San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Hitting the Campaign Trail

IN case the candidates knocking at your door and vans blasting campaign songs aren t indication enough it s campaign season. With less than a month left before the Feb. 5 elections, candidates have hit the campaign trail hard.

While Costa Rican campaigns used to be based around traditional tactics, particularly huge plazas públicas (public rallies), as parties have diversified, so have their techniques.

From straightforward, no nonsense meetings to charismatic personal encounters to extravaganzas meant to capture the spirit of Costa Ricans, candidates campaigning methods offer a window into their leadership style. Regardless of the method, the end request is the same: Vote for me, and tell your neighbors to vote for me.

The Tico Times recently followed the three candidates who top the polls Oscar Arias, of the National Liberation Party, Ottón Solís, of the Citizen Action Party, and Otto Guevara of the Libertarian Movement to catch a glimpse of their campaign styles. Following is an impression of what we saw:

Meeting the Challenge Face to Face

THE best translation is town hall meeting, Citizen Action Party (PAC) candidate Ottón Solís told The Tico Times in English, describing his most used campaign tactic, the encuentro ciudadano.

At the events, Solís meets a community face to face and fields any questions they might have about the leadership he proposes for the country.

In tune with PAC philosophy, the meetings 23 of which Solís will hold this month throughout the country are meant to be a more useful, more budget, more grassroots alternative to public rallies.

While parties are decreasing their rallies, we are increasing our town hall meetings, the candidate said during one such meeting last week in Santo Domingo de Heredia, north of San José.

Five-foot-tall red block letters spelled out PAC along a fence, followed by a series of the party s red-and-yellow flags. They framed a makeshift outdoor stage backed by images of Solís and vice-presidential candidates Epsy Campbell and Marita González. Two young men warmed up the crowd with an acoustic version of the Beatles Yesterday. Beyond this, the meeting had none of the trappings of a rally.

Instead, Solís took the stage without much fanfare to field questions from audience members young and old regarding education, pensions, the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA), and reducing social spending, among other things.

ONE of the most dramatic moments occurred when Solís fired up the matter of- fact exchange with the suggestion that CAFTA is a factory of unemployment, a notion met with cheers.

Every white plastic chair set up in the street was full, and many more people stood. PAC T-shirts and hats dotted the crowd of more than 300 people, but it was hardly a sea of yellow and red. While some clearly came to hear their preferred candidate, others were just walking by, and, curious, stopped to listen for a moment to the man with the microphone.

What is the economic theory of giving subsidies to (microchip manufacturer) Intel but not to agriculture? Solis asked, questioning Costa Rica economic development model in recent years, before giving a simplified economics lesson on inflation.

During the meetings, Solís takes on average 10 minutes to explore and answer each question, and while he does so for approximately two hours, he cannot attend to all of the audience s inquiries.

However, PAC youth have determined that each question must get an answer. They lug two computers to the events and when it appears time won t permit Solís to answer all of the questions, they start fielding them. Using their computers, they search the PAC platform and previous Solís answers to find appropriate responses for audience members, and then print them up.

Every question gets an answer, Solís said.

Looking Costa Rica In the Eye

WEAVING in and out of clotheslines, sneaking down dark passageways and stepping into musty living rooms is how Libertarian Movement candidate Otto Guevara does his campaigning.

The candidate who is commonly described as dashing likes to look his voters in the eyes with his intense gaze, assure them he has the answer to rescue them from their misery, and, of course, give them a little beso.

With the exception of television, radio and billboard ads, Guevara s entire campaign is based on going door to door in some of the country s poorest neighborhoods and asking for votes one by one.

On a visit last week to the impoverished neighborhood of Bajo los Ledezma, west of San José between Pavas and La Uruca, Guevara told residents he would help them get property titles to the government land they have occupied for 22 years.

With a property title you can qualify for a housing grant to build a home, Guevara said, explaining the reasoning behind the party s call for increased privatization of property.

