Meet Costa Rica’s 13 presidential candidates
With much of the attention focused on the five top-polling presidential candidates in Costa Rica’s upcoming Feb. 2 elections, you might have missed that there are eight more. Not to worry, here’s your rundown on all 13 candidates, in alphabetical order. Get to know them before you vote!
The Big Shot
Name: Johnny Araya
Party: National Liberation Party
Who is he? This politically astute nephew of former President Luis Alberto Monge (1982-1986) is trying to offer a new spin on an old classic of the Costa Rican political system.
The Palmares native and former San José mayor has had a rocky ride so far. The Supreme Elections Tribunal shut down his campaign’s program to provide free health care in communities around the country amid accusations of vote-buying. When asked about the price of a liter of milk and a casado, the candidate fumbled, underestimating the cost of both, and coming off as out of touch with the struggles of residents in the city he governed for more than 20 years.
Araya has distanced himself from Chinchilla while claiming the PLN’s historic social democratic mantle. However, he is a controversial figure who is dogged by corruption allegations and charges that he was a do-nothing mayor.
Likes: A value-added tax to replace the country’s current sales tax, state-run infrastructure projects, and natural gas exploration by the Costa Rican Electricity Institute. Also, free trade, agricultural exports and close relations with China.
Dislikes: “Extremist” liberal views, journalists and anyone who rocks the PLN’s boat.
The ‘Little Orozco’
Name: Carlos Luis Avendaño
Party: National Restoration Party
Who is he? The lesser-known conservative evangelical, pastor and lawmaker from San José. Avendaño’s party does not have a functioning website and had 355 likes on its Facebook page at press time. Avendaño’s current claim to fame is being a member of the legislative coalition that blocked in vitro fertilization legalization.
Likes: Family values.
Dislikes: Anything proscribed in Leviticus.
Name: José Miguel Corrales
Party: New Homeland Party
Who is he? Corrales is a lawyer, who before launching his political career also was a successful soccer player, who even held a spot on the national team. He served as a Supreme Court justice and was elected lawmaker for the National Liberation Party three times.
In 1998, Corrales won the presidential nomination for the PLN but lost to Miguel Ángel Rodríguez of Unity by a mere 2.5 percent of the votes.
In 2002, he lost his party’s presidential nomination to Rolando Araya Monge.
He left the PLN in 2005 amid bitter differences over the nomination of President Óscar Arias. In 2007, he returned to the public eye when he filed a legal complaint against the signing of the U.S.-Central America Free Trade Agreement. That led to an historic national referendum on the issue.
Likes: Soccer, classical music (Chopin, Beethoven and Mozart) as well as Mexican and Argentine folk music. He currently is reading Barack Obama’s biography.
Dislikes: Tardiness, hypocrisy and dishonesty from public officials.
Name: José Manuel Echandi Meza
Party: National Advancement Party
Who is he? Echandi, a lawyer, is the grandnephew of former President Mario Echandi Jiménez and was presidential candidate in 2006 for his great-uncle’s National Union Party (PUN).
Mostly known as a former ombudsman, Echandi also was a lawmaker and board member of state agencies such as the Child Welfare Office, the Social Protection Council and the Costa Rican Post Office. He was a member of the Supreme Elections Tribunal for 11 years.
Echandi currently is running for both president and lawmaker for PAN, the party he founded after leaving PUN in 2007.
Likes: Soft rock and comic books.
Dislikes: Lack of transparency.
The Silver-Haired Libertarian Fox
Name: Otto Guevara
Party: Libertarian Movement Party
Who is he? A four-time presidential candidate, Guevara was beat only by Wálter Muñoz for the title of All-Time Professional Candidate. He ran in 2002, 2006 and 2010. But this, year, he might actually have a shot if the election goes to a second round.
In previous bids, the well-coiffed Guevara could pick up a few thousand votes just by flashing a smile. The ravages of time are catching up, but Guevara still has his commanding talking points. Parts of his platform might surprise purist libertarians, as he opposes gay marriage and abortion. This heterodoxy has earned him the support of some factions of the Social Christian Unity Party. With that support, will the fourth time be the charm for Guevara? Some polls think so.
Likes: Individual liberty.
Dislikes: Government control (except to enforce his Christian values).
The Man in the White Suit
Name: Óscar Andrés López
Party: Accessibility Without Exclusion Party
Who is he? Born with a degenerative eye disorder, López was a motivational speaker before founding his party in 2004. He became a lawmaker representing San José in 2006. His party is not a single-issue platform as its name might imply. López has been a strident cultural conservative, opposing gay marriage, in vitro fertilization and changing Costa Rica into a secular state.
Likes: Providing opportunities for disabled Costa Ricans.
Rookie of the Year
Name: Sergio Mena Díaz
Party: New Generation Party
Who is he? One of the youngest candidates, Mena is an attorney who has served in public office for almost two decades. He was elected youth president of the Social Christian Unity Party at 17.
After serving as a commercial attaché at Costa Rica’s Embassy in Trinidad and Tobago, he returned to Costa Rica six years later with the idea of creating “a new party with new people.”
Participating in its first election, the New Generation Party (PNG) maintains nontraditional principles which state, for example, that former members of other parties are not allowed to run for any post, and that at least half of the party’s candidates must be young people between 18-35. Currently, 22 of PNG’s candidates for the Legislative Assembly are university students and young professionals under 25.
