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LGBTQI Rights Defenders Sound Alarm over Costa Rica's Presidential Election

Alliances of politicians, young and progressive groups are alarmed by one of the presidential candidates, Fabricio Alvarado, who comes from a religious background and has suggested that Costa Rica should separate from the Inter-Aamerican Human Rights Court for ruling in favor of defending LGBTQI people's rights.  Photo by Julieth Méndez. Used with permission.  

Fabricio Alvarado Muñoz and Carlos Alvarado Quesada will vie for president of Costa Rica in a closely contested election scheduled for April 1, 2018. Defenders of human rights and the LGBTQI community are concerned that if religious candidate Fabricio Alvarado wins, they face grave risk.

Fabricio Alvarado, a psalmist and Christian singer, belongs to the Partido de Restaruación Nacional (National Restoration Party–PRN), representing the most conservative party on the Costa Rican political scene. Carlos Alvarado Quesada represents Partido Acción Ciudadana (Citizen Action Party–PAC).

Costa Rican feminist groups are most alarmed by Fabricio Alvarado's campaign proposal to convert the National Institute of Women (a ministerial institution) into the “Family Institute.”

During the campaign for the first round of votes, Fabricio Alvarado focused his political platform on the rejection of sexual education currently delivered in public schools as well as “gender ideology“, a concept circulating among conservative political circles that rejects the idea of gender as a social construct.

To the surprise of many, Fabricio Alvarado won the second round with 25 percent of the vote.

A threat to LGBTQI rights?

The Inter-American Human Rights Court issued a Consultative Opinion (OC 24/17) in response to a 2016 request by the Costa Rican government. OC 24/17 mandates the State to guarantee certain individual rights linked to same-sex couples and the personal construction of gender identity.

Fabricio Alvarado declared opposition to the ruling as part of his campaign platform, earning him the support of the most conservative and religious groups in the country.

The consequences of this debate have seriously impacted the LGBTQI community. According to the Front for Equal Rights, reports of verbal and physical attacks on sex-diverse people have multiplied since the election.

On February 3, independent journalist Diego Delfino highlighted the seriousness of Fabricio Alvarado's proposal to withdraw from the Inter-American Human Rights Court. For Delfino, Fabricio Alvarado's position constitutes a threat to the advancement of human rights:

Todo lo que se nos aplaude y reconoce en el exterior por la abolición del ejército se vendría al suelo si nos convirtiéramos en un país que desconoce la Convención Americana sobre Derechos Humanos firmada en 1969 […] Imaginen aquel escenario de bochorno global, Costa Rica, coqueteando con la Edad Media y pidiendo entrada en los rincones más oscuros del fundamentalismo que aún subsisten en el planeta.

All the applause and recognition we receive abroad for the abolition of the army would fall away if we become a country that rejects the American Convention on Human Rights signed in 1969 […] Imagine what a global disgrace, Costa Rica, flirting with the Middle Ages and asking to enter the darkest corners of fundamentalism that still exist on the planet.

Fabricio Alvarado began his public life in the evangelical community and professed his vision for a secular government “but not without God.” He sat at the center of several controversies including the prohibition of elected deputies from making statements to the media and avoiding debates and interviews with the press.

Speaking to Global Voices, activist Julia Ardón explains:

Fabricio deja de asistir a los debates donde estaba confirmada su asistencia y anuncia un equipo económico “de lujo”, un “dream team” con lo más selecto de la banca privada, economistas neoliberales, sin una propuesta sólida pero claramente comprometido con privatizaciones y el desmantelamiento del Estado de Bienestar, al mismo tiempo que denota un desdén absoluto por el respeto de los derechos humanos y los compromisos sociales del gobierno.

Fabricio doesn't attending debates where his appearance has been already confirmed and announces a “top notch” economic team, a “dream team” selected from the private banking sector, neoliberal economists, with no solid proposals but clearly committed to privatization and the dismantling of the Welfare State, while also showing a complete disdain for respect for human rights and the government's social commitments.

Political and citizen alliances try to counterbalance

Fearing the rise of fundamentalism, various unprecedented initiatives arose throughout the country. The first “Coalition for Costa Rica” meeting took place on February 10 and was called by students and youth from various parties as well as participants with no political affiliation.

