Everything about José María Figueres’ participation in the National Liberation Party (PLN) Youth Forum last Tuesday seemed like the beginning of a presidential campaign.
The youth forum, held in the eastern San José suburb of San Pedro, helps train future PLN politicians. The former Costa Rican president stood in front of a crowd of some 200 people who cheered and clapped throughout his speech. On the way out, attendees snapped photos of the ex-president on their cellphones.
Figueres fielded questions from the audience with the familiarity and eloquence of a presidential candidate on the stump. Still, the 57-year-old son of Costa Rica’s most famous president, José “Pepe” Figueres, insisted he isn’t preparing to run for the Costa Rican presidency in 2014.
Before flying back to Europe this Sunday, José María Figueres’ public agenda has been busy. Upon his arrival on Dec. 22, Figueres said he would meet with some of Costa Rica’s top political figures and travel across the country to talk to people in various communities.
Figueres is back in Costa Rica after seven years of self-imposed exile. In 2004, he was embroiled in a political scandal for receiving $900,000 in consulting fees from French telecommunications company Alcatel, via a former presidential adviser (TT, Dec. 22, 2011, Oct. 29, 2004). That scandal resulted in a five-year prison sentence for another ex-president, Miguel Ángel Rodríguez, but Figueres denies any wrongdoing.
By the end of 2011, Figueres had met with President Laura Chinchilla in her home in Santa Ana, southwest of San José, before Chinchilla headed to Mexico for a vacation with her family. According to Figueres’ press spokesman, José Peña, the visit was “an informal, courtesy visit with no political agenda.”
The daily La Nación reported that Figueres, who is credited with attracting microchip manufacturing giant Intel to Costa Rica, offered Chinchilla advice on environmental and technological issues. Communications Minister Roberto Gallardo said Figueres planned on returning to Costa Rica to continue those conversations.
Peña also confirmed that before the end of the year, Figueres met with Liberation politicians, including former President Oscar Arias and his brother Rodrigo Arias – a possible presidential candidate – as well as former presidential candidates Antonio Álvarez Desanti and Rolando Araya.
“I’m worried about many things in the country, so I asked Oscar [Arias] and Rodrigo Arias their opinions on the current situation, from their own perspectives,” Figueres told The Tico Times.
On Monday the former president traveled to the Southern Zone canton of Pérez Zeledón to meet with representatives from various social organizations that focus on women’s issues, tourism, youth issues and agriculture.
A similar meeting took place in the north-central canton of San Carlos.
“His goal is to talk to the people, understand their lives and needs, and take note of the country’s current situation,” Peña said. “He really wants to go out there and get a real sense of the Costa Rican reality.”
Figueres’ appearance at the PLN Youth Forum was an opportunity to lay the foundation for his future political life. At the end of the event, several PLN members waited for him outside and asked him to run for president.
“We need to close ranks and support President Chinchilla. I may be the only one saying this lately, but the president is doing the best job she can and we need to support her,” Figueres said during his presentation in the forum.
Figueres also addressed issues like public security. The former president noted Costa Rica’s high levels of crime recidivism and lack of a well-structured social rehabilitation plan.
The next move on his agenda is to meet with PLN President Bernal Jiménez.
“I will talk to him about [the PLN’s] relationship with the [Chinchilla] administration and the current political situation. I will give him my opinion about the fiscal situation, the world economy, big national issues and how the government should face them, and hear his point of view,” Jiménez told La Nación on Wednesday.