Likes: Sports (mostly soccer), books about politics, government and globalization, and spending time with his family.
Dislikes: The “pobrecito” mentality (the “poor-me” attitude) and the commodification of education in the country.
The 21st Century Trotskyist
Name: Héctor Enrique Monestel Herrera
Party: Workers’ Party
Who is he? Don Héctor is a lawyer and the only unabashed communist candidate. Dressing like John Lennon, Monestel has said that his youth was strongly influenced by the hippie movement. He demonstrated against the Vietnam War and dictatorships in Africa and the Middle East during the 1970s. A lifelong leader of worker’s unions, he is now retired after working as a TV producer at the University of Costa Rica.
He describes his political movement as a vindication of Marxism and a repudiation of Stalinism, and claims his party was born to fight the “light” leftist movements.
Likes: His bass guitar, classic rock and his books – lots of books – that fill his house.
Dislikes: Suits. He claims to buy most of his clothes at Wal-Mart.
Name: Wálter Muñoz Céspedes
Party: National Integration Party
Who is he? This cardiologist has been a part of two organizations that were awarded Nobel Peace Prizes, both of them international medical groups: International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (1985) and Doctors Without Borders (1999). He was individually nominated in 2009, but lost to U.S. President Barack Obama. He founded his own political party and has run for president five times in a row. He was elected lawmaker once, representing the province of San José from 1998-2002.
Likes: Animals (mostly stray cats, but he also has zaguates) and gardening.
Dislikes: Costa Rica’s apathy for small political parties.
The Evangelical Preacher
Name: Justo Orozco
Party: National Renovation Party
Who is he? In three words: God, family, country – with a big emphasis on God. There is no constitutional separation of church and state in Costa Rica, and Justo Orozco takes full advantage. The two-term lawmaker from the evangelical National Renovation Party got into hot water recently for using his official office at the Legislative Assembly to conduct private business, including marriages (and divorces). He also holds Bible study and prayer sessions in his public office. He frequently bashes gays and lesbians, whom he considers lost sheep and sinners.
Likes: God, family, country. And math. (He likes pointing out he was a former high school math teacher.)
Dislikes: Gays, lesbians, atheists, liberals, in vitro fertilization.
The Option for Disillusioned Liberation Voters
Name: Rodolfo Piza
Party: Social Christian Unity Party
Who is he? Rodolfo Piza’s candidacy has to be one of the most bizarre in recent memory. After losing the PUSC primary, Piza, a former director of the Costa Rican Social Security System, found himself back in the limelight when the party’s candidate, Rodolfo Hernández, suddenly dropped out of the race one week into the official campaign.
Piza stepped in as the last-minute presidential hopeful. Despite his wild gesticulations during debates, the Unity candidate never recaptured Hernández’s strong start. Struggling to raise funds, and even build a campaign website, Piza never claimed more than 5 percent of voters in national polls from Unimer, CID-Gallup and the University of Costa Rica.
But lots of lifelong Liberation members who are disenchanted with Johnny Araya wish he had enough support to win.
Likes: Jesus, trains, competition and talking with his hands.
Dislikes: More taxes, public sector debt, quitting.
The Political Scientist
Name: Luis Guillermo Solís
Party: Citizen Action Party
Who is he? An academic and former diplomat, Luis Guillermo Solís has focused his campaign on restarting Costa Rica’s domestic economy, reducing the fiscal deficit and social inequality, boosting education, and creating more access to credit for small businesses. He hopes to scale back Liberation’s export-heavy and privatization-friendly economic model.
Solís has positioned himself as a progressive alternative to PLN’s Johnny Araya, without going as far to the left as Broad Front Party’s José María Villalta.
After a disappointing start in the polls, Solís came out aggressively against Araya, lambasting his “Hire Me” slogan and sharply criticizing President Laura Chinchilla’s multi-million-dollar settlement with Brazilian contractor OAS over a botched San Ramón highway concession. Now he’s criticizing Araya’s exorbitant salary as mayor.
Many citizens seem to agree with his academic pedigree, international experience and even-keeled politics. But not enough seem inclined to vote for him yet.
Likes: Small businesses, the “Costa Rican dream,” social media, diversity, history, political analysis and Pac-Man.
Dislikes: Johnny Araya’s mayoral salary, neoliberalism, excessive concessions.
The Populist Upstart
Name: José María Villalta
Party: Broad Front Party
Who is he? Equally comfortable shouting in a street protest or stumping in the halls of the legislature, Villalta emerged as the top challenger to Costa Rica’s political status quo. The young San José lawmaker has skyrocketed his nascent progressive party to previously unthinkable heights.
Villalta has a penchant for placing every argument under the umbrella of human rights – whether critiquing free trade, government corruption or advocating small-scale environmental tourism or same-sex marriage. Not every Costa Rican is a fan. Villalta’s critiques of free-market policies and supportive remarks for notorious socialist leaders such as Hugo Chávez have led his opponents to brand him as a socialist or communist. Other critics have flagged him as inexperienced due to his short record and boyish looks.
Likes: Government as the watchdog for human rights.
Dislikes: Neoliberalism, chorizos (Costa Rican slang for bribes).
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