San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Costa Rica's reeling right picks Fishman to charge on to 2010 elections

Costa Rica´s center-right Social Christian Unity Party (La Unidad) moved to forge ahead toward the February 2010 elections Saturday, choosing the party´s president, Luis Fishman, to be its new candidate just two weeks after a San José court sentenced its long-time leader and earlier contender, former President Rafael Angel Calderdón, to prison for corruption.

“I accept the responsibility knowing at the starting gun that they have put stones in the way for our party, while they´ve given others a helping push,” Fishman said Saturday, in front of an assembly of the party he helped found.

The new campaign launch comes as La Unidad has been reeling from the landmark, Oct. 5 court ruling against Calderón – five years in prison and slightly more than a half-million-dollar fine. The sentence prompted the former president to revoke his presidential bid, leaving a question mark around the future of a party that once stood as a leading force in Costa Rican politics.

Fishman, 61, a former legislator, government minister, security chief and vice president – the latter post lasted from 2002 to 2006 under President Abel Pacheco – was widely seen as the most likely successor following the Calderón trial. He beat the party´s only other contender to the candidacy, legislator Bienvenido Venegas, in a 111-38 vote, according to a Unidad press release.

Of Polish – Jewish descent, Fishman´s candidacy marks an important step for the country at a time when the state´s oficial support for the Catholic church has come into question, a s well as for a party with the word “Christian” in its name.

“I´m proud of being Jewish, and I know there are people who still haven´t overcome prejudices, Fishman told the daily La Prensa Libre. “A Jew could perfectly be president of this country.”

During Saturday´s assembly, the party also named two vice presidential candidates to accompany Fishman on the campaign trail: engineer and construction entrepreneur Humberto Vargas and radio journalist Iris Zamora. (Costa Rica´s executive branch makes room for two vice presidents, at least one of whom must be female.)

Separately, Ottón Solís, running on the left-leaning Citizen Action Party ticket, on Saturday also named his vice-presidential candidates, businesswoman Mónica Segnini and public health specialist Julio Humphreys.

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