THIS is Janet Mora s wish. Her home is tucked inside the maze of shanties that make up Bajo los Ledezma and was overlooked as Guevara walked down the road. But Mora refused to lose her chance to make her plea to the possible future President.

You skipped me, she cried, insisting that Guevara come back to see her makeshift home, a request the candidate easily obliged.

I just want you to help me with a house, that s all I ask, she told him as he crouched to step out of her low-hanging doorway.

Once outside, Mora remembered one more request: can I have a T-shirt? she asked as campaign music boomed from a van.

Candidates have long visited neighborhoods asking for votes, but Guevara s effort stands out because he literally goes door to door, spending approximately two minutes with every household.

We will use a mano dura (heavy hand) to free parks of drug dealers and streamline the permitting process to open small businesses to make a society of proprietors, the 45-year-old Guevara tells the residents.

While his message is valuable, Guevara s good looks don t hurt when housewives open their doors to his campaign.

You realize that 90% of the people home during the day in these neighborhoods are women. And they give him a warm welcome, Rogelio Pardo, former minister of health and science and technology and vice-presidential candidate, said with a grin.

WE are reaching 1,500 people a day and in 95% of cases, people decide their vote in this form, Guevara said. But for others, it s not that simple.

They think that the most humble people are the most ignorant, said Sandra González, a resident of a lower middle-class neighborhood in Pavas also visited by Guevara. She said every election, candidates visit them, make empty promises and are never seen again. The waitress said she doesn t plan on voting for lack of quality options.

But if I do vote, maybe I will vote for Guevara for the kiss he gave me, that s all, she said with a laugh.

Sending the Message Loud and Clear

HOW tuanis is Liberation?! National Liberation Party vice-presidential candidate Kevin Casas asked a crowd of approximately 800 people who gathered in the Caribbean port of Limón last Saturday for a Liberation rally.

Tuanis, which loosely translated means cool or hip, is one way to describe the party s event. While other, younger parties have turned their backs on public rallies, former President and presidential candidate Oscar Arias (1986-1990) proudly shared the stage with acts of reggaeton and salsa.

To warm up the crowd to Arias s speech, salsa and merengue band La Solución took to the stage followed by Costa Rica s favorite local reggaeton star Tapón.

Their beats blasted through speakers on 15-foot-tall structures, calling people to join the event, already well marked with green-and-white Liberation flags hanging everywhere along a block of Limón s Avenida Segunda.

While Tapón boomed out lyrics and young ladies in the crowd screamed with delight, Liberation supporters handed out wooden sticks with plastic white-and green flags that read Oscar Arias.

AS further reminder that the performance was, in fact, related to Feb. 5, a screen behind Tapón flashed images of the Liberation campaign, ideas from the platform and candidates names.

Not to be outdone by those on stage, Arias s arrival was a show in itself. In true Limón style, the Arias parade featured colorfully dressed carnival dancers shaking to drum beats, fire jugglers and clowns on stilts.

The approach of Arias was met with a downpour of rain, which concealed his supporters behind umbrellas, dampened confetti and soaked dancers skimpy outfits. But it did not drive anyone away from the main event.

After vice-presidential candidates Kevin Casas and Laura Chincilla transitioned the event from extravaganza to meaningful political message, Arias took the microphone. His hypnotically rhythmic speech lasted for 25 minutes until just after 6 p.m. Tapping into the spirit of Limón which was host to political campaigning from several other candidates last weekend Arias said the province is a mirror of both the best and worst of Costa Rica.

If Costa Rica has problems, they are much worse in Limón, he said, offering the fact that while one in five Costa Ricans are poor, one in three Limonenses suffer the same fate.

But the region also offers great potential, he said, pointing to tourism and trade.

ARIAS promised his supporters a four-lane highway to San José, a new airport, and better educations for children who currently make their living hocking wares at stoplights.

When his message was over, Arias returned the event to its festive atmosphere. The group Timbaleo took the stage by storm with the all-too appropriate La Vida es un Carnaval.

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