No candidate in the 2010 presidential election fits the term underdog better than Luis Fishman.
Seven weeks ago he stood in a courtroom in northeastern San José and watched as his party’s presidential candidate, former President Rafael Angel Calderón, was sentenced to five years in prison and a hefty fine on corruption charges.
Two weeks after the trial, the candidacy fell into the lap of Fishman, who had been serving as president of the Social Christian Unity Party (Unity).
The lengthy trial of Calderón – along with the upcoming corruption trial of another former president, Miguel Angel Rodríguez – had nearly sunk Unity. In the 2006 elections, the party claimed only 3 percent of the votes cast in the presidential election, and recent polls suggest it enjoys the support of only 6 percent of voters.
Fishman himself carries political baggage. He resigned from the vice presidency three years into the term of former President Abel Pacheco (2002-2006) because of a clash with the president. Also, he was investigated for allegedly having business links to drug traffickers, but he was exonerated. He’s alsorunning as a Jewish candidate in a mostly Catholic country.
But Fishman’s political resume speaks for itself. He served as a legislator twice and as a vice president in the Pacheco administration. He also served as minister of Public Security and the Interior during the administration of Calderon (1990-94) and as president of the Unity Party.
Fishman says he doesn’t aim to come in first in the February 2010 election. Rather, he hopes for a second-place finish, with the idea of unseating frontrunner Laura Chinchilla, of the National Liberation Party, in a runoff election. The candidate talked with The Tico Times recently about his plans.
TT: How do you feel about the campaign?
LF: It is going excellent. We began (the campaign) no more than five weeks ago. We didn’t have a financial structure. We hadn’t initiated a publicity campaign. We were coming from behind. But we’ve come far during these five weeks…. By January, we hope to be in second place.
The polls give you around 6 percent of the vote right now. How optimistic are you?
The polls are not reflecting what we have been living in the communities. In the communities we are in, which are the most vulnerable, the studies don’t penetrate because they are too afraid to enter. They are scared something will happen to them. But that’s where we are and that is where the base of our party is. We are with the people in the most need, people who don’t have a telephone, and people who are experiencing some of the greatest problems within our county. Among these people, we have been very satisfied with the reaction to our presidential campaign.
What is your strategy to reach second place?
We are working from many angles. For one, we are relying on our history as a party. (We are) a party which has been committed to responding to human needs. The Unity Party has been behind all the social achievements in our country. It’s the party responsible for all the significant reforms.
Second, (we are publicizing) my experience compared to the experience of the other candidates. Laura (Chinchilla) hasn’t done anything. (Though she’s held positions of power), she’s accomplished nothing.
Ottón (Solís, candidate with the Citizen Action Party) was planning minister and legislator, Otto (Guevara, candidate with the Liberation Movement) was a legislator. But in reality, they don’t have accomplishments. When I have had the opportunity to accomplish something for the people of Costa Rica, I have done so. When others have had the opportunity, they haven’t.
I have another advantage over the other candidates, and that is my partner in this fight. My wife (Aida Faingezicht Waisleder) was the minister of culture and a former legislator, and she has many accomplishments for the people of Costa Rica.
Can you talk for a minute about your accomplishments and why you think you are the best person to lead Costa Rica at this moment in history?
Through my work, I have been in constant contact with the people in most need in our country, and I have been able to see their problems from different perspectives within the different sectors in which I have worked. As a politician, I was elected best legislator. When I was vice president, I opened an office in Sabana Norte, where we attended more than 12,000 cases, giving direct social aid. I was directly involved, helping visitors receive benefits, (helping make) appointments in hospitals, working for the unemployed … all types of social activities. With a liquor tax (which he helped advance in his second term as legislator), I made a lot of enemies in the business world, but it helped a lot of people.
I am not afraid to make tough decisions as long as it helps the people of Costa Rica. I think with this experience, I am the one best prepared to lead this country, to help people in need, to fix much of what has gone wrong.
You seem to be latching on to the theme of security. How come?
Because (security) is the most important issue for Costa Ricans. For me, the concept of “Me da seguridad” (his campaign’s slogan is “Fishman gives me security”) is not just citizen safety. It’s also job security, security in housing, a commitment to erasing poverty, guarantees that our young people can access credit, a promise to single mothers to help them sustain themselves themselves.
Traditionally, the Unity Party has been made up of many different sectors of society. Who is your target audience in this campaign?
Our target is the lower and middle classes. In the past, this has been our strength. These are the people we are looking to reconnect with. We are starting our campaigns in the poor communities.
What is your message to them?
We are reminding them that during the governments headed by the Unity Party, they gained much. It was under the Unity Party that the Social Security System was founded, that the Labor Code was established, that the University of Costa Rica was founded. It was in a Unity Party government that the greatest amount of housing was created, that the most benefits were given to Costa Ricans. … In the end, we have much about which to remind them.
On the campaign trail, have you encountered any problems or discrimination relating to your religion?
No. At the start there was some, but when it became part of the political discussion, and they heard the answer that I gave … When we spoke about Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and the Apostles, and when I explained I was proud to be part of a minority religious group, it ceased to be a problem. My religion is a great strength to me, and it makes me proud.
Costa Rica is one of the few countries that recognize the Roman Catholic Church as its official religion. What do you think of the proposal to create a secular state?
With the crisis in which we are living and the number of other problems we are facing, I don’t think it is an opportune moment to make changes to the constitution. The (Catholic) state that we have has not been an impediment to the practice of any other religion.
After four years in office, what would you want for Costa Rica?
I want a country that is more inclusive – one in which social justice ensures that there are not two Costa Ricas, and one in which the distribution of wealth is more equitable. I want to see a country in which development is undertaken with more thought and where education is improved in all sectors and on all levels.
We need to support (political) collaboration because the plan for the country can’t be changed every time a new party takes office. We need to have a shared vision for the country, for its education system, for health, for security, for infrastructure.
We want a Costa Rica that is more just, more equal, and that has a plan so that Costa Ricans know where their country is going – a country of opportunities and rights for all.