San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

C.R. Cheers Obama Victory

Tico leaders from across the political spectrum cheered Democratic candidate Barack Obama’s victory this week as he became the first black president-elect of the United States.

Winning a large majority of Latino voters, Obama captured 349 electoral votes, compared to 162 for Republican candidate John McCain, excluding North Carolina and Missouri, which were still to close to call at press time.

“Barack Obama’s election is huge – huge for the United States and also for the world,” said President Oscar Arias, who represents the social democratic National Liberation Party (PLN). “He is new blood. He has some of the idealism of John F. Kennedy. He will no doubt do a great job directing U.S. policy, above all its foreign policy.”

On Wednesday, Obama’s face plastered the covers of every major Spanish-language newspaper in Costa Rica, and his name was on the lips of Ticos and expats alike. Many cheered his election as a welcome change after eight years of Republican President George W. Bush, whose popularity has plummeted in the United States and around the world.

Epsy Campbell, president of the left-leaning Citizen Action Party (PAC), said Obama’s election was “one of the most emotional events of my political life.

“He represents the change that the United States needs and that the world was waiting for,” said Campbell, whose ancestors came from southern Africa to Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. “He broke the glass ceiling for African-Americans and Afro-descendents in Latin America and across the world. …I was thinking about all our black ancestors who fought for our people’s rights. Barack Obama embodies (that) fight.”

Campbell has spoken about the elections at various international forums, and she attended the Democratic National Convention.

Ana Helena Chacón, a lawmaker for the Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC), also rooted for Obama, even though her party has historically aligned itself with the Republicans.

“I hope relations with Latin America improve,” she said. “There have been few efforts at cooperation, except in the field of security.”

Arias, who has often chided the United States for ignoring its neighbors to the south, sent Obama a congratulation letter Wednesday, saying, “Many of your most loyal allies are also those closest to home, here in Latin America, and no country cherishes your friendship more than Costa Rica.”

Even Otto Guevara, leader of the Libertarian Movement (ML) party and a hesitant McCain supporter, saw a silver lining in Tuesday’s results.

“McCain’s speech was extraordinary,” he said. “He put himself at the service of the new president and (promised) to work together for the good of the United States.”

Expats and some Ticos watched election returns at their places of work or at parties throughout the Central Valley Tuesday night.

An event hosted by the U.S. Embassy in Pavas, in western San José, drew some 600 political and business leaders, diplomats and students. Guests watched election returns on television while snacking, chatting and listening to music. A simulated election – with Ticos and expats alike – handed 218 votes to Obama and just 69 to McCain.

Michael Caggiano, owner of Hotel Alta in Santa Ana west of San José, hosted a buffet Tuesday night that drew about 60 people, and five families held informal election-watching parties for members of Democrats Abroad.

“(We were) screaming and hollering and having a good time,” said Paul Kloes, the Democrats Abroad chairman who hosted a gathering at his home in the western San José neighborhood of Escazú.

David Ellis, chairman of Republicans Abroad, attended the U.S. Embassy gathering but went to bed at 9:30 p.m., before he knew who had won.

“The American people have spoken, and we will accept that and support the new president,” he said Wednesday.

With two wars and a financial crisis to attend to, the 47-year old senator from Illinois will need all the support he can get.

“He has, as I heard last night, an inbox from hell,” Caggiano said.


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