Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 40 | Octubre 1984


Costa Rica

Costa Rica’s Battle Over Neutrality Follows Political Struggle

Envío team

Costa Rica is more than just one of the five countries for which the Contadora group is attempting to achieve peace and stability. Bordering with Nicaragua, Costa Rica’s geographical situation makes it a strategic bridge for the US-backed counterrevolutionary aggression.

From Nicaragua’s perspective, however, geography is not the only factor influencing the aggression. The internal crisis within President Luis Alberto Monge’s Ministerial Cabinet and the beginning of political debates in preparation for Costa Rica’s 1996 presidential elections are additional elements already acting in favor of or against the institutionalization of the Nicaraguan revolution. Our analysis of the political debate within Costa Rica is based exclusively on that country’s daily newspapers and periodicals. It is our opinion that the core of the debate rests on whether to highlight or minimize Costa Rica’s traditional position of military neutrality. The underlying argument to justify the militarization of Costa Rica—espoused by much of the opposition as well as by sectors of Monge’s government—is that Nicaragua represents a threat to the region and that its revolutionary influence must therefore be stopped at all costs. This argument bears a striking resemblance to the one used by the US administration in making dangerous arsenals of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

Two basic conditioning factors:
The economy and US pressure

Two factors condition political contention in Costa Rica: the economic situation and US foreign policy. According to a recent study, Costa Rica will have earned $899 million in exports and spent $1.083 billion on imports in 1984, leaving a commercial deficit of $184 million. This figure is alarming, considering that production over the last 24 months has been minimal, a drop in production that has led to a negative growth rate. Moreover, the national currency, the colon, has been devaluated by 500% in the last three years.

A foreign debt of $3.6 billion has further exacerbated the situation. Together with 11 of the most indebted countries on the American continent—representatives of which met during the second week of September in Mar de Plata, Argentina, to discuss their problems—Costa Rica has recognized its inability to pay its debt service by the established deadlines. Consequently, the country is trying to negotiate the terms of its debt. As with all renegotiations of this kind, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has imposed conditions difficult to fulfill within the present framework of Costa Rica’s economy.

The first condition is to reduce the fiscal deficit. Reports vary as to the extent of the required reduction. Some speak of a 6% decrease; others predict a lessening of 2-6%. In any case, the IMF’s demands to cut back the fiscal deficit have been echoed in Mexico, Argentina and Brazil. This would mean no real wage increase for middle-level state employees and near paralysis of social programs for the poorer sectors. In the midst of uncontrollable inflation, these groups will bear the social and human costs of such measures.

The second condition set forth by the IMF is the creation of new taxes. This, according to the IMF’s rationale, is the only way for these states to acquire more money and begin to deal with the crisis. Once again, the poorest sectors of the already impoverished population will bear the brunt of the new measures.

The third condition is a reform in the currency law. This reform is intended to strengthen the private banks at the expense of the state banks. The IMF demanded that this condition be met by August; otherwise, it would not release the $53 million requested by the Costa Rican government. USAID was waiting for those funds to be released before authorizing a $195 million loan desperately needed by Monge’s government to close out the year. The shortage of dollars, evident since March, is preventing the payment of gasoline. This has also created serious problems for importers, who have to wait for up to 45 days before knowing whether they will be sold the dollars they have requested.

An IMF commission was in Costa Rica when the new currency law was passed. After examining the situation for two weeks, the IMF representatives concluded that greater austerity measures had to be taken. The commission left Costa Rica without responding to the request for the loan, and, consequently, the USAID loan also remained pending.

The economic crisis has had two major effects on Costa Rica: On the one hand, it has resulted in sharp social tensions, not only among the have-nots, but also among those who are struggling to keep what they have or to recover their losses. On the other hand, it places the US in a strategic position for applying pressure.

The US uses pressure not only to obtain its economic and financial objectives via the IMF, USAID and other institutions, but also with the intent of aligning Costa Rica on the Reagan Administration’s policy toward Central America, particularly Nicaragua. Concretely, this means eliminating Costa Rica’s neutrality or at least “reinterpreting” it so that in practice it is meaningless.

Thus, economic policy and relations with Nicaragua are the two main subjects of political debate in Costa Rica.

