San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Rainbow of Flags Helps Sort Out the Politics

With only two more sleeps until the election, people are showing support for the country’s many political parties with a rainbow of party flags.

Third-ranked presidential candidate Otto Guevara’s Libertarian Movement colors of red and white compete with the green-and-white flags of first-ranked candidate Oscar Arias, of the National Liberation Party (PLN), the red and-yellow flags of second-ranked candidate Otton Solís, of the Citizen Action Party (PAC), and myriad other colorful flags. Why do the parties and candidates promote their signature colors?

“Two things appear on the ballot: each presidential candidate’s photo, and the party flag,” explained Carlos Sojo, a sociologist with the Latin American Faculty of Social Studies.

This colorful tradition dates back to before 1930.

“The use of colors wasn’t regulated until the Electoral Law of 1927. One of the things it dictated was that no party can use the same flag as another,” said Ivan Molina, history professor at the University of Costa Rica. “It’s very probable that parties started to use colored flags in the decade 1900 to 1909.

Nobody really knows when that started,” he said, and added that the first time the flags appeared on the ballot was in 1930.

“In the first half of the 20th century, there were many, many more political parties. Much more than now. So really, those colors were used to differentiate between them,” he said.

Color Meanings

“There are classic meanings attached to colors, like white is peace and green signifies the earth,” Sojo said. “In the past, red was the color used by leftist groups – for example China and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (U.S.S.R.). In Costa Rica those colors don’t have that significance; red has lost its connection to the left. The real use of colors is to differentiate between parties. What do the colors mean? Nothing. Are they important? Yes. It’s important for the parties to maintain an elemental difference.”

Only so many bold colors exist to choose from, and when you subtract the colors already taken by the existing parties and multitudes of previous parties, few options remain.

“It’s a problem for new parties when it comes time to choose representative colors. One problem the parties face is that the colors they use resemble the soccer team colors. The selection is limited,”Molina said.

In Escazú Sunday, for example, a caravan of vehicles flying red-and-yellow PAC flags had at the rear the biggest red-and-yellow flag of all, with the text “Long Live the Heredia Sports Club,” the daily La Nación reported. Although the overlap could appear advantageous for PAC, it can also be detrimental to share a soccer team’s colors, according to political analyst and University of Costa Rica (UCR) history professor Luis Guillermo Solís. It’s a bad idea because nonfans might be alienated, he said.

Denis Castro, image coordinator for the National Union Party, which chose yellow and green as its colors when it formed in October 2005, agreed.

“It was difficult to choose colors,” he said.

“You have to differentiate yourself from the other parties.When the colors are used repetitively in the other parties, it’s difficult to differentiate.

Also, if you choose a color that another party has, people confuse you for them, or think that you’re similar to them.

For us, yellow represents peace, and green represents a new future,” he said. The Democratic Nationalist Alliance formed in May 2004.

“We had color preferences, but they were the same colors that other parties had,” said Jenny Herrera, who is married to the party’s presidential candidate, former Justice Minister José Miguel Villalobos.

“If we had used them the consequence would be that on Election Day people would be confused. We couldn’t repeat colors,” she said. She explained their final choice: “Dark Blue signifies experience and trust, orange signifies appetite for ideas and change, and  white signifies peace and cleanliness, cleaning out the corruption in the government.”

Of the current parties, National Liberation is the oldest.

“The party was founded in 1951, after the civil war of 1948, so at the end of the war they chose those colors,” explained Solís, who acted as Secretary General for the party in 2002 and 2003.

“The white and green signify peace and hope,” he said.

“The Christian Social Unity Party was established in 1982,” he continued. “It was a coalition of different parties before that. So they needed a new flag, one that would not put any party above the other [uniting] parties.

They used blue because they all had blue, and red because none of them had red. And it’s similar to the Costa Rican flag, which is blue, red and white.”


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