Fernando Berrocal wasn’t quite finished when he was dismised from the helm of the Public Security Ministry last year.
Envisioning a safer Costa Rica, free from drug trafficking and organized crime, he’s fighting his way back into the political arena, this time hoping to tackle national security problems as the country’s president.
A journalist-turned-lawyer, Berrocal’s long résumé includes leadership experience as the ambassador to the former Soviet Union, ambassador to the United Nations, minister of the presidency under Luis Alberto Monge and, most recently, public security minister.
Berrocal, 64, was fired by President Oscar Arias in March 2008 after alleging that “certain political sectors” within the Public Security Ministry had ties to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Though his statements created a firestorm of poor publicity for the ministry and caused colleagues to turn against him, Berrocal said he doesn’t regret speaking out.
A graduate of the University of Costa Rica and the University of Rome, Berrocal also served as a consultant on judicial and economic reform and as a university professor.
He spoke with The Tico Times last week about the campaign trail, his vision for a safer Costa Rica and the challenges that lie ahead for the next president.
TT: What is your campaign strategy?
FB: We are doing a campaign that’s a little atypical … (right now) we are doing a campaign from place to place, house to house. Every afternoon at 2:30 p.m., I go out with a team to speak with people in the towns. … During the weekend, I am touring the country, having conversations with the people. And in this way, we are creating a (political) base in the country.
Later, in May, we will launch a campaign on television, on radio and in newspapers. … Yesterday, we arrived at 12,000 activists (working for the campaign). … I’d like to have a base of some 25,000 campaign workers. And with this, I will feel very strong and very solid to start a massive campaign on Channel 7, on Channel 6 and in the newspapers. So in some ways, we are rounding up our resources now, to launch this campaign this month.
From what you’ve seen and heard, what are the most significant issues facing the country?
I believe there are three main problems in the country.
One is the problem of security and safety in our cities and towns. … People are feeling unsafe. They feel as if crime is worsening. They are worried about drug trafficking.
There is a lot of fear of crime in the neighborhoods, in the countryside and in the towns.
People want more police. They want a stronger stance against crime. They want reform of the judicial system and the laws.
The second (problem) is the economic crisis. … Our economy is not growing, we are losing jobs, the cost of living is high, and people’s salaries are not enough. … The economy is not showing any signs of getting better.
And the third (problem) I find in my conversations with the people is that they are feeling very distant from the government. They feel the government is not attending their needs.
And, in reality, we are not living with a government for the people, by the people and of the people. We need a government that will address the problems of the people.
How are the people responding to you?
I feel like they are responding well. (Yet) there are two Costa Ricas … two countries. There is the country viewed from the Casa Presidencial, viewed by the media, which doesn’t think highly of our campaign.
And the other view is held by the people in the towns we have visited. … This is the silent majority … and I am convinced that this silent majority will vote for Fernando Berrocal.
Because they know my record as the public security minister … the energy, the force, the determination I put toward combating organized crime, drug trafficking and the 65 tons of drugs we confiscated.
What do you hope Costa Rica’s reputation in the world will be?
I think that Costa Rica has a very good reputation for two reasons. One relates to the country’s tranquility. It’s a peaceful country, a country without an army and a country dedicated to peace in the world. I think it also has a good reputation for conservation and environmental awareness. We are a country that appreciates its ecological resources and in harmony with nature.
But I would like us to become a safe country again. If we don’t have security, if the people here feel unsafe, if the tourists are assaulted, then we are going to project the image that Costa Rica is not any different from other Central American countries. … We need to project an image that we are a safe and stable country and that we are a country worth visiting. We can’t lose that image.
You have said that addressing the economic crisis will be a priority for the next president. How would you ensure that the economic crisis doesn’t have a negative effect on the country?
We can’t do much to resolve the crisis. … But what we can do is develop an economic strategy to lessen its effects. And in that regard. … I think we need to produce more, solicit more foreign investment and encourage tourism.
We need more (companies such as) Intel in Costa Rica. Here in Costa Rica (at Intel), we produce 33 percent of the world’s supply of microchips, which represents 50 percent of Costa Rican’s exports. We need two or three more of these investments.
Do you have regrets regarding your comments made about FARC?
No, because I told the truth. … During eight years between 1998 and 2006, Costa Rica was penetrated by FARC. This has been proved with the computer of Raúl Reyes where there were 36 appointments between FARC and people in the Public Security Ministry. After fighting for two years to stop the drug trafficking in Costa Rica … it’s sad to know that the level of trafficking is back to the levels it was in 2006.
Why do you think you are the best person to lead Costa Rica in this point in her history?
I think I have the leadership, but I also have the experience, not only in my role as public security minister, but as ambassador to the United Nations, ambassador to the former Soviet Union … (and other positions).
The next four years are going to be very difficult. And the country needs someone with strength, with determination, with personality and I believe I can do this for Costa Rica.
When you are not working to improve Costa Rica, what are you doing?
I am a family man. I have six children, seven grandchildren. I like spending time with them. I read a lot. I like listening to jazz.n
The PLN will select a 2010 presidential candidate during a convention scheduled for June 7. His competition includes former Vice President Laura Chinchilla and San José Mayor Johnny Araya.