The political battle in Costa Rica:
Three groups in conflict

There is a wide spectrum of contenders in the Costa Rican political arena. The most important parties are the PLN (Party for National Liberation), currently in power, and that party’s only major opponent, the PUSC (Social Christian Unity Party). Included in the nation’s array of political organizations are pressure groups, associations and unions. There are managerial associations, like the chamber of commerce or industry, and, on a more progressive level, the teachers’ union (which has played an important role lately), the farm workers’ unions (specially developed among the banana workers) and unions composed of state and private -sector employees. Since San José’s Archbishop Arrieta assumed his post, the Church has remained closely aligned with the PLN.

In addition, there are several right and leftwing groups, which have remained outside the nation’s political mainstream. Among the rightwing tendencies are the fascist-oriented Movement for a Free Costa Rica and a military active group financed by rightwing business contractors called The Costa Rican People’s Anticommunist Army. Among the leftwing groups—whose influence is decreasingly significant, perhaps due to their lack of unity—are the Popular Vanguard Party (PVP) and a few armed groups whose tactics are considered inappropriate even by progressive leftists.

The PUSC: A prospective candidate opposed to neutrality

The PUSC emerged from an alliance of various parties whose common cause had been confrontation with the PLN. Determined to fight the battle together, they became a single party on December 17, 1983. Comprising the alliance are the Popular Unity Party (PUP), the Christian Democratic Party (PDC), the Democratic Renovation Party (PRD) and the Calderonist Republican Party (PRC).

The PRC is the backbone of the PUSC. The former’s name refers to Calderonism, an historical movement in Costa Rica named after a previous President, Calderón Guardia. The party is currently led by the late President’s son, Rafael Angel Calderón Fournier. It has official ties with the Christian Democratic International.

In December 1984, the PUSC will select a candidate for the February 1986 presidential elections. There are already two possibilities: Calderón Fournier and Oscar Aguilar Bulgarley, of the former PRD. The different political circles are sure of a Calderón victory. They contend that Aguilar Bulgarley only intends to win a share of power. According to a public opinion poll by the Interdisciplinary Advisory Board on Development, 95% of those interviewed predict that Calderón Fournier will be the PUSC presidential candidate.

Only thirty-five years old, Calderón has had an active political career. He was a congressman from 1974 to 1978 and minister of foreign affairs during the Carazo government from 1978 to 1980. In 1980, he resigned from his Ministry to seek the PRC presidential nomination. After winning the nomination, Calderón lost to Monge by a wide margin, possibly because the latter made effective use of general discontent with former President Carazo, with whom Calderón had worked closely. As one of the principal promoters of anti-PLN unity, Calderón is considered by fellow party members to be the most-likely candidate for 1986. Though hardly charismatic or expressive, Calderón has an ability for clear and cold reasoning that makes him the country’s number-one presidential candidate.

Calderón was the only prospective candidate from Costa Rica to attend the 1984 US Republican Convention. Politically, he represents the right wing of the Christian Democratic International. Economically, he follows the guidelines of Milton Friedman, as a recent statement of his attests:

“We will encourage and guarantee freedom for those who organize and produce to make this country grow. Down with parasitic state bureaucracy! Down with rising taxes and inflation! We will stand by those who wish to produce and further our nation’s development. We support those industries dedicated to efficiency. We will furnish new incentives by promoting nontraditional exports. The state must support those incentives and not obstruct them in any way. At the forefront of our nation’s economy will be those producers and businesspeople who generate wealth and are tired of bureaucratic obstacles and empty promises. I firmly believe that private enterprise, with the cooperation of our country’s productive forces, is the only road to a better future for our people.”

Any similarity with President Reagan’s speech is not coincidental. In international affairs, Calderón opposes neutrality but considers an invasion of Costa Rica unlikely. However, he affirms, even though the possibility of invasion is slight, Costa Rica must be prepared for it.

“We must define our position. We cannot say to America: ‘If you are invaded tomorrow, we’re going to be neutral; but if we’re invaded, you can’t be neutral because you have to come to our aid.’ That’s not a correct position.”

