The fact that Oscar López has not seen the color of Casa Presidencial and cannot read the plaques that line the halls of government buildings in Costa Rica has not stifled his presidential aspirations.
The charismatic 38 year old, who has been blind from birth, is determined to make it to the country’s top office – not for a little extra cash or the prestige of the job, but because he wants to steer the country in a new direction.
Blindness has forced López to see Costa Rica in a new way. And, having grown up in extreme poverty, he has lived a life that most politicians can only talk about.
López, who spent his childhood in a crowded household torn by alcoholism and poverty, was encouraged by his father’s words “to swim against the current.”
Later, López served as president of the National Foundation for the Blind and was the country’s representative to a United Nations Development Program commission tasked with protecting the rights of the disabled.
In 2006, he was elected to the Legislative Assembly to represent the Accessibility Without Exclusion Party (PASE).
A recent Wednesday morning found López listening to his computer voice the day’s e-mails. He took a break to speak to The Tico Times about the challenges he has faced, his vision for change and where he gets the strength to overcome his handicap.
TT: How is the campaign going?
OL: The campaign is going very well. We are growing little by little. We are working as hard as ants, but we are working steadily and in a good direction. We may be going slowly, but firmly.
Are you optimistic?
Yes, very much so. I am a motivator; that is my profession. As a motivator, I feel that PASE is destined to be successful in these elections.
Many people pose the question: Can a blind person really lead the country?
Of course. Costa Rica is prepared for a leader who has learned to see life through the eyes of the soul. Governing a country is not like driving a motorcycle down a highway. Governing the country requires leadership and the capacity to inspire the people. I think God has blessed me with these skills.
But how would you do your work?
Here, I have assistants. Technology helps me a lot. For example, I don’t want help responding to my e-mails. When someone sends me a note, when someone asks me a question, that note and that question were meant for me. How can I ask my assistants to respond? The technology makes it possible for me to answer e-mails on my own. Look how the computer can read my e-mails to me and look how I can respond (showing the workings of the computer program designed to help the blind communicate). It works the same with telephones. I am very technologically adept. Therefore, to be president, there is no problem.
Before, when .you didn’t have this technology, how did you do this?
Look, my life has been very hard. I grew up in extreme poverty. I know what it is like to live without money, to live on credit and to have the electricity cut off because we couldn’t pay the bill. That was only the beginning of the problems. I didn’t have shoes to wear to school. Life for me has been very hard, very difficult. Now, I am a man of the middle class. I am not a man of money. I know that politicians in Costa Rica use their positions for financial gain, because they didn’t have the economic power before that they have now.
It’s not possible that a legislator who earns $4,000 a month becomes a millionaire on that money. I make this salary, but I have to pay my bills and the bills of the party.
And it’s not forever because my term ends on April 30, and I’ll have to go back to my work, to my profession, to my other life. I don’t know how to explain the fact that there are politicians in this country who are swimming in money. They have the latest cars and they own beach houses.
I have been honorable, and I have respected my values and my principles. I have been able to rise from my former life and move forward. And one day I will be president. God willing, you will be in Costa Rica to see me wearing the presidential sash – maybe not in 2010, but in 2014.
How would you rate Costa Rica’s treatment of the disabled?
Thanks to the work of PASE, it has been put on the national agenda. We are 10 percent of the population. We are many. And PASE has been able to position the concerns of the disabled so that there is now more awareness of those issues and more compliance with the laws and with international human rights treaties. There is more awareness now than before, thanks to the work of PASE. This brings me great happiness.
Your life and your accomplishments have been an inspiration to many people. Do you have a secret?
Yes, of course. First, I have put my confidence and my dreams, my fears, my sorrows and my challenges in God’s hands. The most important thing for me is my faith in God. I am a strong believer. My faith strengthens me each day, knowing that God is more than a religion. It’s about a personal relationship, and I appreciate this. I cannot see the beauty of His work, but I know that God loves me very much. I can’t fully appreciate the expansiveness of the ocean, but I know God made it. My faith is one part of my secret and it has given be great courage and perseverance.
And this is something that I teach people: there are universal laws about how to live a life. If you go to bed early and wake up late, you are not going to be successful. Great leaders like Bill Gates and Martin Luther King are people who sleep little and work much. They are people who go to bed late, who are punctual, who read. I read a lot.
There are many small things that, if you put into practice, inevitably you will have success. It’s a universal law, like the law of gravity.
Why do you think PASE is the best party to lead Costa Rica at this point in time?
All the parties say they are the best option. We do, too. The difference is that the others speak of poverty because they read about it in a report. I speak of poverty because I lived it. They speak of discrimination and exclusion because advisors tell them that they need to address the issue. But I speak of discrimination and exclusion because I have experienced it. We see this as a handicap for other parties and also as a reason why we are the best option for the people.
And, for you right now, what is the greatest problem facing the country?
Definitely, it is the security issue. But security is a result of social inequality. It’s not a problem in itself. If the youth don’t have opportunities, if kids don’t have government support for many things like sports or cultural activities, if government income is not distributed well in the country, all this inequality will result in crime. And this is the insecurity that we see in Costa Rica.
What do you want for the country? What do you want to change?
(I want) to put a human face on the struggle of the underprivileged. Today, in Costa Rica, politicians are missing this sense in a lot of their decision-making. They think more about business than the benefit of the greatest majority. There is a problem in Costa Rica in that businessmen lie to the politicians and this has caused great damage to the country. This is what I want to change. I want to put a human face on the decisions made by politicians.