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Costa Rican 2022 Election Update: Scandals Haunt the Candidates Three Weeks Before the Run-Off

Figueres faces backlash because of an unannounced trip to the Dominican Republic and his stance on "gender ideology", while Chaves' campaign is being accused of having a parallel financing structure

The PLN candidate José María Figueres

Little more than three weeks separates Costa Ricans from the run-off election to be held on April 3, 2022, between the National Liberation Party (PLN) candidate José María Figueres and the Social Democratic Progress Party (PSD) nominee Rodrigo Chaves.

As the ballot draws near, scandals concerning both candidates have made their way to the media. Figueres, a former Costa Rican President, is facing backlash because of an enigmatic trip to the Dominican Republic and his stance on “gender ideology” — and Chaves, a former Minister of Finance, is being questioned because of his financing.

These controversies are heating up the final leg of the campaign a week after several polls showed Chaves getting ahead of Figueres with significant advantage. For example, the latest survey from the University of Costa Rica (UCR) has Chaves on the top spot with 46,5% support, more than 10 points above Figueres.

Figueres’ mysterious flight

The PLN’s official calendar had a few meetings and rallies in the Guanacaste province for this past Sunday March 6. What it didn’t include was the fact that Figueres was to take a flight on Sunday night from the Liberia International Airport to the Dominican Republic. The press, and therefore the citizens, had no news about this mysterious trip.

Soon after take off, the Chaves’ campaign sent a message to the press announcing Figueres’ flight. This led to media reports telling that the former President and PLN candidate flew secretly to the Caribbean country to have meetings with businessmen and politicians, raising suspicions about the financing and the motives of the journey.

It was not until the news was on all the media that the PLN gave some explanations about the flight. Figueres went to the Dominican Republic on a private flight to meet with businessmen and senior government officials, including President Luis Abinader. “We didn’t sneak away,” the presidential candidate said on Tuesday, upon returning.

Figueres insisted that he traveled as a former President and not as a presidential candidate, as a means to say that the trip was not part of his electoral campaign and that he was not receiving funding for foreigners, which is illegal in Costa Rica. Nevertheless, because of the media frenzy about the journey, he will report it as a campaign donation to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE).

Even though Figueres defends that it was not a campaign move, he traveled with his campaign assistant and treasurer. He says he paid the hotel expenses with his money and that the flight was a donation from a Costa Rican businessman who has donated more than $45,000 to the PLN campaign. The private flight had a $20,000 cost. Everything was law-abiding, he insisted.

“Gender ideology”

Another scandal has put Figueres in a difficult situation. On Thursday, during an interview with a Christian pastor, the former President of Costa Rica agreed that the country’s education system has been “colonized” by the so-called “gender ideology.” “It seems to me that a lot of that has come to us from abroad,” he said.

This is a delicate subject for Costa Ricans. Just four years ago, the country held a run-off election between now President Carlos Alvarado and the Evangelical Christian candidate Fabricio Alvarado. That led to a culture war between progressive and conservative voters, and the “gender ideology” debate was in the middle of that clash.

“Gender ideology” is what reactionary activists and politicians call the teaching of more nuanced perspectives of gender and sexuality, based on diversity and sexual freedom. For people who use this term, “gender ideology” was created to destroy families, religions and nations. They think it is a “totalitarian” movement boosted by the left.

Now, Figueres is looking for a way to win the run-off, and with that in mind he is leaning towards the voters of Fabricio Alvarado. An official adherence from Alvarado to Figueres hasn’t been announced, but they have been meeting and the PLN candidate has been winking his voters — for example, by talking about “gender ideology.”

Figueres said that he totally agrees with the idea that “gender ideology” has co-opted Costa Rican education. “It is not good at all and I want it to be one of the many elements that we enter the Government to correct,” he added, vowing that “the first institution that we are going to intervene is the Ministry of Education.”

This may give Figueres the support of people who voted for Fabricio Alvarado, but it will certainly make him lose the aid some progressive and left voters were willing to give him to get Chaves to lose the election. The first reactions to his statements regarding “gender ideology” have been abundantly negative from these voters.

After those reactions, Figueres released a video in which he vowed: “There will be no backsliding on human rights.”

The PSD candidate Rodrigo Chaves

The PSD candidate Rodrigo Chaves

Chaves’ financing

On the other hand, Rodrigo Chaves is facing criticism because of his supposedly parallel financing structure. People from his own party, the PSD, have denounced this to the TSE. According to the complaint, nine people and two corporations financed electoral expenses for Chaves’ campaign outside the party and in an opaque manner.

Parties running for elections in Costa Rica are legally required to disclose to the public the donations they receive and the money they spend during an electoral campaign. Turns out that Chaves apparently got money on the sidelines of his party, which was used for his campaign. If that is true, he could’ve committed an electoral crime.

Even though many media outlets have said that this is clearly a “parallel financing structure,” the TSE is not using those terms until a formal investigation confirms or denies those claims. “An investigation is being carried out in this regard in which the findings of the case will be given when the appropriate procedural moment is,” it said.

According to La Nación newspaper, that has a copy of the complaint, between July and October 2021, a trust paid Chaves’ campaign expenses such as the campaign headquarters, advertising, payroll, professional services, territorial coordinators, vehicle rental, travel expenses and office furniture.

The trick here is that the money was used before Chaves was announced as the PSD nominee for the 2022 elections, and it happened before the official start of the electoral campaign, which was in the beginning of October. The candidate says he did nothing illicit, and there’s a chance that he found a loophole in the country’s electoral code.

Chaves reaction to the complaint was to urge voters not to believe what he says are anything but lies. “This trust, which is now being denounced as the worst sin in the world, is paid for by honest, patriotic people, well-known and decent businessmen, professionals who put up a little money to try to help Costa Rica,” he said.

The PSD candidate added that he gave all the necessary information to the authorities in order to clear the case. However, it is impossible for this investigation to be done before the run-off election of April 3. This means that Costa Rican voters won’t know if Chaves’ financing is questionable until after the ballot.



Journalist with more than 10 years of experience in the media. In Costa Rica, Alessandro spent five years working in 'La Nación' newspaper. In Spain, he was a journalist for the digital newspaper 'Economía Digital' between 2017 and 2021. He also has experience in radio, advertising and production of live shows.

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