Concerning Contadora, Calderón affirms that, despite his high appraisal of that group, the border incidents between Costa Rica and Nicaragua should be taken before the Organization of American States (OAS).

Logically, Calderón receives the support of a large sector of the bourgeoisie, as well as that of the national communications media, which are almost all anti-PLN.

The progressive organizations:
Employees, teachers and banana workers

The organizations grouped under this category are not leftwing groups as such, but rather organizations with certain progressive positions. The local news media depict them as communists, although their ties to the PVP, Socialist Party or even the progressive wing of the PLN are not institutional. These organizations proclaim that they are independent of all parties.

Their influence stems from concrete demands, particularly concerning better salaries in the midst of inflation. Public and private-sector employees were able to get 10-20% increases without resorting to strikes.

The second large movement of considerable success was the teachers’ strike, which brought together almost all the teachers in the nation. After two weeks of strikes, which ended on August 29, 1984, the government acceded to some of their demands. These demands, which favored not only the teachers, but also the working class in general, gained broad-based support for the strike and heightened national awareness of it. Through the strike, they activated the previously attained 50% increase in the national wage scale, which had not been implemented because of budget problems. They were also able to activate the periodical salary readjustment established earlier. The teachers demanded a total price on the most essential basic products and public services. They then forced the government to form a commission to consider the salary readjustment by August 31. However, by the end of September, the commission had not yet issued any conclusions, and the price of public transportation had increased, contrary to the teacher’s demands. Water, electricity, telephone and gas prices were frozen, but there was no reduction in the cost of basic consumer items.

The third movement, successful to a certain degree but much more conflictive, was the banana workers’ strike at the Golfito company. Sustaining a strike for 73 days is a triumph in itself, given that agricultural workers cannot normally afford to strike for more than 8 to 15 days. A strong degree of organization and support from other groups were needed to accomplish this feat.

The problem was not simply one of salaries. Moreover, by the end of the strike in late September, the workers had received no satisfactory response to their wage demands. The ensuing conflict entailed intense pressure and violent clashes. The company management refused to negotiate with the workers until the strike was called off. The workers claimed that they had already bargained for eight months before the strike with no positive results and that only through striking would their demands be met. The work stoppage caused major losses: the company was directly affected and the state lost a lot of tax revenues.

At first, the company’s intransigence seemed inexplicable in the face of an extensive blight and the possible destruction of a large part of the banana plantation. Behind that attitude, however, was the intention to diversify the banana crop and use the land for other produce. The government initially tried to force Golfito to negotiate with the workers but later backed off from mediating. Furthermore, the government sent public security forces to the banana plantations to protect the strike breakers. The presence of these forces caused more deaths and injuries.

Paradoxically, these struggles have been used in opportunistic ways by the PUSC and the bourgeoisie against the PLN. Thus, in the throes of a critical economic situation, Monge’s government is encountering intense pressure.

The PLN: A divided party

A member of the Socialist International, this party triumphed in the last presidential elections with Luis Alberto Monge as its candidate. In addition to the pressures mentioned above, the governing party is presently undergoing internal divisions, which have arisen largely from differences of opinion regarding the solution to the economic crisis. They also, however, stem from a generation conflict: on the one hand, there are the old leaders, who follow the tradition and style of Figueres, Oduber and Monge; and on the other is the new generation of political leaders who advocate a more progressive PLN. Though the former generation has not been displaced, it has lost much of its strength and influence. Ideological differences not necessarily coinciding with either generation have sharpened the divisions. A third factor causing internal antagonism has to do with strictly personal conflicts. A fourth factor of internal dissension is corruption within the government, which affects President Monge’s credibility more than anyone else’s.

In reality, the PLN is involved in an ideological debate over the two major issues concerning Costa Rica: the economy and international policy. With respect to the economy, opinions range from the standard Socialist International positions to those of the Milton Friedman school. The latter, voiced only by a minority of PLN members, resemble the position of the PUSC. As for foreign policy, the most progressive extreme adheres to a position of neutrality and is attempting to incorporate that position into the republic’s Constitution. The rightwing extreme openly rejects a status of neutrality. There are also intermediate positions between the two poles, with some in favor of neutrality but against its incorporation into the constitution.

