Costa Rica Shuffles to the Left

Solis’ brand of populist social democracy was seen as a compromise between the PLN, the traditional majority party of the oligarchy and imperialism, and the surprising surge of the anti-neoliberal Broad Front (FA), whose candidate was Jose-Maria Villalta, the sole deputy for the FA in the National Assembly.

Villata was leading in the polls with two weeks left before the first round of elections, a round which determined the composition of the National Assembly. The Broad Front, which defines itself as ecologist, feminist, anti-imperialist and socialist, was then subjected to a barrage of anti-communist and anti-Chavist rhetoric from the media, instant front groups, and especially the PLN. Solis also joined in, positioning himself as the “responsible agent of change.”

This propaganda effort, combined with a weak showing by Villalta in the last TV leaders debate where he fumbled questions about an ill-considered “junk food tax,” reduced the total for the FA from 22% to 17%. However, this result was a tremendous showing for the anti-capitalist Left and brought the total number of National Assembly deputies to nine young and articulate women and men.

What the election represents

Since the end of the civil war in 1948, Costa Rica had been governed by a system of “bi-partismo,” a system of alternating traditional parties of the various wings of the oligarchy: the PLN and the United Social Christian Party (PUSC). This system was destroyed on April 6. A new period of instability and uncertainty has been created in the political field.

At the level of ideology and culture, the election represents a breakdown of the dominant theme of ruling class consensus established after 1948: class peace, social integration and unity. The PUSC, traditional party of the Right, was reduced to 6%of the popular vote. It has now split, with two evangelical and fundamentalist organizations emerging from it. The Libertarian Movement (ML) and its leader Otto Guevara Guth — who had dreams of emerging as the representative of the ideological right and of a significant sector of the oligarchy — was relegated to fourth place with 11% of the vote. Guevera Guth has ties to the US Republican Right and the US embassy.

To understand the election, we need to understand that since 2000 Costa Rica has seen the development of a series of mass movements in opposition to neoliberalism and its various manifestations. These movements combined with the ineffective and corrupt administration of Laura Chinchilla, Costa Rica’s first female president, helped to dismantle the ideological myths of the Costa Rican ruling class.

The mass strike of the workers of ICE, the state-owned electrical and telecommunications company and the country’s largest employer, against privatization, created a governmental crisis during the Abel Pacheco administration. The mass movement against the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) culminated in a march of 100 000 in San Jose (this in a country of only 3 million inhabitants). There was a series of mobilizations by the teachers’ unions in defense of the education system. A serious sexual diversity movement arose as a response to the appointment of an anti-gay, fundamentalist national deputy as head of the Human Rights Commission. There was also the continuing struggle of the port workers of Limon against the privatization of the port.

Underlying these struggles has been a change in the relations of production. A class and social structure which is much more urban and much less “equal” than the mythologized existence of the Costa Rica of Pura Vida has been created by capital investment in non-traditional sectors like technology, pharmacology and medical instruments, the creation of export processing zones  and an increase in foreign direct investment in more traditional areas like agriculture. This has produced an increase in the numbers of rural wage-workers in the more traditionally conservative areas.

In fact, Costa Rica has now become the country with the dubious distinction of having the greatest wealth inequality in Central America. The election result in a sense is a wonderful example of how consciousness, which always lags behind material reality, can make surprising leaps in order to try and catch up.

Trouble ahead for the new administration

Four years ago, in analyzing the results of the last election, we wrote that the lack of a left political alternative blocked a method of allowing the building frustrations of the people of Costa Rica to be expressed, and that the results at that time were distorted as a result.

This election cycle, with the establishment of the credibility of the FA, the program of the mass movement has had an electoral outlet, and its consequences will affect the way in which the new administration will be forced to act.

Despite Solis’s final vote tally, the PAC is only second in terms of the number of deputies in the now badly fractured National Assembly. The administration will either have to ally with the FA to pass any progressive reforms, especially the modification or cancellation of the CAFTA, or they will have to reach a pact with the PLN, of which Solisis the former secretary-general.

While a combination of the two options is not impossible, nonetheless a firm independence exhibited by the FA will either expose Solis’s anti-neoliberal electioneering rhetoric for what it is, or it will begin to bring the administration into a confrontation with important sectors of the oligarchy tied to imperialism.

The new Costa Rican administration, caught in a situation framed by the continuing crisis of international capital, a national oligarchy bereft of solutions to the rising problems of unemployment, poverty and an acute fiscal crisis of the state, and the growing militancy and confidence of the emerging vanguard layer of the exploited and oppressed represented by the growth of the FA, will be in for a rough ride in the beginning of this new historical period.

Costa Rica has finally joined the rest of the Central America countries in this regard.