Costa Rica’s center-right Social Christian Unity Party (La Unidad) is forging ahead toward the February 2010 elections with the party’s president, Luis Fishman, as its new candidate.
The nomination came just two weeks after a San José court sentenced La Unidad’s long-time leader and earlier contender, former President Rafael Angel Calderón, to prison on corruption charges.
“I accept the responsibility while 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. Fishman and Calderón have been highly critical of what they believe has been unfair treatment of La Unidad in the media.
The launch of the new campaign comes as La Unidad reels from the landmark court ruling on Oct. 5 against Calderón – and the sentence of five years in prison and a fine of slightly more than $500,000. The ruling prompted the former president to drop his presidential bid, placing a question mark on the future of a party that was once a leading force in Costa Rican politics.
Fishman, 61, a former legislator, government minister, security chief and vice president – the latter post 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 for 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 official support for the Catholic Church has been questioned, as 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 well 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. And according to the Electoral Code, a woman must appear on the ticket).