Crisis in the Costa Rican government

Costa Rica’s political confrontation has created a serious crisis in the Monge government and in the PLN. This crisis is manifest at three different levels: the Cabinet, the Assembly and the potential candidates for the presidential election.

The Cabinet: A “coup d’état”

Differences among Monge’s ministers became evident during the first few months of his government. They resulted from the very composition of his government, which had represented an attempt to unite the diverse factions of the PLN by allowing them to participate in the new government.

From the outset, there was a clear polarization between Foreign Affairs Minister Fernando Volio and Security Minister Angel Edmundo Solano. Volio, a rightist, agreed on most issues with the PUSC. Solano represented the Social Democratic tendency, the most progressive in the PLN. Volio was eventually removed from his ministry, but the conflict did not end there. As of September 1982, Solano had clashed with both Minister of the Interior Alfonso Carro and his deputy minister, Enrique Chacón. The Ministry of Security is in charge of the Civil Guard, and the Ministry of the Interior is responsible for the Rural Guard, whose duties are closely linked to the country’s northern border with Nicaragua. This situation created numerous institutional disagreements, the most serious of which concerned international affairs. Carro and Chacó accused Solano of being a Sandinista, owing to his attempts to be consistent with Costa Rica’s policy of neutrality, whereas the leaders of the Ministry of the Interior were charged with being CIA members because of their anti-neutrality stands. The other PLN ministers took positions somewhere between the two extremes. Solano’s views on Costa Rica’s relations with Nicaragua were closer to President Monge’s.

Strong attacks were made on Solano and his followers with respect to accusations that Minister of the Presidency Fernando Berrocal was using his influence in the Central Bank to obtain a considerable amount of credit for his political partners. The newspaper La Nación, which responds in many ways to the interests of important capitalists, used this accusation of dishonesty, coupled with criticism of Solano’s positions regarding neutrality, to call for his resignation. This demand received a clear and strong echo from industrialists, businesspeople and representatives of foreign companies, in other words, from all the most important sectors of management, with the exception of the coffee producers.

These groups not only advocated Solano’s removal from office, but also requested that the Costa Rican government sever its relations with Nicaragua and denounced a supposed communist plot designed to destabilize Costa Rica, particularly in the agricultural area. In addition, they pressured President Monge by threatening to carry out a managerial strike on August 31.

These pressure groups wanted not only Solano’s resignation, but also that of the other ministers who had voiced support for Monge’s proclamation of neutrality. They intended to replace the ministers with people from the Carro tendency, thereby placing the Civil Guard and Rural Guard under rightwing control. There was even talk of merging the interior and security ministries under Carro’s leadership. The Costa Rican press accentuated its campaign against Nicaragua, warning of possible aggression and promoting the idea of a break in relations between the two countries. At the same time, President Monge was pressured to make a decision concerning the enactment of a currency law, a condition set forth by the IMF for the $53 million loan mentioned earlier in this article.

According to rumors, Monge was going to become ill and have to resign from the presidency. This would have left one of the two Vice Presidents at the head of the executive branch. One of these is Armando Araúz, who favors the line of Carro and the US Embassy.

When Monge traveled outside the country, he designated the other Vice President, Alberto Fait, as acting President. Fait had already spoken of resigning his office to seek his party’s nomination for the presidential elections, and many observers therefore saw Monge’s selection of Fait as a sign that Carro was not totally in the President’s favor.

Although it cannot be clearly proved that plans for a “coup d’état” did exist or that Monge had lost confidence in his interior minister, this hypothesis does seem logical: () The Civil Guard and Rural Guard would be under the control of the Carro tendency, which would avoid internecine squabbles and enable the government to repress any insubordination; 2) Monge was under combined pressure from private enterprise, the IMF, and the US embassy; 3) Monge himself would eventually be replaced and 4) quick measures would be taken to do away with Costa Rica’s neutrality and transfer to private hands those public sectors of the economy involved with US interests.

