Costa Rica’s Presidential Candidates:Who They Are and What They Want to Do
Voter apathy may keep voters away from the polls, but lack of choices should not. Fourteen candidates are contending in Sunday’s presidential election, hoping to take a seat in Casa Presidencial May 8. Among the choices are two Nobel Peace Prize winners, two Christian-based candidates, several former Communists, a Libertarian and a surgeon.
Almost all of the candidates are practiced in politics, but several have recently formed new parties. While rejection of tradition is growing, many Costa Rica voters seem poised to vote for what they know.
Former President Oscar Arias (1986-1990), from the National Liberation Party – one of the pillars of Costa Rica’s bipartisan system that defined politics here until recently – leads in the polls. However, candidate Ottón Solís, who formed the Citizen Action Party five years ago, could make the race closer than expected.
Key issues include the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA), taxes, poverty and Costa Rica’s development model.
The information was gathered from interviews and party material.
ANTONIO ALVAREZ DESANTI
Union for Change
Colors: Yellow and blue
First Vice-President: Eleonora Badilla
Second Vice-President: Jorge Arroyo Alvarez received a law degree from the University of Costa Rica (UCR) and got his political start as president of the UCR Student Federation (FEUCR).
While Alvarez boasts extensive leadership under the Liberation party – he was legislator (1994-1998), Minister of Agriculture, Minister of Public Security and a pre-presidential candidate – many leaders in his party are political newcomers.
Alvarez left Liberation in October 2004, saying that corruption has destroyed both Liberation and Unity and Costa Rica has come to the “end of an era.”
The candidate supports CAFTA and advocates more programs to help small and medium businesses and the agricultural sector. He supports tax reform in which the rich pay greater taxes, but not the plan currently in the Legislative Assembly, and says businesses that don’t pay taxes should be shut down.
Alvarez has been married to Nuria Marín since 1983 and has two children.
Quote: “We can’t stop globalization by putting a stop light in the airport and another at the border.”
Patriotic Union Party (UP)
Colors: White “UP” on navy blue flag
First Vice-President: Gloria Valerín
Second Vice-President: Emilia Molina
Coming from a background of journalism and livestock, Arce was elected to the Legislative Assembly in 2002 as a member of PAC. After jumping parties several times, he has settled in with the new UP, which has a strong stance against CAFTA but would like to see the issue brought to a public vote.
The party identifies Costa Rica as a successful social and political model in Latin America, and says a commitment must be made to maintain that position.
Arce has been married to Silvia Fernández for 26 years. They have three children and three grandchildren.
Quote: “Costa Rica, being so small, is being wiped out by the international economic systems. The Patriotic Union Party is an expression of consolidation in response to this.”
National Liberation Party (PLN)
Colors: Green and white
First Vice-President: Laura Chinchilla
Second Vice-President: Kevin Casas
Arias’ reputation precedes him. The candidate and former President (1986-1990) was bestowed the Nobel Peace prize in 1987 for efforts in negotiating peace agreements to end Central American civil wars.
Since then he has gained almost iconic status among some Costa Ricans, allowing him to run on a “sí se puede” (yes we can) platform filled with positive proposals.
While he advocates increasing both taxes and social spending, he promises to enforce macroeconomic discipline.
He strongly supports CAFTA and believes Costa Rica can be the first developed country in Latin America. While opponents label him a neoliberalist, Arias says he wants to find a balance between the populism of the old left and the neoliberal fundamentalism of the extreme right.
Arias holds law and economic degrees from UCR and a political science doctorate from University of Essex. He is divorced from Margarita Penón, a strong PAC supporter, and has two children.
Quote: “We live in an ungovernable country, where democracy has evolved into a quasi-anarchy… instead of reducing poverty, we have increased it. Instead of reducing inflation, we have increased it. Instead of reducing unemployment, we have increased it. This country cannot bear more of this.”
VLADIMIR DE LA CRUZ
Party Colors: Orange
First Vice-President: Howard Roper
Second Vice-President: Anabelle Artavia
In his third consecutive candidacy for the presidency, de la Cruz, a history scholar and leftist activist during the 1970s, still incarnates the goals of his party, created by late poet Isaac Felipe Azofeifa in 1992 as an alternative to the country’s bipartisan tradition.
After completing studies in history and law at UCR, de la Cruz went on to teach university history, business administration and development and continued doing so for 35 years.
The candidate, who is also running as a legislative candidate, opposes CAFTA, and said he believes the source of Arias’ strength is the large amount of money he has invested in his political campaign.
The candidate is married to Anabelle Picado and has four children.
Quote: “The values that define our party are humanism, patriotism, nationalism, Latin Americanism, Central Americanism.”
