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Who is Costa Rica’s President?

Rodrigo Chaves Robles was elected as the 49th president on May 8, 2022

par Yves Pepito Malette
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Rodrigo Chaves Robles was born on June 10, 1961, in the metropolitan district of Carmen, in the central canton of San José.

He earned a B.S., an M.A., and a Ph.D. in Agricultural Economics from Ohio State University. Before being appointed minister, he served as a director for the World Bank in Indonesia and in various countries in America, Europe, and Asia.

In 1992, before completing his Ph.D., Harvard University’s Institute for International Development awarded him a four-month scholarship to study poverty, rural poverty, and micro and small enterprises in Indonesia. After his Ph.D., the World Bank offered him a position to publish his research.

While in the country, he met who would become his second wife, Latvian economist Signe Zeicate, whom he married in 2012 and had a daughter named Isabela.

The World Bank’s administrative tribunal noted that an internal investigation found that from 2008 to 2013, Chaves made unsolicited comments about physical appearance, repeated sexual insinuations, and unwanted sexual advances towards several bank employees. These details were repeated by the bank’s human resources department in a letter to Chaves, but he decided to sanction him for misconduct rather than sexual harassment. Chaves denied all accusations of sexual harassment.

As Costa Rica’s Minister of Finance

Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado Quesada appointed Chaves Minister of Finance on October 30, 2019. He officially took office on November 26 of the same year, stating that his priorities would be to ensure compliance with tax laws, increase the collection of existing taxes, combat tax evasion, and continue to control public spending.

Chaves said he decided to accept the hierarchy of the Ministry of Finance for two reasons: the homeland and the mother. The first, because when Alvarado, the president, contacted him to share his vision of the country, the public policies he was implementing, and what he wanted to do, he felt he had to take up the challenge. The second, because his elderly mother needed someone to take care of her after the death of his sister.

«In 2019, my mother was left alone because my sister, who was taking care of her, passed away. And the opportunity presented itself, the president of the Republic called me to offer me the Ministry of Finance, and when the mother and the homeland call, who can say no…?» expressed the head of state.

However, Chaves’ tenure at the Ministry was brief and marked by controversies due to his statements in the press, not authorized by the president, such as the idea of imposing a tax on salaries above 500,000 colones; and for publishing a letter in which he asked for the veto of a law passed by the Legislative Assembly, which excluded the Municipalities, from the Law of Strengthening Public Finances enacted in 2018 during the fiscal crisis.

On April 22, 2020, the director of the Costa Rican Social Security Fund (CCSS), Mario Devandas, publicly criticized the Minister of Finance, stating that at a meeting with Alvarado’s participation, Chaves had stated that it was impossible to save the Fund, as the country could not go bankrupt for it.

On May 19, 2020, Chaves wrote a letter to Alvarado asking him to veto a law adopted that day by Congress, excluding municipalities from the fiscal rule established by Law 9635. Alvarado having refused, Chaves submitted his resignation.

On the path to the presidency of the Republic

Chaves Robles announced his candidacy for the presidency in July 2021 under the banner of the Social Democratic Progress Party (PPSD). His campaign focused on change from the country’s three main parties, while rejecting the extremes of the political spectrum. He proposed a five-step plan to reduce the cost of living, including eliminating taxes on basic food and household items, lowering the prices of rice and electricity, eliminating monopolies, and supporting farmers.

His program focused on fighting corruption and mismanagement, which he saw as the main causes of the country’s impoverishment. He supported a strict ban on abortion, including in cases of rape, and opposed euthanasia and same-sex marriages (although legal in Costa Rica since 2020).

The Social Democratic Progress Party, led by Chaves, committed to fighting corruption by punishing those who do not report professional misconduct. Chaves promised to promote transparency between the government and the press, universities, and citizens, notably through daily reports on the activities of public institutions. His employment plan aimed to encourage more women to enter the labor market and increase the number of STEM graduates. He also supported bilingual education and promised to welcome foreign companies to Costa Rica. He spoke out against mandatory COVID-19 vaccination.

Reuters reported that Chaves had forged a reputation as an anti-conformist. Rotsay Rosales, political scientist and director of the National Observatory of Policies at the University of Costa Rica, said: «Chaves adopts a liberal economic position, is socially conservative, pro-law and order, and criticizes the political class.»

The announcement was made on the night of February 6 that Rodrigo Chaves would face former president José María Figueres Olsen, a member of the PLN party, in the second round of elections scheduled for April 3. An interesting fact: Rodrigo Chaves’s father served as bodyguard and driver for Pepe Figueres, the father of José María Figueres Olsen when he was president of the republic.

With 16.8% of the vote, Chaves qualified for the second round. Ronald Alfaro from the University of Costa Rica’s Center for Political Research and Studies observed: «A part of the population, distrustful of traditional parties, is seduced by authoritarian and messianic speeches, like that of Chaves. This trend, although in the minority, benefited from the fragmentation of the electoral offer with 25 candidates, thus allowing Chaves to access the second round.»

On April 3, 2022, he was elected President of the Republic with 52.85% of the vote and took office on May 8. During his inauguration, he swore the oath with his hand on the Bible and stated that «the fear of God is the foundation of a ruler’s wisdom.» However, he did not have a majority in Congress, his party holding only 10 seats out of 57, forcing him to work with other political forces.

Chaves took office on May 8, 2022, becoming the 49th President of Costa Rica. He was inaugurated with his hand on the Bible, declaring in his speech that «the fear of God is the basis of a leader’s wisdom.»

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