Otto Guevara knows the challenge he’s up against.
For the past 15 years, the presidential candidate has preached a message of capitalism and free markets in a region that’s tending increasingly leftward. Convinced that unchecked enterprise is Costa Rica’s ticket onto the global playing field, he began a movement in 1994 to shift the mind-set of a country.
As the founder of the Libertarian Movement in Costa Rica, Guevara was the first in his party elected to the Legislative Assembly in 1998 and earned recognition from the press as the nation’s best legislator. He ran for president for the first time in 2002. He ran again in 2006, ending in third place with 8.5 percent of the vote.
His party, which controls 10 percent of the seats in the Legislative Assembly, has made its presence strongly felt, often by blocking legislation with which it disagrees. Pointing to elections in other countries in which candidates came from even further behind in the polls to win, he expressed confidence in his ability to make it to the Casa Presidencial in May of 2010.
A Harvard-educated lawyer, Guevara, 48, taught at the University of Costa Rica and now serves as president of the Latin America Liberal Network.
He spoke to The Tico Times this week about the Libertarian Movement, his vision for the country and the true cause of the economic crisis.
TT: What does the Libertarian Party stand for?
OG: The (platform) of the party is … in favor of economic competition and against monopolies (both public and private.) We support a state that doesn’t level more taxes on its citizens and an agenda that defends the wallet of Costa Ricans.
We also support the improvement of public education and public health. We’d like to give more freedom to the people to choose among the hospitals and doctors we have and also to choose their children’s schools and the professors who teach them.… We Libertarians share a belief that it is important to defend private property and that government should play a smaller role in people’s lives.
What is your message in this election?
We believe that our party – and Otto Guevara – represent change: a change in Costa Rican values, a change in how we address crime in our country and a change in the inequality in education between public and private schools.
A change is even more important in the face of the economic crisis. We need to create more and better jobs, which can be achieved by allowing free enterprise and eliminating obstacles so that people can open small businesses.
We are talking about change: Hagamos un cambio ya (Make a change now) is our motto. And that is what the people will achieve when they vote for Otto Guevara.
Do you think you can win the elections in February?
Yes, I am convinced that we can win the elections. In nine months, Obama was able to beat Hillary Clinton and no one bet a dime on Barack Hussein Obama (at the start).
My friend – Panama President Ricardo Martinelli– ended his first election with 5 percent of the votes. And now, in this past election, he won with 60 percent of the votes. (Or) take Alvaro Uribe in Colombia, for example.
One year before the elections, he had 5 percent of the votes (in the polls) and he ended up winning the elections a year later.
We have a little less than nine months. In certain respects, we already have 10 percent of the votes (based on representation in the assembly and the past elections). Taking these things into consideration, we can win the next election.
Many people in Costa Rica point to the economic crisis as proof that capitalism and unregulated markets don’t work. How do you respond to this?
The crisis in the world today is motivated by an excess of state intervention in the economy.
I will give three examples: One, the intervention of the Federal Reserve in lowering interest rates in the United States. This action sends a signal to American citizens that they can afford a home or a second home. So the aspirations of buying a house grow among the population. There is excess demand for houses, which – in turn – raises the prices of those homes. The other (factor) is the governmentsponsored enterprises, like Fannie (Mae) and Freddy (Mac). These two entities are practically businesses. They buy mortgages. They say to the bank, “Come, bring your mortgages, we will buy them, and then we will return money to you so you can keep lending.” So Fannie and Freddy are two legal businesses of the government. There is an implicit guarantee of the state that those companies would not go bankrupt. And so, because of this guarantee, they assume more risky behaviors on their accounts.
This crisis is a crisis of state intervention. The market functions perfectly before the distortions of the state. For this reason, the form of resolving this problem is not with interventionist methods like in the 1930s with U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It is not intervention or greater protection that is going to take these countries out of crisis. It’s more liberty. Get rid of obstacles and free up the market. If General Motors falls, why should the government be responsible? Why do the taxpayers need to save a business that is poorly managed?
The United States and its financial markets seem a far way off for many Costa Ricans. The problem is so complex many United States citizens don’t understand. How do you explain the economic crisis in simple terms to people here?
We have had a series of presidents in Latin America who don’t believe in the market. They are interventionists. They are socialists. They say, ‘When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, that was the end of communism. This crisis in the United States is the end of capitalism, which opens the door for socialism in the 21st century.’
My message is simple: We pay the price (of socialism) as taxpayers.… People in trouble, who make bad decisions (or very risky decisions) don’t worry because they know the state will save them. This augments the risk and the possibility that wrong decisions will be made. And, in the end, this (state reliance) affects the tax payers because they have to pay for (mistakes).
Costa Ricans tend to look to the state to meet their needs. There is an explicit expectation the state will care for its people. With your platform, are you trying to change the mentality of a society?
Yes. This is a society very accustomed to (state aid.) The state should take care of everything, most people think.
Since we began in 1994, we have insisted that the people should be the ones to make the important decisions in each of their lives. And politicians are there to defend individual rights and economic liberties.
We began very small (as a party) and on this journey we have gathered more and more people who share our ideas, not just in Costa Rica, but in all of Latin America.
If you were elected president, what would Costa Rica look like after your term?
After four years, we want to establish a new direction for the country. We envision a country that is much more secure, a country with greater foreign investment and a country with a better educational system. (We envision) a country in which more people are happy, a country that is more prosperous than other countries in the region, a country that respects the environment, a country which delivers many more exports to the world market, a country with better infrastructure. This is the country I think we can leave at the end of our mandate.