Costa Rica enjoys international recognition, among other things, for its stable democracy; for its protected natural resources and rich natural diversity; for the abolition of the army 76 years ago; for democratic elections, and for stable changes of government every four years since 1848, with some very short periods of coups d’état, two in the 20th century, each lasting two years; for a system of political parties that has been functioning since 1889; for a stable constitutional system since 1871; for the exercise of freedoms and rights and a wide range of human rights.

By Vladimir de la Cruz

In this scenario, political currents, especially from 1931 to the present day, have revolved around the presence of nineteenth-century classical liberals, the communist left, social democrats, and social Christians as the main axes of political thought. In the second half of the 20th century, variants of these political or ideological currents emerged, some of them with small party and even electoral structures. Since the end of the 20th century, liberal and neo-liberal currents have developed as political and electoral currents. Today they have a greater public and governmental presence. They tend to be seen as a threat to the government, now and for the next government in 2026-2030.

Traditionally, Costa Rican governments from 1953 to 2014 were dominated by Social Democratic and Social Christian parties, alternating between them, with the Social Democrats in power nine times and the Social Christians six times. This has given rise to the idea of a very solid bipartisan ruling party, to which the country owes all its good and bad.

Two of the last two governments belonged to a new electoral political project, without a clear political-ideological definition, which in practice was excluded from the political and electoral process, in the 2022 national elections, in which the ruling party of those years did not elect a single MP, and in the recent municipal elections, in which it was also vaguely represented.

In parliament, the historic bipartisanship dominated the legislative branch, usually with a Social Democratic majority or a large legislative majority shared with the Social Christians from 1953 to 1998.

Since 1998, this parliamentary bipartisanship has broken down. They lost the legislative majorities with which they held sway nationally. Other small parliamentary forces appeared with which they had to negotiate to make better parliamentary and political decisions. In this scenario, since 1998, non-Catholic Christian, liberal electoral and parliamentary political forces have emerged within neoliberalism. There was an atomization of the parties competing for the Presidency of the Republic in 2022 when 25 political parties participated in this electoral battle. Of these 25 national parties, only eight made it to the municipal elections on 4 February. The new National Congress, with 57 deputies, was dominated by six parties, five of them center-right.

The last eight years have seen the emergence of neoliberal populist tendencies. In 2022, the elections were won by the current President of the Republic, who had worked abroad for the World Bank for almost 35 years, with less than a year’s political experience and personal political recognition. Uprooted, without any significant political roots, he imposed himself as a typical outsider, questioning the entire political past, accusing serious cases of real corruption as a burden on the entire traditional political class, all existing political parties, and all public authorities. He pointed out that the situation of ungovernability into which the country had fallen was because there had been no rulers to govern, to rule, and he presented himself as the one chosen for the task.

The traditional parties in power since 1978 had begun the process of ending and weakening the social rule of law that had been built up since 1943, and of reducing as much as possible the welfare state that had been imposed since the political and social reforms of 1943 and as a result of the civil war of 1948, within the framework of the Cold War that lasted from 1945 to 1991, as an obstacle to the rise of the left and the communists, especially after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, the triumph of Salvador Allende in Chile in 1970 and of the Sandinistas in 1979, and the development of guerrilla insurgencies in South and Central America during this period, 1980-1989, which were halted by the Esquipulas Accords, initiating processes of democratic reconstruction in the region; Democracy has not been easy to establish and consolidate, as can be seen from what has happened in Nicaragua since 2006; in Honduras since the coup d’état against President Zelaya in 2009; with the recent Bukele government in El Salvador, which has been questioned in many respects despite its successful confrontation and control of narco-criminal groups; and with the recent electoral events in Guatemala, where President Bernardo Arévalo has been unable to govern and exercise his presidential mandate democratically.

In this context, neoliberal groups are increasingly present in the region and Costa Rica. The current government of President Rodrigo Chaves is their best representative. His authoritarian, despotic, and aggressive attitude toward all public institutions, paralyzes his actions by violating the Constitution and the laws, by not strictly following the administrative procedures for his projects, and by his constant confrontation with the country’s social and political sectors, has recently led him to propose the need to eliminate all intermediate institutional structures to exercise a more direct, authoritarian government with the capacity to make single, vertical decisions from the executive. With no political party of his own and two that did not participate in the municipal elections due to legal obstacles, he is seen as a dangerous political continuity in the government. He is constitutionally ineligible for re-election, but nothing prevents him from promoting his candidate, which he is currently doing.

The president and his friends were not allowed to participate in the recent local elections because they did not meet the legal and electoral requirements for registration. However, other center-right parties have had some success, which has worried the leaders of the National Liberation Party and the Social Christian Unity. After the municipal elections, the possibility of promoting political coalitions against the neoliberal model of the current president, Chaves, has been raised in both parties from different perspectives. The best thing is that these two parties are the ones that have promoted this neo-liberal model since 1978, have intensified it, have contributed to the weakening of the social rule of law and social welfare, and feel themselves excluded from these policies. National social democracy promoted important reforms which it has now abandoned. National Socialist Christianity claims to be the heir of the social reforms of 1943, which were the result of an alliance between the Communist Party, the Republican Party, which was the ruling party, and the Catholic Church.

Both parties abandoned these social impulses and identifications many years ago. They bowed to the international mandates of neoliberal policies. The new neo-liberal currents have overtaken these parties, which have been pushed further and further to the political right, making it very difficult for them to compete under their banners. The national left has not even been able to present itself forcefully as the defender of these social reforms, of the social state of law, nor as a truly reformist political movement, defending the social reforms that have been weakened, rescuing the social rights of the workers that have already been eliminated, and proposing new social reforms.

The scenario of coalitions is not far away, although there is not much experience of this kind of participation in the country. The possible coalitions against the current government and its possibility of being re-elected are both presented as coalitions of the center-right, competing against a right-wing government, which generates more confidence, hope, and feelings of renewal against the historical right, which has developed a mass of enormous poverty, of those excluded from social benefits, of social outcasts, of young people who neither study nor work, of weakening wages and pensions, of cutting social subsidies.

When the current president speaks to these social groups, he shows that he identifies with them. He makes them understand that he cannot solve their problems because they will not let him govern; and that he needs institutional and political power to solve them. He is trying to create a state of internal political violence, taking advantage of the presence in the country of more than 20 groups of criminal organizations fighting for control of the drug trade, considering that Costa Rica has become the most important drug warehouse in the region, along with Ecuador in South America, to use this state of violence to declare a state of emergency, if possible, to allow him to govern without ties and hopefully with a strong hand. That is his political plan. These are the electoral proposals, the two center-right coalitions proposed by elements of Liberación Nacional and Unidad Social Cristiana.

There is no possibility of the left presenting an electoral coalition project. The history of the left does not inspire confidence in such a large political front, at least for the time being.

The immediate scenario seems to be a general strengthening of the right in the country.