JOSÉ MANUEL ECHANDI
National Union Party
Colors: Green and yellow
First Vice-President: Esmeralda Britton
Second Vice-President: Hernán Zamora
Former Ombudsman – or “defender of the inhabitants” as it is translated directly from Spanish – Echandi champions the rights of the little guy and boasts a keen awareness of the average Costa Rican’s reality.
Echandi, who hopes to land a seat in the legislature if not in Casa Presidencial, advocates rebuilding the social state and increasing education spending. Fiscal conservatism has won out to social spending, he says, and this can be changed by increasing income taxes, rather than sales taxes, in order to place greater tax burden on the rich.
He also proposes creating a public university hospital, improving and increasing services to Indigenous and elderly, and creating prison work programs.
Echandi’s stance on CAFTA has been wishy-washy – he has said he supports it with changes and a complementary agenda. Echandi has been married to Merle García for 20 years and has two sons.
Quote: “Traditional politics have left this country in an unfavorable situation. The human rights of Costa Ricans are losing ground. A greedy capitalism is taking over in which human beings are not the most important.”
Colors: Red with a white checkmark
First Vice-President: Rogelio Pardo
Second Vice-President: Ana Gabriela
Alfaro While Guevara still carries the name of Libertarian, he has gone a bit moderate in this year’s campaign.
In his second run at the presidency (he ran in 2002 as well), Guevara is still staunchly opposed to taxes and government regulation, but largely gone from his campaign are suggestions of school vouchers and privatizing the state monopolies on telecom and insurance (he still advocates opening them to competition).
A Harvard-educated lawyer, Guevara co-founded Costa Rica’s Libertarian Movement in 1994 and was legislator in 1998-2002.
While Guevara has acknowledged he may not be elected President (he ranks third in recent polls), he says the Libertarian party will be a force to be reckoned with from 2006-2010, as it has been during the current legislature, usually by delaying countless bills for months.
A proponent of the free-market economy, Guevara is a staunch CAFTA supporter.
He is divorced and has three children.
Quote: “The public policies of this country are going to pass through the Libertarian Movement, whether we win or lose (the presidency). We will have the muscle to drive things for the country… and we will have the muscle to detain things.”
ALVARO EDUARDO MONTERO
National Rescue Party
Colors: Red and white
No vice-presidential candidates – did not register in time Various Tico Times attempts to contact Montero and National Rescue officials were not successful, and according to the Supreme Election Tribunal (TSE) Web site, Montero did not submit any personal or platform information.
At a debate at the UCR campus during the campaign, Montero said Costa Rica must focus its research and technology on finding solutions to problems of developing countries, such as malaria and tuberculosis, often overlooked by First-World research.
In an interview with the daily La Nación, Montero, an economist and lawyer, said he chose to return to politics to provide a new, distinct option to Costa Ricans who have lost faith in their government. He defined his party as center-left; he supports free-trade agreements in general but opposes CAFTA.
His campaign got off to a rough start when the TSE did not allow National Rescue to register vice-presidential or legislative candidates, saying the party’s national assembly did not meet quorum. Montero, who had intended to run for legislator, appealed, but to no avail.
National Integration Party (PIN)
Party Colors: White “PIN” on light and
First Vice-President: Elena Alonso
Second Vice-President: Rodolfo Jiménez
A surgeon by profession, Muñoz was a legislator in the Legislative Assembly from 1998-2002 and is making his third run at the presidency. Also running for legislator, he presents a platform based on the decentralization of government and strengthening of cantons.
PIN’s policies and proposals come from the StudyCenter for 21st Century Costa Rica, a think tank that Muñoz says has studied the nation’s problems for 10 years.
Muñoz calls for the renegotiation of CAFTA and favors Latin American integration to confront globalization.
Muñoz, who is single, is the author of books on medicine and philosophy and is a co-recipient of the 1985 Nobel Peace prize, as one of more than 145,000 physicians who make up the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.
QUOTE: “We are the only party that does not come from other parties. The only candidate that is not from another party is I.”
Costa Rican Renovation Party
Colors: Blue and white
First Vice-President: Luis Sell
Second Vice-President: Floribeth Acosta
A former schoolteacher and principal, now a lawyer and evangelical pastor, Serrano would eliminate high-stakes standardized testing in the public schools and create a new Constitution that gives greater power to municipalities. He would also restructure the Judicial Branch, which he says is in a state of collapse.
The political newcomer has raised eyebrows by claiming he has been chosen by God to be the country’s next President (TT, Jan. 11). He now says that regardless of the results, he’s already achieved his objective of drawing attention to God’s word.
Serrano is a co-founder of the Universidad Nacional (UNA) in Heredia, north of San José. He has been married to Alicia Bravo for 30 years; they have four children.
Quote: “We would create a new Constitution that would allow us to mobilize the state – the state is obsolete, not agile as it ought to be.”
Citizen Action Party (PAC)
Colors: Red and Yellow
First Vice-President: Epsy Campbell
Second Vice-President: Marita González
An economist, Solís accepts globalization but only under the rules of fair trade. He believes Costa Rican exports can thrive on the basis of good environmental and labor standards and says CAFTA can and should be renegotiated.
