San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Araya Seeks Bottom-up Solutions

Rolando Araya’s resume rivals that of any of the leading presidential candidates. He founded a political party, served as president of another, headed the Public Works and Transportation Ministry and was elected for a term as legislator.

But as Laura Chinchilla of the National Liberation Party (PLN), Ottón Solís of the Political Action Party (PAC), and Otto Guevara of the Libertarian Movement Party grab a collective 74 percent in the polls, Araya and his fledgling party – Patriotic Alliance – remain at 1 percent.

But Araya’s optimism isn’t swayed. The 62-year-old, whose academic background is in chemical engineering, said he’s building a political base that will bring success in the coming election.

He said he hopes to grow support through a grassroots campaign, appealing to the Costa Rica that values solidarity, community and equality.

Araya was a longtime leader in the dominant PLN, serving as its president in 1996. He ran for president of Costa  Rica under the PLN banner in 2002. His brother, San José Mayor Johnny Araya, ran for president in this year’s PLN primaries. His uncle, Luis Alberto Monge, is a longtime PLN icon who served as president of Costa Rica from 1982-1986.

Despite his extensive ties to the PLN, Araya has distanced himself from the party, saying its leadership style isn’t successful. A resident of Santa Ana, west of San José, Araya spoke to The Tico Times last week about why he left the PLN, his vision for the country and his proposal for change.

TT: How is the campaign going?

RA: We are starting to get into it. We just finished a period of selecting our municipal and legislative candidates. We hope to initiate our announcements on radio and television this week. Through those mediums we hope to make clear our message of what we hope to do for the country.

What is your campaign strategy?

At this moment, the political landscape is right-wing, conservative. Yet, this country has a tradition of voting more for parties with values such as equality, solidarity, social cooperation, community and the defense of natural resources. This is the citizenry we are targeting. The other parties are looking more at the conservative base.

Yours is a relatively small party. What do you think about your chances?

Sometimes small parties undertake a presidential campaign so that they can get into the Legislative Assembly. Not me. I don’t want to be a legislator. What I am offering is a distinct proposal of how to improve this country. I am fighting for Zapote (for the presidency), not for (the Legislative Assembly). We know what work  we have before us. We know that there are parties out there with more money and more history.

I also recognize that there is a new phenomenon in our country, which is that the electorate has lost a lot of its identity and it is going back and forth between political parties. We are offering Costa Ricans solutions they have never heard of before.

What sets your party apart? What is the difference between your party and the others?

(Our campaign) has a motto – it means the same thing in English as it does in Spanish – más energía, más ecología, más educación, más ética.

Other parties are proposing solutions that are based on the idea that the government can solve everyone’s problems. But as it turns out, the government is completely bankrupt. The state is paralyzed.

We are proposing social reform from the bottom up. We believe this is important so that you don’t lose the consensus of Costa Ricans. The principal problems that we face as a country stem from our society – the decisions that each one of us makes, the values of our citizenry.

(Issues such as the problem of citizen security) … require organization of the  population – of the citizenry, of the communities, of all the social factions of the country.

The state is losing the fight against poverty and it is continuing to waste millions of colones. It’s like water moving through a basket. If there is not a solution from the community, from the people, you will not solve any problems …

Relating to the economy, everything has advanced, thanks to foreign investment. But the consumption of the higher class results in an imbalance between imports and exports, meaning we are not bringing more capital into the country. We want self-sustaining development. We want endogenous development.

So you don’t support foreign investment?

No, it’s not that we don’t support foreign investment. We aren’t going to reject foreign investment … We welcome foreign investment … But we can’t continue depending on it to develop.

You served as president and secretary general of the PLN. Why did you decide to leave the party?

During my life, I’ve known the founders of PLN. Their strategy towards confronting the nation’s problems was to handle things at the top, and this has, in general, been good in economic terms. The country prospered under their leadership. But, because the PLN has focused more on top-down than bottom-up, their handling of (social) issues has turned into a catastrophe for everyone.

What do you see as the biggest problem facing Costa Rica?

The moral and emotional crisis that Costa Ricans are living is our country’s principal problem … It’s a reality. For a country to have the level of crime that we have, there have to be corrupt people. A healthy country does not have this level of criminality … What we need is a revolution of the national consciousness, an awakening of the national conscience.

The other main problem is the collapse of the Costa Rican political system, which is impeding social, economic and political development. (U.S. President Barack) Obama was able to appropriate a bill for $700 billion in a matter of months. In Costa Rica, whatever project and no matter how important, it takes years to appropriate.

And how do you propose to change this?

I don’t think there is a better way than to undertake a reform of the constitution. (President) Oscar Arias proposed this, but he was looking for a different solution. He proposed a solution that would give more power to the executive branch, a more centralized government. We are proposing a reform of the parliamentary system and a decentralization and dispersal of power.

The other candidates are opposed to a constitutional reform, but we support it. It’s important to note that the reform would also be limited to the political system – only to the judicial system, to the Legislative Assembly, to municipal leadership. We wouldn’t apply the reform to other areas. Everything is functioning well, except for the political system.

Why do you think you are the best person to lead Costa Rica at this point in its history?

Because I have the correct ideas. Because I have the experience. Because I know this country, and the country knows me. And I want to put myself at the service of the country. Many people have asked me, ‘Why do you want this?’ In reality, I consider myself a happy man. I am very satisfied with my family, with my life. But I am not going to feel good unless I undertake this effort, unless I share with Costa Rica my ideas and convictions to make it a better country.

After four years in office, how would you want to leave Costa Rica?

I want to put Costa Rica on the right track. Right now, it’s going down a wrong path and this is causing bad side effects: more crime and more corruption. After four years, I want to make sure that Costa Rica is on a different track, with a new political structure and with a new economic strategy. And I want to leave a population that has recovered its faith and hope and optimism.¦


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