San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

The happiness of Justo Orozco

From the print edition

Justo Orozco only wants you to be happy. Many times in public he can be seen reading the Bible. He searches the holy book for means to gladness. Jesus Christ showed him the way to joy.

Orozco can show you how he found happiness. Above his desk you can see it for yourself.

The image hangs in his office inside the Legislative Assembly, where Orozco is an evangelical lawmaker. The picture frame shows Orozco, his wife, his youngest son. They pose together as one smiling, happy family.

The former mathematics teacher and lawyer adores the photo. For him, happiness is a formula. One that’s as easy as one plus one equals two: a man, a wife, a child. That is pure bliss.

Justo Orozco Election

Demonstrators protest a vote Thursday evening at the Legislative Assembly, where evangelical politican was elected president of Costa Rica’s Human Rights Commission.

Alberto Font

The grandfather, with a flat, black top of hair on his head and gray around his temples, champions the traditional family. Women should be mothers. Fathers should support the family.

What if you’re homosexual? Can you be happy then? Orozco is not so sure.

“I have homosexual friends, many men and women that have told me that their families suffer because they are like this,” Orozco, 62, told The Tico Times on Tuesday.

 Many people share Orozco’s vision of happiness in Costa Rica. Yet, as Orozco points out, numerous Costa Ricans do not share his beliefs. He’s fine with that.

But as of Thursday afternoon, Orozco took on a role that sets him apart from other citizens. Orozco will preside over the Human Rights Commission in the Costa Rican Congress.

An alliance forged between the ruling National Liberation Party (PLN), the Access Without Exclusion Party and Costa Rica’s two evangelical lawmakers, brought Orozco into the leadership role on the commission, where he leads a group of seven politicians. The commission will decide which human rights bills will have priority in Congress.

José María Villalta, head of the Broad Front Party, deemed this commission as retrograde, an instrument drawn up to obstruct human rights, not promote them.

“It’s a huge step backwards for the Costa Rican government, which goes around the world talking about human rights,” Villalta said. “But they make alliances with the most reactionary, conservative members of society.”

He called Orozco’s language homophobic, hateful and discriminatory, and said his placement on the commission sets “a terrible precedent for the country.” Villalta imagines any forward movement for human rights will be difficult this year.

He also criticized the makeup of the entire commission. The group is stacked with three members of the PLN, in addition to Orozco of the Costa Rican Renovation Party. Opposition party members on the panel include two politicians from the Citizens Action Party (PAC) and another from the Libertarian Movement Party.

Carmen Muñoz, a member of the Human Rights Commission and a PAC lawmaker, criticized the commission to the daily La Nación, saying it’s in “bad taste” to designate Orozco president. She said Orozco “does not understand human rights.”

Some of Orozco’s strongest words of support have come from PLN commission member Jorge Angulo, who remains under investigation for allegedly demanding kickbacks from a company building a school in the Southern Zone. Angulo has faced several other criminal charges in the past, and lawmakers removed his congressional immunity last week to move the extortion case forward.

Orozco has defended himself amply in the past week. He insisted his evangelical background does not prevent him from ruling with fairness. One of his repeated phrases has turned into a pseudo-slogan for his campaign: “I am Christian. I cannot be a homophobe.”

On May 17, lawmakers passed a motion to declare the Legislative Assembly “free of homophobia.” The proposal passed with a vote of 28 to 10. Many lawmakers abstained, but Orozco was one of the 10 members who opposed it.

Still, he promises to treat each issue with care. If a same-sex union bill passes, Orozco said he would not obstruct it. But he disagrees with the idea of gay marriage. Last week, he announced a proposal to change the Constitution to say marriage is between a “man and a woman.” (The Constitution states that marriage is “the essential basis of a family and rests on the equal rights of spouses.”)

Orozco said there are approximately 20 bills to discuss in the commission dealing with issues like children’s and workers’ rights and same-sex unions, and he plans to bring each of them to the table for discussion.

“I am used to dealing with problems,” Orozco said. “I am truthfully a person who tries to attend to every case. I am not violent nor do I get angry. And win or lose, I accommodate what the majority dictates.”

Many Costa Ricans, however, appear to want him out of the commission. His appointment has produced plenty of fury from diversity movements. 

Shirley Alarcón, who has played a major role in organizing Costa Rica’s LGBT community, said the situation is an embarrassment. Even as other establishments strive toward more equal rights for community members, the government stays as tone deaf as ever, she said.

“We’re advancing in universities, advancing in some political institutions, we are making decrees, we are changing conventions, and then this suddenly happens in the Legislative Assembly,” Alarcón, 25, said. “It’s as if to erase everything that we are doing. You work to go forward and progress, and it’s like they saw the floor out from under you.”

The vehemence toward Orozco reached its brink Wednesday morning. La Nación hosted a video chat on its website between Orozco and Ofelia Taitelbaum, the country’s ombudswoman, a role defined by defending citizens from government infringement on constitutional rights.

In the hour-long chat, Orozco waltzed from one controversial remark about equality to another. He stated the “the primary role of a woman is to be a mom and to have children. It gives meaning to life.”

He carped that gays here should not complain since they have more freedom than in most countries. Orozco punctuated the latter observation by calling Costa Rica a “second Jerusalem,” adding that, “Here flows the milk and honey.”

His comments infuriated viewers on social networks. Countless onlookers were mystified that someone espousing his opinions could lead a human rights commission. One Costa Rican started a petition on pleading with lawmakers “to remove Orozco from president of the Human Rights Commission.” In less than 36 hours, the petition has more than 5,000 signatures.

Taitelbaum, for her part, attacked Orozco’s ideals. She challenged him to make LGBT and in vitro issues priorities in the commission. Orozco said he opposes legalizing in vitro fertilization for economic reasons. He told La Nación this week that infertility mostly affects “the rich,” and largely spares the poor. “God makes things perfectly,” he said.

He also said same-sex couples should not be able to have children because it could harm kids’ development. At one point during the video chat, Orozco spoke of the traditional family. In response, as if intending to shred the snapshot above his desk, Taitelbaum delivered some of the most pointed words of the conversation.

Don Justo,” Taitelbaum said, “that definition of family that you talk of no longer exists.”

Orozco remains firm on his position. This is basic mathematics, a subject he taught for 42 years. In math, the solutions are neither ambiguous nor debatable. Orozco has chosen his answers. Others might choose a different path. Two parallel lines will go on forever without ever crossing. 

But he believes his way is the only answer. On his path, every mother will have a husband, and every father will have a wife. On his side, AIDS is still spoken of as a gay disease.

Orozco feels blessed in his contentment. He wants the same for the rest of Costa Rica. He can summarize his philosophy on human rights without difficulty: “I want for everyone to be happy.”


Justo Orozco presides Human Rights Commission

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