Discontent with mainstream political parties is leading to bizarre political outcomes, not the least of which is the ascension of Donald Trump to the US presidency.
Costa Rica is no exception. On 1 April 2018, Costa Ricans will vote in a run off election between two candidates who share the same surname- Alvarado. One is Carlos, the other is Fabricio.
Both come from parties that split off from Costa Rica’s traditional parties. Carlos comes from a party founded mostly by left dissidents from the traditional social democratic party. Fabricio comes from a breakaway party formed mostly by right dissidents from the centre-right Christian democrats.
Carlos’s party won the presidency in the 2014 election on an anti corruption platform. But since then it has become mired in its own corruption scandal known as “cementazo”.
A duopoly controlled Costa Rica’s cement industry. The duopoly was aided by a regulation that prohibited imports of cement more than 45 days old. The policy rationale was that cement can spoil. The publicly owned Costa Rican national bank made a loan of US $45.5 million to a prominent Costa Rican business man for his company to import cement from China.
There was lobbying by politicians in favour of the loan. Suspiciously, the only security offered up for the loan was the cement purchased through the loan itself, despite cement’s limited shelf life. It is unknown what the businessman has done with US$12.3 million that he did not use for the imports while maintaining another US$12.3 million in his personal account before eventually returning this part of the funds to the national bank.
The regulations were also relaxed to facilitate the Chinese imports. There have even been allegations of corruption around the investigation of the incident by judicial officers.
Although Carlos was not personally involved in the scandal, he was Labour minister in the government rocked by it. The involvement of his party can only favour Fabricio.
Fabricio is a whole other story. He came into prominence after a January 2018 Inter-American Court ruling which said that Costa Rica should allow same-sex marriage. Polls suggest two thirds of Costa Ricans oppose the measure. The ruling led to Fabricio, who has a policy of removing Costa Rica from the Court’s jurisdiction, moving from two percent in the opinion polls, to winning the highest percentage of the vote in the first stage of the Presidential election held that was held in February.
Young, articulate, good looking according to some, and a singer, Fabricio is a member of a fundamentalist Pentecostal Church. His wife has been featured in videos speaking in tongues and in another video a US pastor ‘declares’ Fabricio (in Jesus’s name of course) to be “an ambassador for spiritual warfare for the entire Spanish speaking world”, who will cause “angels to be released through prophetic dance” and “crush Satan under his feet”.
Yet another video features Fabricio singing his song ‘This Pact’. The song and video contain words and images, including religious ones, glorifying his own marriage and family- an implicit contrast to less wholesome same sex marriage. If only Cori Bernardi could sing!
Fundamentalist Protestantism began to infiltrate Latin America from the 1970’s. It followed the Catholic Church’s Second Vatican Council of 1962-1965 which espoused a ‘preferential option for the poor’, commonly known as liberation theology. This contributed to radicalization of parts of the continent’s Catholic Church, including alliances of elements of the church with some of the continent’s marxists.
Why did the drift towards Protestantism occur? The Left has argued the expansion of Protestantism was part of the CIA’s cold war plan for Latin America. Others argue that the Evangelicals simply met the peoples’ emotional and spiritual needs better.” Brazil’s top Baptist, the Rev. Nilson Fanini, claimed, “The Catholic Church opted for the poor, but the poor opted for the Evangelicals.”
Guatemala is the Central American country where charismatic Christian fundamentalism has reached the deepest. The country is now around 30% Protestant, and six in ten remaining Catholics are “charismatics”. Reaching beyond issues of sexuality and family, charismatic Christianity in Guatemala includes an historical link to violent repression.
President Rios Montt who came to power in Guatemala through a military coup in 1982. Montt had earlier become a minister in the US aligned Pentecostal ‘Church of the World’. Montt later counted US evangelicals Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson as his personal friends. His military government practiced large-scale violations of human rights and counter-insurgency terror among the peasantry, especially the predominantly Catholic Mayan indigenous population. Supported by the Reagan administration, at the height of the bloodshed under Montt, reports put the number of killings and disappearances at more than 3,000 per month.
Only about 15% of Costa Ricans are Protestant. But the Catholic Church in Costa Rica remains staunchly conservative and the hierarchy is backing Fabricio’s candidature because of his platform of opposition to same sex marriage, abortion and sex education in schools.
Demonstrations have been held in which parents, presumably supporters of Fabricio, have padlocked the gates of 20 schools in Costa Rica to protest sex education classes for teens which are claimed to promote homosexuality.
This allegation has been denounced as false by the education department which has also pointed out that the sex education classes are not compulsory and that parents can exempt their children from the classes if they wish.
We will see what happens on 1 April.