ONLY weeks remain in Costa Rica’s presidential election campaign, and candidates are hitting the stump talking about issues foremost on voters’ minds: the economy, inflation, unemployment, poverty, corruption and the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA).
And, in at least one forum, a few of them are discussing gay rights and same-sex marriage.
The name of the OrgulloGayCR Web site (www.orgullogaycr.com) translates as “gay pride Costa Rica.”
Founders Vinicio Jarquín and Luis Fernando Sánchez are interested in fostering exactly that among Costa Rica’s gay community and launched the site in June. They describe themselves as simply “two independent people,” not operating the page on behalf of any local organization.
But for just two guys with a Web page, Jarquín and Sánchez scored a coup this year, landing interviews with four major presidential candidates on a wide range of matters, but with a particular focus on issues of interest to gays and lesbians in Costa Rica.
ALTHOUGH it shares areas of specific concern, the gay community here does not vote as a unified block, according to Jarquín.
“That would be like thinking that all minorities unite on a collective decision,” he told The Tico Times. “The gay community is concerned about the same matters that concern all Costa Ricans.”
He added that most are integrated into society and are interested in matters that will improve the well-being of the nation.
The content of interviews with candidates Otto Guevara (Libertarian Movement Party), Oscar Arias (National Liberation Party, or PLN), Ottón Solís (Citizen Action Party, or PAC), and Antonio Alvarez Desanti (Union for Change), appears on the page’s entrevistas (interviews) link. These happen to be the four presidential candidates who presently lead in the polls (TT, Dec. 16, 2005).
The original intent of the site’s founders was to interview all candidates willing to speak with them, Jarquín explained – conservative Country First Party candidate Juan José Vargas proved elusive – but time constraints intervened.
A Block de Notas section, a reporter’s notebook of commentary on the process of getting and conducting the interviews, also appears. It makes for reading as interesting as the candidates’ words themselves.
JARQUÍN said he isn’t sure whether this is the first time any presidential candidates have discussed gay rights in any forum, but he said it was the first time candidates personally received representatives from a specifically gay media in their offices or homes.
That welcome was mixed, he explained. It ranged from the gracious hospitality offered by Guevara in his office and a long, detailed interview filled with banter, warmth and jokes, to a more terse, rushed 10-minute reception at Solís’ office. Jarquín described this as “the only sour note” of the process.
All four candidates took a stance against discrimination based on sexual orientation. Even Solís, who described marriage between two men as “una locura” (craziness) and “not normal,” said he respects the rights of all to live as they choose and that there would be no discrimination in a Solís government. He did tell OrgulloGayCR that he would not work toward any goals of same-sex marriage and joint insurance, property and lending rights.
Alvarez, Arias and Guevara appeared receptive to the achievement of such goals. All expressed concern that such objectives would be difficult to accomplish in a four-year administration, however and suggested Costa Rican society is not yet ready to accept same-sex marriage as an institution.
INTERVIEWEES were asked, “What percentage of the population in Costa Rica is gay?” Guevara said he did not know, adding that he had heard estimates ranging from “very few” to “almost everyone.” Arias replied to the interviewer, “I hope you know.”
Jarquín himself said that no surveys have confirmed figures in Costa Rica, but estimates are that this country mirrors the world, with a possible 10 percent of the male population being gay, and six percent of women being lesbian. That translates into a potential 300,000 voters in February’s election.
Jarquín noted that people working in the offices of the four candidates interviewed regularly visit the Web page. Sánchez and Jarquín have personal preferences they prefer not to disclose, but are not endorsing any candidate on the page itself.
“It would be very difficult to say which would be best to advance (gay) rights,” Jarquín said.
He added that he is resigned to the fact that no one candidate can likely do much on his own.
“Nor can they interfere with changes that are taking place,” Jarquín added.