Figueres and Chaves, the rivals of the ballot in Costa Rica


Former President José María Figueres and former Minister Rodrigo Chaves will define in a ballot on April 3 who will be the next president of Costa Rica for the period 2022-2026.

Although experienced at the international and academic level, both sixty-year-olds are questioned.

One of the two will take over a country with a solid democracy, but in economic and social crisis.

His photograph already hangs in the Hall of former presidents. But that image is far from the José María Figueres who today, with less hair and without a mustache although without losing his smile, got into the fight to lead the country again, 24 years later.

"I smile because I am in a stage where I have a consolidated family life, with an incredible wife and with my first grandson, Pepe, who tells me 'Fafa [grandfather], he is winning the competition!'" the 67-year-old engineer told AFP. years, sitting in the living room of his house in San José.

'Pepe' guessed it. His grandfather had 27% of the vote and advanced first to the ballot.

The former president (1994-1998) is an engineer from the US Military Academy West Point and has a master's degree in Public Administration from Harvard University.

He is also the son of José Figueres Ferrer, one of the most influential politicians in the country's history and who abolished the army in 1948.

"The surname Figueres means great passions. For many people it is very dear, for others not so much," said the candidate of the National Liberation Party.

In his previous administration, he promoted investment in technology and ecotourism. This time his speech has focused on reducing unemployment (14.4% in 2021) and poverty (23%), and the protection of the environment, with the abolition of the exploitation of hydrocarbons.

But he carries the liability of having been prosecuted for consulting the French company Alcatel, for $900,000, in 2004, after it won a tender in the country.

He was called to testify, as he was in Switzerland working for the World Economic Forum, and did not return until 2011. The case prescribed.

He recognized that it was a mistake not to return to Costa Rica when requested.

"The gaze is going to be on him for not coming to account [at the time]. Also because there are five mayors from his party questioned for corruption. This could generate an alert in the opposition," said political scientist Gina Sibaja.

"But it is the party that has governed the country the most times [nine times] and it has experience and people," he added.

The right-wing Rodrigo Chaves, of Democratic Social Progress, presents himself as a new face in politics, but he was already finance minister for just over half a year, before leaving office after disagreements with the outgoing president, Carlos Alvarado.

He had 5% of popular support, but jumped on Sunday and convinced 17% of the electorate, obtaining a place in the ballot.

"Whoever doesn't like the heat, get out of the kitchen," said this doctor in Economics, a graduate of Harvard and Ohio State University, about the possibility of taking on a country with a debt of 70% of its GDP , the fourth highest in Latin America.

"There is going to be a lot of pressure, but I have the evidence, experience and courage," said the 60-year-old, with 27 at the World Bank.

"I come from a humble family, we were nine in a one-bathroom house. Life went well for me, but because this country was different. To return to that we don't have to invent the wheel, it's putting order in the house," he said. to the AFP.

"Costa Rica is in a bad situation, but it is not a bad country (…) We can be the Singapore of Central America in per capita income, Estonia in state efficiency, Finland in public education," he considered.

An investigation for sexual harassment at the World Bank weighs on his head, with acts that would have happened between 2008 and 2013. He was sanctioned in 2019, prohibiting him from entering the entity, among other measures.

He denies everything. "I have enormous inner peace about it, also before God, with my wife, my daughters and my sisters, because I know what happened."

"If he wins, he could embolden a macho, patriarchal sector, both men and women, who consider gender equality to be nonsense," said political scientist Sibaja.