We all know that our Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE) is calling for a rational, intelligent, well informed vote – and that’s all well and good as a goal, but the reality is that in this election, Costa Ricans will vote with their nerves. And that’s the nicest way to put it.
During this campaign, the river of religious waters overflowed because of something we thought was simply a warning not to let creed interfere overmuch with politics: the finding of the Inter-American Human Rights Court, whose headquarters we ourselves proudly house in our capital. That’s not a coincidence, by the way.
What was a coincidence was the fact that this international court’s ruling in favor of marriage equality in its member countries, including Costa Rica, came at the worst possible moment: at the very heart of a campaign that has reflected like no other the huge drop in the influence of our political parties. Most of us couldn’t care less about them, and we don’t care if they are old parties, new ones, progressive or confessional, clean or corrupt. Note that Juan Diego Castro is within reach of winning, backed by a party that he joined for the sole purpose of becoming a candidate. He could have joined any other (even the National Liberation Party he so criticizes).
What truly defines our identities now are more basic elements – thus the importance of the concept of family that many religious folks feel is threatened, even though they are not the ones who are interested in trying the alternative. It is a paradox that this era, when we have less contact than ever before with our neighbors and with public life, is the time when some of us seem to feel most affected by what other people outside the walls of our sacred homes.
As the columns of our politics crumble to the ground, our identities seek refuge in something more solid, whether those are the walls of the Catholic Church that continues to stand its ground at the center of our towns, or those of the evangelical churches that have been popping up on every corner for the past 30 years, some in gloomy garages and others in lovely, costly new buildings. “If you want to say that we are returning to our caves, say it, because the truth is that there is nothing more solid than a cave,” one legislative candidate said to me, exasperated, just after asking me not to record him any more.
It would be understandable for all of us to dive into this Holy War for the family if that were the biggest problem in our country, but it is very far from that. Most people say that it is not, as an Investigation and Political Studies Center (CIEP)-University of Costa Rica (UCR) poll showed earlier this month. (Yes, the same poll that reflected the “religious shock” over the Court’s ruling and the huge surge for conservative candidate Fabricio Alvarado.)
The poll reiterates that Ticos understand our problems very clearly, yet don’t assign them much importance when we decide for whom to vote. The first is unemployment, stalled at 9-25 percent among young people, and guess what – it doesn’t matter whether or not they are gay. The second is safety, with a high murder rate in 2017 that was decidedly not pro-life. The third is corruption: Exhibit A on that front is the “cementazo” scandal that is testing every branch of our government, whether or not we are a lay state.
The next cause of national anguish on the list is the cost of living, because in the supermarket, it’s no good to say “Dios se lo pague” (“may God repay you”). After that comes poverty, because for that condition affects one of every five Costa Ricans, and for them, the phrase “God will provide” is only good for maintaining hope alive – not for filling empty plates in homes with the quantity of children that “God chose to give us.”
The poll also shows governance as a major issue for Costa Ricans. We can describe our status on that front as deficient or unsatisfactory without caring whether President Luis Guillermo Solís swore on a Bible or not on May 8, 2014, or whether his Minister of Tourism walked in the inaugural parade along with his husband.
We have to go all the way down to the eighth place on the list of Costa Rica’s most pressing problems to find “personal and/or value-related considerations,” an option that encompasses the moral issues or “Christian values” that have completely monopolized the end of this political campaign.
It’s incredible but true: our electoral process is obsessed with a “problem” that comes in eighth place on our list of priorities. It is kind of like making a national uproar out of the mass that four people watch each week on the government TV station.
The only thing more incredible? Voters’ ninth choice on this list of national problems is the country’s fiscal situation. This, at a time when we’ve doubled our external debt in five years, we have a deficit worth more than six percent of our Gross National Product, and our tax dollars are stretched to the limit. Tenth on the list? Infrastructure, which we complain about every single day as we sit in traffic. Diay – the voice of the people is the voice of God. That’s what the people say, anyway.
My Catholic self would say: “Father, forgive us, because we know not what to do with our problems.”