Almost six months after leaving office, a smiling former President Abel Pacheco (2002-2006) made a brief return to the public eye Oct. 26 when he unveiled his official portrait in the Hall of Ex-Presidents at the Legislative Assembly in San José.
His family, friends and allies, as well as political adversaries and former critics, turned out to applaud the 72-year-old psychiatrist, politician and poet in a packed room ringed by the solemn framed faces of other former heads of state.
Central Bank president Francisco de Paula Gutiérrez, who served during Pacheco’s term and stayed in his post when President Oscar Arias took over in May, praised Pacheco’s consistency during “difficult circumstances,” including a fragmented Congress in which the President lacked a majority, rising oil prices and corruption scandals that devastated his Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC) in 2004.
Gutiérrez called Pacheco “an honest man who loves his country” and gave an overview of his varied life experiences, from taking up arms as a young man against future friend José “Pepe” Figueres Ferrer, founder of the National Liberation Party (PLN), to running the Palacio del Pantalón (Palace of Pants) store in San José, to directing the National Psychiatric Hospital, to gaining fame on his popular television commentary series, to publishing works of poetry such as “Más abajo de la piel” (“Beneath the Skin”).
When Pacheco stepped up to the podium, he thanked his mother, “doña Marta” de la Espriella, who later helped him unveil the portrait; his wife, Leila Rodríguez de Pacheco; and his children and grandchildren for their support. As he did so many times during his presidency, Pacheco, during his time at the podium, said Costa Rica desperately needs tax reform. (Such reforms were his top priority during his four years in office, but in vain. The new assembly is now considering Arias’ tax proposals.)
Most of his Cabinet, including former Public Health Minister Rocío Sáenz, former Environment Minister Carlos Manuel Rodríguez and many others, as well as current assembly faction leaders from Liberation, the Libertarian Movement and other parties, attended the event.
When reporters asked Pacheco what he has been doing since he left office May 8, the man who once told The Tico Times he couldn’t wait to put an end to four years he called “very hard, right up until the last moment” said he’s been doing “practically nothing… getting to know my grandkids” and spending time with his wife and children.
“I’m becoming myself again,” Pacheco said.