Solís served as Minister of Planning under Arias and as a Liberation legislator from 1994-1998 before rifts in 2000 prompted him to leave the party and form PAC.
In 2002, Solís rocked Costa Rica’s then bipartisan political system when he ran for President as a third party and forced a runoff for the first time in 50 years (TT, Feb. 8, 2002).
The growing party is based on the elimination of corruption and Solís advocates efficient government spending, including insisting PAC legislators shouldn’t use government cars.
Born in the Southern Zone, Solís, holds a doctorate in economics from the University of Manchester, England. He has been married since 1994 to Shirley Sánchez, and has four daughters ages 4 to 21.
Quote: “The middle class is bordering on poverty and the poor at the point of misery. The winners are few and the losers are many. Something bad is happening in Costa Rica: much wealth is produced, but few benefit.”
Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC)
Colors: Red and blue
First Vice-President: Liliana Salas
Second Vice-President: Ramón Yglesias
A lawyer and legislator, Toledo has worked in politics since age 20, when he served on the board of Unity’s National Youth Movement. He now represents his party at a dismal point in its history. Once one of the parties that made up Costa Rica’s bipartisan system, polls now place it in sixth place following corruption scandals involving two ex-Presidents, both of Unity.
Supporting small and medium businesses, tightening borders to address rising immigration, bringing new technology to schools and creating home loan programs for young couples are key elements of his plans. Toledo supports CAFTA as long as complementary legislation is approved to help the country with the transition.
He has held various leadership positions in the Labor Ministry, Legislative Assembly, Organization of American States (OAS) and other organizations and served as President Abel Pacheco’s campaign chief. He has been married to Martha Lora Morejón for 22 years. They have one son.
Quote: “The best economic policy includes social policies, and the best social policy includes economic policies.”
Unified Left Coalition Party
Party Colors: Red and White
First Vice-President: Alvaro Espinoza
Second Vice-President: Patricia Ramos
Retired from his careers as a lawyer and sociologist, Vargas lives part time in the Caribbean slope town of Turrialba, where he enjoys farming. Vargas has been interested in politics since he was young and began working with the leftist Popular Vanguard Party (PVP) in the 1960s. He was a member of the Legislative Assembly on two occasions: 1978-1982 and 1986-1990.
A former communist, Vargas criticizes the current administration’s neoliberalism and said it should be substituted with socialism to achieve an equal distribution of wealth. Raising minimum wage, lowering taxes and giving farmers better access to loans are among his proposals.
A strong opponent of CAFTA, Vargas believes in nationalized control over public resources and utilities rather than privatization.
Vargas is married to Pilar Corrales and has five children and 12 grandchildren.
Quote: “The most important thing is putting an end to social injustice, returning hope and dignity to those who are poor and discriminated against.”
JUAN JOSÉ VARGAS
Homeland First Party
Colors: Blue and white
First Vice-President: Nazira Chéves
Second Vice-President: Ricardo Quesada
A political scientist by trade, Vargas is guided by his Christian faith. He was elected to the Legislative Assembly as a member of PAC, but left the party shortly after taking office. He is in his second year as vice-president of the legislature.
The new Homeland First Party is unique in its “fundamental dedication” to seven principles including: humanity, equality, harmonious and peaceful confidence, search for the common good, solidarity and distribution of land and wealth.
The party opposes CAFTA, calling the trade negotiations neither transparent nor just.
Missionary work has dominated Vargas ’ professional life. He founded the missionary group Peace Club of Costa Rica and spent four years working as a missionary in the Amazon jungle in Brazil.
Vargas has two sons with his wife Silvia Leitón, to whom he has been married for 21 years.
Quote: “Our only desire is to be in politics and serve others.”
JOSÉ MIGUEL VILLALOBOS
Democratic National Alliance
Party Colors: Blue, White and Orange
First Vice-President: Emilia Rodríguez
Second Vice-President: Roberto Quirós
Born in Alajuela, Villalobos served a short stint as Justice Minister from May to November 2002 before being fired because he opposed the controversial and now-discarded Pococí prison project (see separate story).
Villalobos, who is also running for legislator, studied philology and law at UCR, taught constitutional law at the university, and has served as an advisor for the Legislative Assembly, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank.
He founded the Democratic National Alliance in 2004 calling it the “confluence of the impetus of youth and the experience of the elder.”
If elected, Villalobos said he would send CAFTA to the garbage bin and trash a plan to overhaul Costa Rica’s tax system.
He says penalties against convicted criminals need to be dramatically increased.
Villalobos married lawyer Jenny Herrera in 1994. They have a 9-year-old son.
Quote: “It’s better to switch parties because your principles have changed, than to switch principles because your party has changed.”
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