San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Campaign to Close Bars On Election Day in Progress

A last-minute movement to close bars on Election Day next month faces hard resistance, but activists will not be deterred.

A handful of concerned residents, fearing that drunks will interfere with voters going to the polls, have organized a letter-writing campaign to change the country’s rules in time for the Feb. 7 presidential elections.

In 1952, Costa Rica prohibited the sale of alcohol on national election days to prevent violence stemming from liquor and beer consumption. That law, which applied to the day before, the day of and the day after the vote, was implemented after the 1948 elections, a five-week Civil War period remembered as possibly the bloodiest time in Costa Rican history.

“Voters should be able to vote in peace, without disorder or drunks,” said Gloria Morales, a lead activist in the campaign. “And drunks shouldn’t be bribed for votes in open cantinas.”

Legislators approved a new election code in July and sacked the clause relating to the sale of alcohol. Bars are now permitted to stay open through the elections.

The legislators who approved the change said the former law served no purpose other than to drain potential revenue away from bars and restaurants.

“We think this law is obsolete,” Kattia Monge, aid to Congressman Mario Núñez, who authored the motion to repeal the law, told The Tico Times while the motion was being debated in May 2009. “And, in reality, it is no longer necessary. We haven’t had a violent conflict relating to elections in decades” (TT, May 22, 2009).

But Morales fears the effect the change could have and thinks the country should not take the risk.

“We don’t want drunks to stand in the way of the voting,” she said.

Morales said the Supreme Elections Tribunal informed her that the current rule will not be changed before Feb. 7. “That doesn’t stop us,” she said. “We are going to keep working.”

–Chrissie Long

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