San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Johnny Araya says Liberation must 'win back legitimacy'

No one said turning 62 would be easy. 

Aerial acrobats contorted themselves around billowing spools of green and white fabrics above a crowd of National Liberation Party (PLN) delegates and supporters who converged on the National Gymnasium Saturday afternoon to celebrate the party’s anniversary and listen to presidential candidate Johnny Araya deliver his campaign platform.

Colored orbs from Araya’s campaign logo slowly bounced across the stage like a screensaver.

Despite the fanfare, Araya acknowledged that the ruling party’s reputation was in jeopardy. The candidate said that Liberation must “renovate” and “win back legitimacy.”

The references to the PLN’s tarnished reputation during President Laura Chinchilla’s administration were direct at times and obtuse at others, but spoke to perhaps the front-running candidate’s greatest hurdle: convincing Ticos that an Araya administration would not be more of the same. 


Believe it or not, this aerial dancer performed at a Johnny Araya political rally in San José on Saturday.

Lindsay Fendt

“This is the time to correct errors and to win back the legitimacy that has allowed us to be the principle instrument in the Costa Rican people’s struggle for democracy. […] We are doing a true renovation of our party to face the challenges our country will face in the future,” Araya told the crowd dressed in the PLN’s green and white. 

Araya called for legislative and structural reforms to overcome the “paralysis” that has gripped the country. Snarling traffic jams, collapsing infrastructure and shady concessions illustrate the current PLN government’s inability to carry out public works. The candidate said that the Public Works and Transport Ministry would have to “suffer a transformation” to recuperate its management capability. 

In the same vein, Araya proposed civilian oversight boards to monitor public works for “chorizo,” a slang term here for graft. 

The PLN candidate’s statements on transparency and public works were couched in his eight “priorities,” which also included jobs, shoring up the socialized health care system, public education, security, clean energy (including natural gas exploration), and the ballooning fiscal deficit.  

The candidate also presented his choices for the two vice president posts: Jorge Pattoni Sáenz, general manager of the Dos Pinos diary cooperative, and Silvia Lara Povedano, sociologist and executive director of the Business Association for Development. 

Araya’s trumpeting of the virtues of transparency and ethics in government, however, chafe against his record in public office. The candidate “barely” completed 27 percent of the promises laid out in his government plan between 2007 and 2011 and often failed to file annual financial reports as San José’s mayor, according to the city’s internal auditor as reported by the daily La Nación in August. 

“The circumstances demand from us a policy of zero tolerance for corruption,” Araya told supporters at the National Gymnasium on Saturday. Time will tell if Araya and the PLN can live up to their own standards. 

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