San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Muñoz: Costa Rica Is Not a Democracy

The steady ring of the phone is a constant  backdrop during Walter Muñoz’ days.Maintaining hours at the hospital from sunrise to well past sunset, alongside running a presidential campaign, has trained him to tune it out.

As he colors in the blank spaces on a medical form one Monday morning (and talks over the incessant ring of the phone), he shakes his head and says, “None of the other candidates do this. None of them continue to work.”

But Muñoz is unwilling to give up his job at the Social Security System’s CalderónGuardiaHospital in San José. Even if a big ticket  donor were to walk into his office with a check in the amount of four months’ salary, he says he wouldn’t take it.

Underscoring his words with a strong sense of conviction, he says his party was founded with the premise of not accepting political contributions.

“On the day we arrive at Casa Presidencial,” he insists, “we don’t want to be accountable to anyone except the voters.”

But a lack of funds hampered his past three presidential campaigns, in which he achieved no more than single digits in the polls. He made it to the Legislative Assembly for a four-year term that began in 1998, but it has been a struggle.

Fifty-year old Muñoz, who is running on the ticket of the National Integration Party (PIN), was a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985 for his work with the organization International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War. He’s also known for his research on the Costa Rican Social Security System, the discovery of fraud in certain political offices and for calling for the declaration of a national emergency in the face of rising crime rates more than 10 years ago (something that some candidates are just now proposing).

The Tico Times met with Muñoz recently to hear his ideas for the country and how he plans to be elected.

TT: You’ve offered yourself in three campaigns for president. Why are you running again?

WM: First, we are a political project. We are not a transitory party. All transformations of a country need sufficient time …

Second, we don’t have economic support. We are the only political party that does not receive money from the Supreme Elections Tribunal. It takes longer to get the message out. Third, we were born out of a study center. We have solutions for our (country’s) problems … We truly believe we are the best alternative for Costa Rica.

Why are you the best alternative?

We are not improvising. We are a group that has viable, thoroughly studied, well-analyzed solutions for the problems that are facing our country. We have people who are professionally and technically prepared for this.

Also, we haven’t taken a colón from anyone. Therefore, we can govern for everyone, for the country. Those who finance campaigns put conditions (on political parties).

These parties are responsible to the people who give them money. I think that the only way to restore democracy is to arrive (at Casa Presidencial) without being compromised by these economic groups. It is better to be a president of all Costa Ricans.

It seems like you would need money to win an election here.

That’s because Costa Rica isn’t a democracy. In Costa Rica, there is no democracy. We want to restore democracy. Right now, the only thing we can do is send our message through other mediums: through the Internet, by person-by-person contact in the streets and by taking advantage of interviews so that we can share our message.

Are you optimistic you can change things?

We think that after 10 years (of work), it’s getting easier to bring about change. But the first change we need to make is a change of attitude. Costa Rica has been governed by the same people for 70 years, from 1940 to 2010. We need to encourage people to think differently of the institutions that are involved in the development of the country.

If you compare us with other parties (that have been campaigning for more than a year), they still don’t have more than 10 percent in the polls. They haven’t made it any higher, and look at all the money they’ve spent. For PIN, we can only go up. We can’t go down any more.

We think that there is a big part of the population that wants something different. And that is what we represent as a party, something different.

Everyone is talking about change or “something different.” Otto Guevara’s campaign slogan is “Make the Change Now.” Ottón Solís also talks about change. How can people know that they will really get something different with you?

(Those candidates) aren’t the change. They come from the same parties. They are financed by the same groups. This is what people need to understand. They represent more of the same. The only group that has that foundation (for change) is us. … Our ideas are different.

How was the Integration Party formed? And for what purpose?

The Integration Party was formed after the two traditional parties completed a half-century. The founders ruled; then the kids ruled. And there was a need to renew the political system with different people.

Our party was formed as a response to the country’s problems. We decided to create a (think tank), which for 10 years studied the problems of the country and came up with solutions. This is the difference. This party is the child of a concrete project. What we have seen is that the other parties continue to march to the same rhythm. They have shown that they don’t have real solutions to problems.

Since this study, have things changed?

No, they’re the same problems, but they’ve gotten worse: citizen security, health, education, transportation, poverty.

What is your campaign strategy?

In a 100-day campaign – which is what we have – we need to have a good message that is direct and that reaches the most people.

There is a population of 400,000 young people who will vote, who use the Internet … So we will do what the (campaigns in the) United States did (and try to reach them electronically).

The other method is to show that we are different, that we are marked as a group that is making different proposals.

We need to show that we are a party that wants to rescue the middle class, which is what makes Costa Rica unique, compared to the rest of Latin America. And that we want a democracy, with more participation …

One of our methods is through club houses. In each neighborhood, there is a casa club in charge of transmitting our message.

How many casa clubs do you have?

We have 500, but we expect to have around 2,000.

After four years, what do you envision for the country?

I have a plan for the first 100 days, a plan for the first year and a plan for four years. After four years, I want a stronger Social Security System, with faster attention and shorter wait time.

I want more citizen security. We will unify all the national police. We will make the public ministry independent. We will launch a prevention program for kids and teenagers and we will strengthen the prison system in Costa Rica.

We want to de-politicize the autonomous institutions. This is the first change, and we believe that will resolve problems in health, in telecommunications, etc. … We expect to have no more than 10 ministers – a much smaller state.

Another of our plans relates to municipal development – that all municipalities develop, not just San José. Give autonomy to the communities and de-concentrate power.

We can do this.

We don’t think it’s necessary to invest more in Social Security or human development or create new taxes. We don’t believe in this. We need to make the existing institutions better.

We will create more employment through small businesses in all of the towns. And we will resolve important problems concerning education.

We want to show that a new government can govern the country – and can do it well. You asked me why I am running again? It’s to rescue the country.

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