Judging from the clear and categorical answer given by Alfonso Carro in an interview published by La Nación on August 5, one can suppose that he was receiving strong support for his positions. The following are excerpts from his statements:

“I am convinced that corruption does exist and that it has become increasingly general and virulent in all ways. The country is a swamp in which our whole system is sinking. Therefore, I think there are many things to correct. Furthermore, I believe that the President has to take a stand with definitions and decisions in this matter. Though we do not have proof, I agree with the opinion that simple indications should suffice.”

The above comments refer to the criticism of Solano and his followers, who have been accused of corruption. Carro was even more categorical with respect to security:

“We have to tell the country to prepare for defense, and I think this is implicit in the proclamation of neutrality. That is what some people disagree with.” He pointed out that Monge never relinquished the right to self-defense: “This is a basic right of all peoples that are threatened, especially in the face of maximum danger, such as the Nicaraguan regime. Communist government is the greatest threat to the stability of our present and future political system. If communism is able to consolidate itself, it will be a maximum danger for our democratic system. Our country has a right to be guaranteed minimum defense against forces operating on our own soil and against those that might eventually attack us from outside our borders. To proclaim otherwise and to say that the country should not make this kind of effort is to negate the fundamental right of all countries to defend themselves. It would be a lie, a shameful lie, to ignore the difficulties in the interpretation of neutrality. Even in the Security Council, we do not really have a unanimous will…I don’t believe in the possibility of coexistence with a communist regime. History provides us with numerous examples that the neighbors of communist countries are sooner or later affected by that system.”

Referring to President Monge’s style of government, Carro says: “There’s a need for important changes in the policy of consensus that Monge has implemented in the first two years of his administration. I want to be sincere about this. I have spoken with other Cabinet members about the possibility of holding friendly talks with the President and offering him recommendations. Obviously, reorganization is the only way to neutralize the wearing-away process that comes with holding power. It would be a great waste if the coming 22 months were not used appropriately in accordance with the demands the country is channeling to the President through the Houses, the media and the general feeling of uneasiness that comes from friends who are worried about the country’s future…. If the government doesn’t recover and take care of its responsibilities, one great danger is that we might not have elections in 1986. This has to kept in mind.”

The above comments were the source of newspaper speculation concerning a coup. Without using the exact term, Carro concluded: “I hope that in the next few days the President will make decisions with regard to these matters or move over in order to allow Vice President Armando Araúz to do so.”

These statements were explosive. Combined with managerial and international pressure, they caused the Solano tendency to react, and the Minister of Security put all his forces under a state of alert. Below is the exact text of an interview conducted with Solano during this period of extreme tension.

“Interviewer: Mr. Minister, why have the country’s security forces been confined to their barracks?
“Solano: “Because we’ve heard rumors of a coup d’état. We are on maximum alert.
“Interviewer: who might be behind such a coup?
“Solano: “ We have received information to the effect that rightwing and leftwing extremist groups want to destabilize the country. Therefore, we have ordered a general mobilization of the nation’s public forces; we have maintained them in their barracks and on maximum alert. We have also mobilized the volunteers of OPEN [Organization for National Emergencies, with approximately 10,000 members].
“Interviewer: But would those leading the new de facto government be rightists or leftists?
“Solano: “ Either could be possible.
“Interviewer: “ How long have the forces been on maximum alert?
“Solano: “ For the last three days.
“Interviewer: Is Vice President Araúz aware of this matter?
“Solano: “ I never know what the Vice President does, nor does he know what I do.
“Interviewer: Does the Security Council know about this?
“Solano: “ No. The Ministry of Security deals with the country’s security matters.
“Interviewer: But will the Security Council be informed at a later time?
“Solano: “ No.
“Interviewer: Are there definite indications that a coup has been planned?
“Solano: “ We have received some evidence and indications, and they are being studied.
“Interviewer: What kind of evidence?
“Solano: “ I can’t tell you that, but if they want to act, just let them try it.
“Interviewer: Don’t you think that it is advisable to present this situation to the Security Council?
“Solano: “ Why would I want to inform the Security Council? The Security Council is an advisory organization, not an executive one. I don’t need policy advice from the Security Council.”

The statements made by his two ministers placed Monge in an uncomfortable situation. He immediately denied that a coup d’état was underway. Solano retracted his comments concerning the coup, alleging that he had made them during an informal meeting with journalists and that the considered them as nothing more than April Fools talk. Despite such “joking,” the warning had already been transmitted. In addition, Solano had stated quite clearly on an earlier occasion: “They want my resignation, but they won’t get it.”

