Here in Costa Rica, the recent government elections had no shortage of excitement, and indeed the excitement is lingering on. There were around five candidates considered to be serious contenders for the presidency, and three candidates that really stood out strongly, but overall there were 15 political parties to choose from, a dizzying quantity to an American like myself, used to the rigidity of a two party system.
This election was not the norm for Costa Rica however, as they have endured many years of Partido Liberacion Nacional (National Liberation Party or PLN) and Partido Unidad Social Cristiana (Social Christian Unity Party or PUSC), with presidents from only those two parties since 1974. Before that, Costa Ricans had only had presidents from PLN and the Partido Unificación Nacional (National Union Party or PUN) since 1948, PUN being the predecessor to PUSC. Essentially, the country was ready for more options.
This year they were flooded with options, but three parties came out ahead, PLN, Partido Accion Ciudadano (Citizen Action Party or PAC) and Frente Amplio (roughly translated to Broad Front, or FA).
PAC’s presidential candidate was Luis Guillermo Solis, a Professor of History and Political Science at the University of Costa Rica, and a Fullbright Scholar at the University of Michigan. He comes from a humble background, his mother an educator and his father an uneducated businessman, and he has done his best to stick to his roots. He was originally a member of PLN, but broke off in 2005 with other members of the party, citing corruption and lack of direction as his reasons. In 2009, he became affiliated with PAC, and has been on the campaign trail vying for this opportunity to become president ever since.
FA’s presidential candidate was José María Villalta, the youngest candidate by far at age 36, with an interesting history as a lawyer, environmentalist, and political activist. He has been very involved in student movements, protests, and social movements. My host mom claims that he has provoked young protesters into being violent against police who were being peaceful, and that he is openly a communist, however I have seen no corroboration for the former, and see no problem with the latter. Additionally, her sources of news range from the TV to gossiping with her friends, so I’m not sure her viewpoint can be valued too highly.
PLN’s presidential candidate was Johnny Araya Monge, an engineer and politician who is on his fifth wife, and seems to have more than 5 different charges of corruption against him, none of which, of course, have been followed up on too closely. He is accused of taking illegal payments, using his political contacts to get a contract for a municipal waste treatment plant, giving incorrect information about his home, and, as of 2012, he had 7 open cases with the Office of Probity, Transparency, and Anti-Corruption, mostly for illicit enrichment.
The night of the elections, all the votes were tallied up and Solis was announced to have gotten the majority of the vote, with 31% of the vote, Araya got 29.6% of the vote, and Villalta got 17.1% of the vote. Here in Costa Rica, a candidate needs to get at least 40% of the vote in order to win, so in a situation like the present one, the election is going to a second round, for which the voting will take place on April 6th.
All of this excitement here in Costa Rica made me stop and think about the current political paradigm we have in the United States, with the Tea Party noisily breaking off from the establishment conservatives, and the Progressives a little less noisily breaking away from establishment liberals. It is very rare to hear someone speak favorably about our choice-limiting two party system, and many people are looking for alternatives. Additionally, countless groups have sprung up recently in opposition to the Citizens United decision that reinforces the need to raise obscene amounts of money to have a chance at political success, subsequently reinforcing the need to stick with parties that people know and are comfortable with donating to. We are nearing a breaking point.
The government shutdown situation (it seems so long ago now!) illustrated my point quite clearly. We had a small faction of the conservative party make a radical power play that ended up pitting members of their own party against them, not to mention pretty much everybody in the country, and yet the faction held strong. They are very well funded (interested in how well funded? Check out this link: http://projects.propublica.org/graphics/koch) and they have a decent portion of the country convinced that the problem is unequivocally Obama, the Affordable Care Act, and “big government”.
However not everyone is convinced, and there are many cases of Republicans breaking off from the Republican party because they fear the direction that it is headed in. Additionally, there are even more cases of Tea Party members trying to drag unwilling Republicans in the direction of the radical right. The Senate Conservatives Fund, a Tea Party aligned group, is taking aim at two top ranking Republicans, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, Senate Minority Leader and Speaker of the House, respectively, because they are apparently not conservative enough. The SCF, along with groups like Freedom Works, Madison Project and others are funding an effort to unseat the incumbent McConnell from Kentucky and install a new, more radical leader of the Senate Republicans. The SCF is also encouraging House Republicans to unseat Boehner, claiming “Unless we install a new leader who will actually go on offense, Democrats will never fear us and we will never have any leverage.”
The perspective that John Boehner hasn’t been on offense is one that I can understand coming from the SCF, but it is one that I certainly do not share. The SCF and other affiliated Tea Party groups are looking for someone who will come out and say “we want less government, and we won’t let a single thing happen until minimum wage standards, environmental protections, and taxes in general are done away with completely”. They have been working hard to produce rhetoric that conflates regulation with impediments to job creation, and, given some of the lesson materials I was given by my Economics professor last semester, they are certainly convincing smart people out there that this is exactly the case.
What do I foresee? What do I hope? They are one in the same, and that is the fall of the Republican Party, due to the breakoff of extreme-right Tea Party politicians, and the simultaneous radicalization of the Democratic Party. Already we have progressive members of Congress taking tough stands on key issues, like Elizabeth Warren and her crusade against Wall Street banks, Alan Greyson and his fight against drone strikes (among many other fights), and Raul Grijalva and his work for immigration reform among many others. Additionally, there are progressive, grassroots action organizations like the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, the Daily Kos, CREDO Action, Sum Of Us, Act Blue, and many others fighting to promote progressive candidates to office, and taking stances against pro-corporate policies like the Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court decision and the Trans-Pacific Partnership Act that is still in the works. Work is being done to provide more options for Democratic voters sick of the Democratic politicians being in bed with self-interested corporations.
Who really knows what will happen in the states, but I am confident that when the second round comes to Costa Rica in April, Partido Accion Ciudadano will win, and Luis Guillermo Solis will take the presidency. All the people who voted for Frente Amplio, Partido Unido Social Cristiana, and even a few who voted for the ultra-conservative candidate Otto Guevara, will definitely choose PAC because they know that they don’t want more of the same corruption. Just like we know the stalemate, corruption, and crony-capitalism that Democrats and Republicans both produce, Costa Ricans know the corruption and pro-corporate tendencies of Partido Liberacion Nacional. The difference between Americans and Costa Ricans? Well, this year Costa Ricans simply had more choices. Let’s hope we do too in 2016!!!
Thanks for reading, and feel free to call me out on any mistakes I made, or feel free to add your own assessment of the political situation yourself! I’m always interested to hear other perspectives! Also, the next blog post will have pictures of a sloth that I took, and a bunch of monkeys as well, so don’t think that this is going to be all serious talk! 🙂 Much love everybody!