Falling faith in democracy suggests greater crisis

As the country moves toward another general election Feb. 2, the public is restless and unhappy.

Election officials worry that many will not cast a vote. But there are more serious issues to be considered.

Costa Rica is in much the same position as was Venezuela when strongman Hugo Chávez was rising to power. Corruption  seems to be epidemic.

A Latinobarómetro poll released over the weekend showed that respect for the democratic system dropped by 21 percent since 2009. Only 53 of every 100 citizens expressed support for democracy.

The government of Laura Chinchilla has failed to carryout its promise of reducing crime. A judge has ordered many armed robbers to be released because the central government has ignored the problem of prison overcrowding which now stands at more than 30 percent.

Front runner Johnny Araya Monge, the former mayor of San José, promises a continuation of the Partido Liberación Nacional leadership. In addition, if elected, he will come to the job with a gigantic fiscal crisis in which nearly half of that the government spends is borrowed money.

An opinion poll done by Borge y Asociados for El Diario Extra shows Araya has about 50 percent support. But in second place is 36-year-old José MaríaVillalta Florez-Estrada of Frente Amplio.

An online campaign promoting Movimiento Libertario candidate Otto Guevara Guth says “We don’t want our country to become a new Venezuela.” The choice is between the same thing or communism, it says, suggesting that Guevara could be an alternative.

If the election winner Feb. 2 does not gain 40 percent of the popular vote, a runoff between the two will take place. Commentators already have noted that the left wing Villalta has a strong following among students, the unhappy and the economically distressed.

The idea that Araya will be the same thing comes from the rotating leadership in Liberación in which legislators become ministers and vice ministers and then return to the legislature or a fancy government job. The ineptitude of the Chinchilla administration also has resulted in a continuing struggle with Nicaragua over sovereignty, collapsed roadways that make administrative lapses up close and personal for motorists and continuing sagas of corruption.

The only answer from officials seems to be more taxes and $5-a-gallon gasoline.

Jorge Woodbridge González, in a La Nación opinion piece published Tuesday, says of the country “We can’t continue as we are.”

He summaries the failings of infrastructure and the country’s low ranking on the World Bank’s Global Competitiveness Report.

“Among 144 countries, Costa Rica is in 95th place in quality, 131st in roadways, 106th in railways, 140th in ports, 60th in airports, 94th in mobile telephones and 42nd in the quality of electrical service,” he said.

He ought to know, he was a vice minister of Economía with a specialty in competitivity.

He notes, for example, that there has not been a significant investment in the public docks of Moín since 2002 and that 73 percent of the government income there goes to salaries and privileges.

In the eyes of many in the public that seems to be typical of Costa Rica where the insiders drain money from the national budget, take over land, win oceanfront concessions, get high-paying jobs for themselves and family and generally work the system to their advantage.

What is new is that a lot of allegations against insiders can be found on YouTube and in truthful and untruthful email messages.

Carlos Andrés Pérez became president of Venezuela in 1974 to 1979 and from 1989 to 1993. He was removed by the country’s supreme court for embezzlement. Subsequent actions show that he and his associates robbed the energy-rich country blind.

His failure to deliver set the stage for the ascension of Hugo Chávez, a military man who once led a coup against Pérez. Chávez, of course, embraced a social system more typical of Cuba than capitalism.

The problem now is that Costa Rica seems to lack a plan and any consensus to take charge of the country’ s mess and solve the problems.

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