In August, Monge asked all his ministers and ambassadors to present their resignations. (The vacancies in the embassies were to enable him to appoint some of the resigning ministers to diplomatic posts outside Costa Rica). Consultations were fast and furious: US Ambassador Curtin Winsor met with Carro, Araúz and Volio; some of these people talked with Monge, as did Archbishop Arrieta. Everyone seemed to agree that Monge’s move had been a stroke of genius. By performing a “self-coup,” he avoided a weakening of his own position, as well as the supposed coup d’état.

Monge dismissed Solano, Carro, Chacón and Minister of the Presidency Berrocal, who was Solano’s closest ally. This totally removed the opposite extremes. With his new appointments, the President again attempted to attain unity and balance among the different tendencies. Solano was replaced by Enrique Obregón, of a somewhat rightist tendency. Benjamín Piza, of the progressive or even leftist tendency, was named to head the Ministry of the Interior. Danilo Jimênez, more progressive than his predecessor, Berrocal, took over as the minister of the presidency.

Thus, the Ministry of Security, previously under progressive leadership, was handed over to the Right; whereas the Ministry of the Presidency followed the opposite course. However, this Cabinet reorganization did more than simply reshuffle the different forces in order to give the impression that no one side had been the loser: it also put the left wing of the PLN in charge of the Rural Guard, the force most directly involved in surveillance of the counterrevolutionaries. Although there is no assurance that new conflicts will not arise in the reordered Cabinet, Monge has at least temporarily provided for the survival of his neutrality policy. During the speech in which he explained the Cabinet changes to the nation, he emphasized his personal commitment to this policy.

Within this rebalancing of forces and tendencies, it would seem at first glance that Monge gave in to the Right in the area of the economy by appointing two rightists to direct the Central Bank and Ministry of Agriculture. This indicates that the President will yield to IMF pressure to prepare a new currency law and thereby fulfill one of the conditions for urgently needed loans. Nevertheless, the labor associations working precisely in the areas of the Central Bank and Agriculture are very much in tune with Monge and could serve as a control mechanism. This combination of ministerial shifts has given Monge room to maneuver in what appeared to be a dead-end street. In his message to the nation, as if in response to other criticisms voiced by Carro, the President spoke of the economic improvements Costa Rica has experienced in the two years since the end of the Carazo Administration. (Despite the crisis, there has been undeniable progress in this field: for example, reductions in unemployment and the inflation rate.) With respect to the charges of government corruption, Monge urged all citizens to make it their duty to denounce such corruption and bring those guilty of it to trial. Furthermore, he categorically denied having had communist ministers, while reaffirming his confidence in all members of his former Cabinet. Regarding his style of leadership, he explained that it did not reflect a lack of decision, but rather a system of power sharing and collective decisions that he considered appropriate for governing the country. He also announced that certain people had advised him to close down the Congress, accusing its members of allowing internal antagonisms to stop the legislative process. The fact that Monge mentioned this point in his speech, claiming that he had rejected such advice in the hope that other measures would speed up the legislators, shows how far his self-coup reached.

How useful will these measures and statements prove in Monge’s attempt to maintain his economic and international policies? Some observers contend that his chances are slim. They affirm that the rightwing tendencies will organize; that inter-ministerial conflicts will resume; and that pressure from the US will increase, especially if Reagan is reelected.

The Legislative Assembly: Slow machinery

There are presently nine groups in Costa Rica’s Parliament, including the different tendencies within each party. This situation, which is extremely conducive to political complications, has considerably hampered the legislative process, particularly in the area of the economy.

The PLN has 33 seats and an absolute majority. Although its differences in the Congress are not the same as in the Cabinet, they are serious. In comparison with the PLN Cabinet members, its congressional representatives are generally a bit more progressive. Political positions such as Carro’s are usually not defended by PLN legislators.

