San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Cameraman Has Watched C.R. History Unfold

Almost every weekday for the last 20 years, Julio Garita has captured lawmakers on film. From his small windowless room in the Legislative Assembly, he has seen lawmakers yell, cry, even give one another the finger.

Garita has worked for the assembly’s public relations office as a photographer and cameraman from 1973 to 1978 and from 1988 to the present. At first, he snapped photos for press releases and bulletins. When the assembly bought film equipment in 1995, he began recording debates.

He says he now has an inventory of about 1,500 taped debates, which typically last three hours. They capture the hottest discussions of the day, including: Should Costa Rica eliminate the state telecom monopoly? (No, lawmakers said in 2000.)

Should the tax system be overhauled? (Yes, lawmakers finally said in 2006, only to be overruled by the Supreme Court.) Should the country pass all 13 laws required to enter the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States? (Outlook good. Check back in two months.)

From his cubicle, surrounded by tapes and machines, Garita talked to The Tico Times about the debates and the personalities behind them.

TT: You have posters on your walls from the 1970s with pictures of lawmakers traveling the country to support local projects. Tell us about those.

JG: Those posters were distributed everywhere. Elementary schools, high schools, health centers – public institutions throughout the country. In 1978, they stopped being distributed. That was a mistake. The assembly’s image has fallen. Now we broadcast debates through (the cable service) Amnet. But it would be good to publicize their work in the community.

President Arias held his cabinet meeting in Guanacaste last Friday to celebrate the annexation of that northwestern province to Costa Rica. Why don’t lawmakers do something similar?

Some 20 years ago, the assembly used to hold sessions in Guanacaste. It was a privilege for the community. They transported the main big desk and held sessions in churches and gyms in Liberia and Nicoya. Lawmakers stopped doing that. There was a change of attitude.

What reputation do lawmakers have?

People think that they make a lot of money, that they’re lazy and don’t work very much. People don’t believe in the lawmakers. They used to be more respected.

What do you think?

Lawmakers aren’t as prepared as they once were. They tend to read their speeches. The good orators can be counted on one hand. You don’t see great debates anymore. I don’t know if (parties) made mistakes in choosing them, but the lawmakers are the main reason that the assembly’s image has degenerated.

Who has been your favorite lawmaker?

(Federico) Malavassi (Libertarian Movement Party, 2002-2006) was very good. He didn’t get along with (Juan) Jose Vargas (of the Nationhood First Party). One day Malavassi was at the front table, and Juan José had asked to speak. (Everyone knew) he was going to snub Malavassi. So Malavassi just went like this (shows his middle finger). It was captured on Channel 7.

Which lawmaker do you think talks the most?

José Merino (from the leftist Broad Front Party). Some lawmakers ask me to record their speeches on cassettes they provide. Merino has 64 cassettes, each with two hours of tape.

What sorts of services can you provide to the average joe?

Let’s say you were interested in a certain debate in, say, 1996. You can ask me for a tape, and I can lend it to you or copy it for you. A lot of lawmakers have died, and families want these tapes as memories.


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