History professor Vladimir de la Cruz is an unlikely choice for ambassador.
He ran against President Oscar Arias in the 2006 elections. A former member of the Costa Rica’s Communist and Socialist parties, de la Cruz opposed Arias’ pet project, the freetrade agreement with the United States.
Yet de la Cruz, 61,will represent the Arias government as the Costa Rican ambassador to Venezuela for the next two years. He will work to mend fraying relations between the two presidents and boost cooperation on trade, medicine and investment.
Named after the Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin, de la Cruz appears to have more in common politically with Chávez than with his new boss, who has clashed with Chávez on several issues.
Posters of Lenin, Che Guevara and Nicaraguan revolutionary César Sandino hang on his library wall. Three more paintings depict Simón Bolívar, Venezuela’s founding father and Chávez’s hero, during his “three moments of glory,” de la Cruz said.
After graduating from high school, de la Cruz spent a year in the Soviet Union traveling and studying the Communist regime. In the 1960s and ’70s, he belonged first to the communist People’s Vanguard Party, then the Socialist Party.
Ten years ago, he joined the leftist Democratic Force Party and ran unsuccessfully for president in 1998, 2002 and 2006.
When he finishes his stint in Venezuela, he will return to academic life at the University of Costa Rica (UCR) and the National University (UNA), where he has taught history for more than three decades.
De la Cruz will travel alone to Venezuela on Thursday. He leaves behind his wife, Anabelle Picado, a doctor, and four grown children – including three sons named after indigenous leaders who battled Spanish colonizers centuries ago: Túpac Amaru, Lautaro and Presbere.
He spoke to The Tico Times this week in his spacious home in San Ramon de Tres Rios east of San José. Here are some excerpts:
TT: What does the Democratic Force Party represent?
VDLC: A distribution of wealth that better compensates society’s biggest sectors – whether through state intervention, better wages, social and labor security, land redistribution, access to education and health care. It never defined itself as a socialist party. It defined itself as a party that would bring together the best of democracy: socialists, anti-imperialists, nationalists, republicans and liberals.
What do you think of Chávez?
He is a charismatic leader, a leader with great political weight on the continent and in Venezuela. He is very intelligent, very capable. It will be a gratifying experience for me to live and work in a country with a president like Chávez.
In any society, some sectors oppose the government. Chávez’s government has an opposition, just like in Costa Rica. But that’s Venezuela’s problem and none of my business. From Mexico down, the president who has most influence today is, without doubt, Hugo Chávez Frías. No other political leader in Latin America has the international strength, recognition and audience that Chávez has.
Including Oscar Arias?
Yes, including Oscar Arias. Arias has a lot of weight on the continent, but on a different scale.
Arias and Chávez have had a sour relationship. Arias has called Chávez a dictator, and Chávez has threatened to withdraw major investments from Costa Rica. How will you mend ties?
I am going to try to find the points of understanding between the two governments. (Arias) picked me as someone who is not hostile to the Venezuelan government and can help improve relations. When the Venezuelan government accepted me as ambassador, and the Costa Rican government accepted the (incoming Venezuelan ambassador Nelson) Pineda, the (two governments) gave a double sign that they want to overcome their differences. Let’s bury what happened in the past between Arias and Chávez. Arias has solid ideas developed over a long time, and Chávez does, too. Perhaps neither wants to change his ideas. But we will try to make the manner in which they express their differences as civil as possible.
On what issues can the two countries cooperate better?
We will explore the possibility of joining Petrocaribe (a regional energy alliance formed by Venezuela that provides cut-rate oil to its members, mostly in the Caribbean). Venezuela could eventually bid to run Costa Rica’s oil refinery if the state decides to grant a concession. There’s an enormous opportunity for Costa Rica to export agricultural and food products to Venezuela.We also are discussing a possible extradition treaty.
You opposed the main goal of Arias’ administration, the Central American Free- Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA).How can you now work for him?
We lost that battle at the polls. The country must move on. On a fundamental level, I agree with (Arias’) foreign policies: the fight for peace, the fight against weapons, the recognition of China, the decision to move the (Costa Rican) embassy (in Israel) from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, new ties with Arab countries. Those policies show a lot of independence – from the United States and from other countries.
Were you surprised at getting this assignment?
President Arias called me in January. He asked if I could help him and his government on a special mission to improve relations with Venezuela. I never expected (Arias) would choose someone like me. I opposed his policies.
You once described yourself as a radical. Is that still true?
A radical is not an extremist. It’s someone who looks at the root of problems.
And what is the root of the problem between Arias and Chávez?
I don’t know. I have to find out. I hope it’s not anything deep and cancerous.