While fending off corruption charges in the courts, former President Rafael Angel Calderón (1990-1994) is returning to the political scene to run once more for the country’s highest office.
Surrounded by cheering supporters who clogged the meeting spaces and hallways of his party’s San José headquarters on Tuesday, Calderón announced his presidential aspirations for the 2010 election.
“I couldn’t stand by and do nothing for the country,” he said, as he signed the papers to become a candidate for the Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC). With years of experience behind him and numerous achievements under his belt, Calderón said that he was best positioned to return to office because he “knows where to drive this country.”
His announcement was received with chants of “Calderón” and cries of “Volver, Volver, Volver” (“come back”).
With no other PUSC candidates stepping forward by the April 29 deadline, Calderón is guaranteed a space on the February 2010 ballot.
He faces a slew of presidential hopefuls from parties yet to name an official candidate, including Ottón Solís, Román Macaya and Epsy Campbell of the Citizen Action Party (PAC) and Fernando Berrocal, Johnny Araya and Laura Chinchilla of the National Liberation Party (PLN), among others.
Unlike his opponents, whose entire focus during the next nine months will be on shaking thousands of hands and passing out bumper stickers, Calderón will be in and out of court on charges that he bribed public officials to help a Finnish medical supply company secure a $39.5 million contract with the Costa Rican Social Security System (Caja).
Calderón has not denied that he received money from the Finnish company, but maintains the payment was for consulting services.
The transaction occurred more than nine years after Calderón left office. He was arrested and completed a series of preventive detention terms, both at his home and in a state penitentiary, lasting a year.
His trial, which began in November and is before judges of the criminal court of finance, is expected to call on more than 300 witnesses.
Costa Rica law does not prohibit Calderón from running for office while he is on trial, nor does it bar reelection.
Following his arrest in 2004, his party – which has recently invested in a reimaging campaign and prefers to be known as simply “La Unidad” – watched its public approval ratings slip and 14 seats in the Legislative Assembly fall to other political groups.
The 2004 arrest of Miguel Angel Rodríguez, also a PUSC leader and former president (1998-2002), contributed to a sharp decline in the party’s popularity.
Speaking in reference to the trial, Calderón said, “Many people have said to me, ‘You have suffered a lot. Why expose yourself again? Why sacrifice more, when you could live at home peacefully?’”
To a room packed with camera crews and dedicated supporters, Calderón continued, “If there is a person to boost this new movement and take advantage of the opportunities, it’s me. I cannot say no. And, with the leadership in this party and the level of structure we have in the country, we go forward.”
His announcement received the enthusiastic endorsement of the party’s president, Luis Fishman.
“This party says that you, Rafael, should be the candidate, the guide who leads us, the Queen Victoria ship,” Fishman said, turning to Calderón, “You are the captain.”
He added, “Without you, this journey would be very difficult.”
Please visit ticotimes.net for a video of the announcement.
Upcoming Political Party Conventions
The country’s two leading political parties, the Citizen Action Party (PAC) and the National Liberation Party (PLN), expect to nominate an official candidate for the 2010 presidential election following their respective conventions in the upcoming months.
Citizen Action Party (PAC) Convention Date: May 31 Candidates: Ottón Solís (party founder, former legislator and planning minister), Román Macaya (businessman) and Epsy Campbell (former legislator and party president) National Liberation Party (PLN) Convention Date: June 7
Candidates: Fernando Berrocal (former presidency and public security minister), Johnny Araya (current mayor of San José) and Laura Chinchilla (former vice president and justice minister under President Oscar Arias)