The common objective of the Coalition is to support the Partido Acción Ciudadana (Citizen Action Party–PAC) presidential candidate Carlos Alvarado whose platform includes human rights referring to LGBTQI people, even though a significant number of Costa Ricans reject the idea of equal marriage.

The following video explains the Coalition's vision and mission.

[In the video]: On Saturday February 10 hundreds of people came together in the first meeting of the Coalition for Costa Rica. This was replicated in many parts of the country throughout the day and is planned to continue all week. Working groups were formed based on cantons (administrative divisions) and common interests, regardless of political preferences. Because #WhatUnitesUs is stronger. On April 1st let's vote for Costa Rica.

On February 5, Leftist party Frente Amplio (Broad Front) called for supporters to vote against PRN candidate Fabricio Alvarado. Leonardo Garniere, former Education Minister of the Partido de Liberación Nacional (National Liberation Party–PLN) has explicitly expressed support for Carlos Alvarado's government programme, among other Costa Rican political personalities.

Former Health Minister María Luisa Ávila, also from PLN, confirmed that she while she would not join the PAC, she would still vote for Carlos Alvarado in the second round:

Es que lo que tenemos es una balanza y hay que decidirse. En mi caso, lo hice por Carlos, que tiene experiencia y una postura moderna en derechos humanos. Creo que es un muchacho que tiene la oportunidad de demostrar que aprendió de errores de su propio partido. […] Además, esto no es una adhesión al PAC, es solo apoyo para esta segunda ronda.

What we have here is a balance and we have to decide. In my case, I went for Carlos, who has experience and a modern position on human rights. I think he is a young man with the opportunity to show that he has learned from his own party's mistakes. […] Furthermore, this is not me joining PAC, it's just support for this second round.

PLN's founder Enrique Obregón expressed his concern for the state of the contest and the narrowness of the decision which voters are facing:

Tenemos un pastor protestante que emergió de la nada, con un partido político inexistente y que, de pronto (pretendiendo gobernar desde la religiosidad) cuenta con un apoyo popular inesperado. Y del otro lado, a un joven que apenas ha comenzado a hacer pinitos en la política, con un partido de cierta tradición pero con un gobierno sumamente cuestionado, presidido por un señor que nunca había sido de ese partido y a quién le cayó del cielo el cetro de presidente. Este es el hecho concreto al que se aboca la ciudadanía costarricense sin otra alternativa, sin otra posibilidad.

We have a protestant pastor who came out of nowhere, with a non-existent political party and who, suddenly (with the intention of governing from a religious position) finds himself with an unexpected level of popular support. And on the other side, a young man who has only just begun to take his first steps in politics, with a party that has some history but whose government is very much in question, led by a man who had never been a member of the party but who had the sceptre of the presidency fall into his lap. This is the hard reality that Costa Rican citizens are facing with no alternative, no other possibility.

Former presidential candidate Rodolfo Piza, from the Social Christian Union Party (Partido Unión Social Cristiana, PUSC), has been the most-discussed alliance. On Thursday, March 8, Piza signed an agreement to establish a national government with PAC, according to La Nación:

Carlos Alvarado puede ayudarnos a garantizar un gobierno para todos los costarricenses y a garantizar el respeto a sus derechos y el respeto a la igualdad y a la equidad (…). Pude haber dejado que todo siguiera su curso, pero mi participación en política es un ejercicio de responsabilidad”,

Carlos Alvarado can help us to guarantee a government for all Costa Ricans and guarantee respect for their rights and respect for equality and equity (…). I could have just let things run their course, but my participation in politics is an exercise of responsibility.

Several polls show that Fabricio Alvarado could win the April 1 vote. Nevertheless, the last analysis released by the University of Costa Rica predicts a technical stalemate with Carlos Alvarado with 43 percent of the vote and Fabricio Alvarado with 42 percent.

Meanwhile, young and progressive circles are focusing on rallying people to vote by combating abstentionism that reached 34 percent in the first round. LGBTI defenders are depending on it.

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