The PLN Assembly leaders are Jorge Luis Villanueva and Benal Jimênez. The former holds PLN positions that prevailed in the 1970s: emphasis on the state sector and nationalization of the bank. Without going as far as the PUSC, Bernal Jimênez advocates greater participation by private enterprise, a growing tendency within the PLN.

The PUSC representatives have become more aggressive and unified as of late. It would appear that they are determined to take advantage of the Cabinet crisis and the limitations on the present executive branch.

The pre-electoral campaign has already begun

The political confrontation, the Cabinet crises and even the slowness of the Legislative Assembly have had the combined effect of prematurely kicking off the campaign for the 1986 presidential elections. This is especially significant in the case of the PLN, plagued with internecine disputes.

There are presently three candidates for the PLN presidential nomination. Oscar Arias Sánchez, the current favorite, has been working on his candidacy for the last two years. As PLN secretary general, a position he has held since 1979, Arias Sánchez has succeeded in creating himself a solid base of support. A second candidate for the nomination is Carlos Manuel Castillo, the former executive president of the Central Bank and an unsuccessful candidate for the 1981 nomination, which Monge won. The third candidate is Alberto Fait, who was the first vice president of the Republic until June 30, 1984, as well as President Monge’s right-hand man.

These three candidates have not evidenced sharply diverging political opinions, such as those existing in Monge’s previous Cabinet. None of the three defends positions similar to those of Carro. Perhaps what stands out most in their “pre-campaign” is the PLN’s generation conflict, mentioned earlier in this article.

Oscar Arias is considered the spokesman of the new generation. “Leaving the past behind and facing the future” seems to be the tone of his campaign. Castillo, who is supported by PLN founders and former Presidents of the country José Figueres and Daniel Oduber Quirós, has pointed out the limits that Arias must face: his campaign looks like a plot directed against the party’s patriarchs. “You can win without them in this party, but not against them.” Fait is considered to be the candidate of President Monge, the third man of the old generation. However, the old generation is divided between Figueres and Oduber on one hand, and Monge on the other, while the new generation is currently united behind Arias.

This cleavage can be seem in a recent survey, which indicated that Arias would receive 41% of the popular vote, with 23% and 22% going respectively to Castillo and Fait. Even if the old generation were to unite, thereby increasing its slice of the pie to 45%, the undecided voters could still tip the balance in either direction. Thus, they will have an important say not only in the choice of the PLN’s next presidential candidate, but also in deciding what share of power will be granted to the representatives of the new generation.

Apparently, a victory by the PLN’s new generation would not mean the implementation of a more-open economic policy or greater chances of ensuring respect for Costa Rica’s military neutrality. Of the three candidates, Arias is the one who most strongly advocates support for private enterprise. He is also the one who has made the most aggressive and distrustful statements about the Sandinista government, although he has situated them within a context of mutual respect between the two nations. Neither he nor his competitors favor the creation of an army; however, none of the three candidates wants to incorporate the principle of neutrality into the Costa Rican Constitution.

As a party, the PLN is presently running behind the PUSC. According to the polls, if Arias won the PLN nomination, he would lose the election to Calderón Fournier of the PUSC by a margin of 41% to 31%. Calderon would defeat Castillo by 43% to 28% and Fait by 44% to 25%. Paradoxically, 41% of those questioned during the same survey said they favored the PLN, whereas only 27% preferred the PUSC. Again, the undecided voters (32%) could sway the results.

What Is at Issue in Costa Rica’s Neutrality Debate?
“Neutrality” is a term used to express Costa Rica’s will to remain unarmed and to refrain from participation in military struggle. The basis for its neutrality is to be found in the country’s 1949 Constitution, which forbids the establishment of a permanent army. Nonetheless, aside from the regular forces belonging to the Civil Guard and the Rural Guard, there are paramilitary organizations in Costa Rica. The United States, Panama, Venezuela, South Korea, Taiwan, Israel, Japan, Argentina and Spain all provide them military assistance. The Kissinger Report proposed that the US train and organize Costa Rica’s police. This would probably amount to creating an army that, sooner or later, could put an end to the Country’s neutrality.

The magazine Cuadernos del Tercer Mundo published the following information concerning Costa Rica’s paramilitary organizations and regular forces (vol. VII, Issue 68, April-May 1984, p. 105).

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