Rodrigo Chaves, president of Costa Rica, in an image from April 2022.Getty Images (Getty Images)
The Government of Rodrigo Chaves in Costa Rica exceeds its symbolic 100 days with unprecedented levels of popular approval for the president, which has shaken the country’s traditional political system, except for the recurring instability in Central America. Enthusiasm for a radical change in power dynamics, for anti-corruption discourse and anti-elite messages put the 61-year-old economist at the top of popularity, with 79%, despite a tough economic environment and the concern of a sector of the population due to the presidential attitude indicated as authoritarian.
The popular drag at the beginning of Chaves’ term, which landed in politics less than three years ago due to a chain of chances and coincidences, is “a stress test” for the almost unalterable Costa Rican democracy, which hosts a pulse between the desire majority of a swerve and also majority support for the rules of a rule of law, according to the latest survey by the Center for Research and Political Studies (CIEP) of the University of Costa Rica (UCR).
With a style centered on his caustic personality and a conscious disdain for political correctness, Chaves obtains percentages of support even higher than those of the vote in his favor in the second round in April, when 30% of the national voter voted for him, enough to defeat former president José María Figueres. Only one in 10 respondents disapproves of the president whom the majority viewed from the electoral campaign as a harsh punisher of the traditional parties, at the head of a party with a blurred ideology that barely debuted in these 2022 elections.
The president has managed to create a favorable climate through a powerful digital communication strategy to promote his government, with ads that dominate the media agenda and messages that often fail the fact check. He does so by placing himself at the center of action in his unprecedented confrontations with the press and with former presidents, open criticism of the Judiciary and officials of the institutions or numerous allusions to the “powerful groups”, despite the fact that he enjoys the enthusiastic support of the majority of chambers traditional business in the country. The aggressive tone of the electoral campaign continues to be useful to maintain or win the support of each day in the midst of high popular concern about the cost of living, with inflation reaching 11.5% year-on-year in the middle of the year, and expert warnings of a probable increase in poverty in 2022, above the current 24%.
trouble and hope
“People hear him speak and they do believe that he is a brave man who is going to change things. You will see how soon the price of rice will drop,” said Alexánder Salas, owner of a small grocery store in Purral, a populous district north of San José that Chaves usually mentions when he wants to empathize with the population that does not arrive. at the end of the fortnight Like Salas, 74% of the population believes that Chaves will be able to totally or partially solve problems such as the cost of living, unemployment (12% in general, 15.4% among women) and even the deterioration of security, indicates the CIEP study, which coincides with other surveys on trends that benefit the government.
Join EL PAÍS to follow all the news and read without limits.
If he could not succeed, there are already possible culprits in the sights, since nine out of 10 people believe that Chaves runs into the obstacle of the Legislative Assembly, where 82% of the seats are in the hands of opposition forces that have mostly avoided the confrontation with Chaves. “In the streets we are the losers, we have to be cautious”, justified a deputy asking not to mention her name and warning that the time will come to stand up, in matters such as the authorization of the placement of external debt for 6,000 million dollars for seek fiscal stability. “He wants to confront because he is good at it and it gives him short-term results; We don’t want to enter into that polarization, but we don’t want to end up like assholes (cowards) either,” lamented another deputy.
As a result of the support for Chaves, of the erosion of the image of the legislative and judicial powers, in addition to the existence of a dose of authoritarianism in society, as CIEP researchers pointed out, 22% of those surveyed would approve of the Government disobeying the laws that hinder it and 37% think that it should disobey the judicial sentences, a percentage that rises to 46% if only the people who voted in April for the current president are considered. These figures, however, contrast with an increase in the Support for Democracy Index, which rose from 6 to 7 this year and indicates that, for the majority, support for Chaves does not represent a “blank check” for democracy. breakdown of democratic rules, explained Ronald Alfaro, coordinator of the study.
Because that is the fear of an apparently minority group: that Costa Rica slides down the path of other countries in the region that have given their presidents carte blanche to govern by decree or by polarizing referendums, open de facto avenues against institutional ones or silence dissidents. Chaves, however, defines himself as a democrat and the political conditions still in force would prevent him from performing like Nayib Bukele in El Salvador, for example, Alfaro said.
Chaves is also splashed by a criminal investigation for alleged illegal financing of his electoral campaign, after alleged anomalies detected by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) and complaints that individuals filed against the ruler and other authorities of his Social Democratic Progress Party (PPSD) , including the current vice president, Stephan Brunner, who served as treasurer of the group and, therefore, legally responsible before justice, with possible prison sentences. These are accusations by private structures parallel to the party’s formal accounts, of money that would have come from the hands of foreigners or corporations, formats expressly prohibited by law.
“That everything related to the financing of political campaigns be investigated, hopefully from all parties. I have such a clear conscience that I sleep very well every night,” Chaves said on Friday after a private audio circulated on social networks in which Brunner communicated controversial details of the handling of electoral financing to him. The confrontation was served for the weekend and until a new issue appears or the case takes a turn, with the anger of critical sectors of Chaves and the massive defense of those who support him, while opposition deputies measure the terrain and the risks for the opening of a political investigation in Congress.
subscribe here to the newsletter of EL PAÍS América and receive all the key information on current affairs in the region