-corrupt Rodríguez. Heis going to represent the interests and thevisions of the Costa Rica elite, and probablygoing to do a good job at it, which isgoing to be very bad for the Costa Ricanpeople, because he is going to furtherimpoverish them.Is Arias going to be President?A year ago it was almost inevitable.Now, I don’t know.If the current situation of fragmentationin National Liberation continues, thelikelihood of Arias’ success increases a lot.Let’s face it: he may not be as powerful ashe was, but he remains a very powerfulfigure in Costa Rican politics… until thecampaign starts, no one knows how effectivethat campaign can be.The big challenge for the opposition isto find sufficient common ground to unifythe candidacy in opposition to Arias. But if(the platform) is only opposition to Arias,it won’t be enough.So will the nine or so other partiesunify against Arias?The many parties will remain distinct.A possible scenario that could defeat Ariaswould (be if) a significant number of thoseparties established rules that would allowfor them (to choose) one candidate to represent4 or 5 parties…That may not happen. There is a yearleft. There are all sorts of technical legalquestions – where would the money comefrom? Is a coalition feasible or not, interms of legality?But if this doesn’t happen, it is going tobe more difficult to face Arias and succeed.What is the future beyond 2006,looking at 2010?In my opinion, 2006 is not as importantas 2010. The big challenge is 2010. Weneed at least four years to do the kinds ofthings we require in order to change thepolitical system, as I described earlier.For example, a constitutional assemblythat would change the Constitution and dosomething radical to change the way ourstate is organized. That is not going to happenin one year or two years.Could the changes happen regardlessof who wins in 2006?No, because in order for those radicalchanges to occur, we need somebody whorealizes that his administration, or heradministration if a woman appears, is atransition administration. And that requiresa lot of humility, to say to the country:‘Listen, I am going to hold the ship, but Iam not going to take it anywhere. I am justgoing to keep it from going down.’ I don’tsee that humility in Oscar Arias andLiberation.Are we seeing the end of Liberationand Costa Rica’s other major parties?Liberation is still a very big party, andI am absolutely sincere when I say mydecision (to leave) really hurts my heartbecause the base of the party is veryhealthy. There are a significant number ofleaders who can take over. But the party isnot going to be hegemonic anymore.Neither is the Social Christian Unity Party(PUSC).The future as I see it for political partiesin Costa Rica is… smaller parties thatwill coalesce following ideological lineswith allies every election. Groups fromcivil society, groups from NGOs (non-governmentorganizations), interest groups…will support smaller, more ideological,more doctrinal organizations.Can a system of small parties workin the long term?Yes, if we change the Constitutionand move along toward a more parliamentarysystem. And when I say more parliamentarian,I am not thinking of Italy, orBritain, I am thinking in more of theFrench or Spanish way, where you have astrong President … and a prime minister.Bipartisanship has worked so far,because the political regime was stable.The political regime now is very unstableand the forces of history are fragmentingpolitical parties, rather than unifying them.In that kind of historical stage, movingtoward a parliamentarian model can help alot.That is why I talk about a silent revolution.Does the voting public care?I think they understand more thanpoliticians are willing to admit. This is nota stupid herd of cattle that behaves followingpolitical propaganda, as it was before.In my estimation, you will see a more criticalvoter coming along, particularly theyounger generation of voters.You don’t see the same allegiance toleaders anymore. Some people have theirleaders in jail. Some icons of the past areno longer. That is very important, becauseit allows for more independence.

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