After making it clear a few weeks ago that he would not run for president in 2014, ex-President José María Figueres presented on Monday the first report of his new political project called “Vía Costarricense,” or “Costa Rican Way.”
The report describes Vía Costarricense as a civic movement that aims to go beyond political parties to include citizen participation in government with a focus on development. According to the report, in four months the project received more than 600 suggestions from citizens on how to improve governance in the country, through the group’s website at www.via.cr.
After 11 years of living in Europe, the former president, who served from 1994-1998, returned to Costa Rica in December 2011. In 2000, Figueres was named executive director of the World Economic Forum in Geneva, Switzerland. In 2004, news media in Costa Rica reported that Figueres had received $900,000 in payments from 2000-2003 for consulting work he did for the then-French-owned telecommunications company Alcatel, which later became involved in a bribery scandal that netted another former president.
Facing an investigation and strong criticism, Figueres resigned his post from the forum in late 2004, admitting that he had violated the forum’s directorate rules.
Questioned by members of the ruling National Liberation Party and called to testify by lawmakers, Figueres denied any criminal wrongdoing and moved to Spain.
According to the daily La Nación, in September 2007, the Costa Rican Prosecutor’s Office asked a court to drop its investigation of Figueres, citing a lack of evidence to show he had committed a crime.
An official investigation of the payments to Figueres was ended in December 2010. A year later, Figueres returned to Costa Rica, but denied rumors that he was pondering a bid for Casa Presidencial in 2014. Instead, he vowed to establish a civic movement focused on political and social development.
Earlier this month, Figueres officially announced he would not seek the presidency for a second term, although he told La Nación he believed he “was the best candidate.”
‘A Better Costa Rica’
Speaking on Tuesday at the Legislative Assembly, Figueres said, “The objective of this project [Vía Costarricense] is to invent a better Costa Rica.”
He called the program a “process” that begins with the annual State of the Nation report describing the challenges the country faces in reducing poverty and improving living standards and governance.
Vía Costarricense’s first report outlines specific goals, including establishing a public referendum on issues like constitutional amendments and legislative procedure in order to improve Costa Rica’s democratic governability, and so that the Legislative Assembly “regains the confidence of Costa Ricans,” Figueres said.
Figueres also called for the creation of two new provinces in Costa Rica – one in the north encompassing San Carlos, Upala and Guatuso, and the other in the south, including Pérez Zeledón, Buenos Aires, Osa, Golfito, Coto Brus and Corredores. According to Vía Costarricense, these areas have grown significantly in recent years, and they “deserve more autonomy.”
The new provinces also would help to decentralize economic development in a country that focuses most of its decision- making in the Central Valley, the report said.
Figueres envisions the creation of a new, central district that would unify the nine municipalities that currently exist in the San José metropolitan area: San José, Curridabat, Tibás, Moravia, Goicoechea, Montes de Oca, Escazú, Alajuelita and Santa Ana.
Redistricting would help “develop a more integrated vision of the country’s urban core,” Figueres said.
The report mentions the creation of a new maritime region with a central bureaucracy based in the southern Pacific port city of Golfito. That, Figueres believes, would help Costa Ricans “rediscover the sea’s potential as one of the country’s most valuable resources.” It would also help eradicate high levels of poverty in coastal regions.
The last time Costa Rica undertook redistricting was 1902, when the province of Limón was created. “Much has changed since then,” Figueres said.
Another Vía Costarricense proposal is to position Costa Rica as a leader in the region in developing a “green economy” by eliminating petroleum use in the next 15 years and substituting it with biofuels derived from palm and jatropha, among other measures.
“We have a mission for ICE [the Costa Rican Electricity Institute]: Convert every roof in the country into solar power generators. Financing that project would be an excellent opportunity for investing Costa Rican pension funds,” the former president said.
On Tuesday, Figueres met with Legislative Assembly President Víctor Emilio Granados, Supreme Court President Luis Paulino Mora and President Laura Chinchilla to discuss the report (see related story, Page 2).
“I look at this effort as badly needed surgery for the state, which is a state that needs for its actors to sit down and talk seriously about the direction we want to take our beloved Costa Rica,” Granados said.
“I love that we’re talking about clean energy [and] new rules for the Legislative Assembly, which currently can’t make simple decisions [due to obstructionist tactics by lawmakers],” he said. “I think we should have a discussion in the Assembly about Vía Costarricense.”
Communications Minister Francisco Chacón said many of the issues Figueres discusses in the report coincide with concerns of the Chinchilla administration.
“This seems to us to be an additional element to take into consideration during decision-making in the short and medium terms,” Chacón said.
Figueres said Vía Costarricense soon would present another report on the issues of health, education, infrastructure and public security, as well as programs to finance improvements in each area.