WAPO: ‘Rodrigo Chaves is following in Trump’s footsteps in Costa Rica’

QCOSTARICA – Ronny Rojas, a Costa Rican journalist, who works for Noticias Telemundo and is a professor at the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Journalism, published an opinion piece on the Washington Post on the President of Costa Rica Rodrigo Chaves , titled “Rodrigo Chaves sigue los pasos de Trump au Costa Rica” (Rodrigo Chaves follows in Trump’s footsteps in Costa Rica).

Costa Rican President Rodrigo Chaves. (Moises Castillo/AP)

Here is a translation and adaptation of the article.

The aroma of Donald Trump Costa Rica’s Casa Presidencial (Presidential House) is hard to hide. Since President Rodrigo Chaves came to power in the small Central American country in May, his character and style of government have been compared to that of the former US president.

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Perhaps the most obvious similarity is Chaves’ public confrontation with the Costa Rican press, particularly with the media who exposed him during the presidential campaign by revealing the accusations of sexual harassment Chaves faced while working. at the World Bank, which cost him his demotion. of his management position and a three-year salary freeze.

Before winning the election, Chaves had already announced that, like a “tsunami”, he would destroy two of the main media in the country: Canal 7 (Teletica Channel 7 television) and the newspaper La Nación.

In Costa Rica, they say there’s a long way between words and deeds, but that doesn’t seem to be the case with Chaves. Barely a month after assuming the presidency, his administration ordered the closure of Parque Viva, an event center of Grupo Nación, which brings significant revenue to the journalistic business.

Costa Rican journalists see in this attitude an attempt by the president to settle accounts with the media which publicly showed his failures.

He also called the media “rats” and personally points the finger at reporters in the gallery where he spends more than an hour every Wednesday in colorful press conferences broadcast live on the internet, a practice reminiscent of live trials. between Trump and the American press at the White House.

He asked the Ticos with a smile not to believe the press, “not to buy the smoke”, assuring that the only thing journalists want is to sow confusion. But he also assures that his government will defend press freedom “at all costs” and rejects criticism that there is no closed media in the country.

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Rodrigo Chaves doesn’t want Costa Ricans to believe the press and that may be because in recent weeks the press has reported how the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) – one of the strongest electoral institutions on the continent – has found evidence to presume that the Progress Party The Social Democratic Party (PPSD), which brought Chaves to power, used a “dark funding scheme”.

In June, the TSE sent a detailed report to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, which is investigating the case, in which it details that the campaign allegedly received money from companies, individuals and even foreign citizens without reporting its origin and far from public scrutiny.

Costa Rica is one of the strongest democracies in Latin America and one of the 10 countries with the greatest press freedom in the world. However, Chaves’ threats and confrontational style have already meant that the country is seen abroad on the same populist course and with an authoritarian course as other Central American nations like Nicaragua – where the newspaper’s headquarters La Prensa was taken over by the government of Daniel Ortega and dozens of journalists had to go into exile—or Guatemala, where the founder of the newspaper elPeriódico, José Rubén Zamora, has been under arrest since July, accused of money laundering. money and other charges, after the media reported the Attorney General for allegedly allying himself with President Alejandro Giammattei “to attack judges and lawyers involved in anti-corruption cases”.

And not to mention El Salvador, where President Nayib Bukele accuses El Faro, one of his main critics, of money laundering without proof.

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The press isn’t the only stone troubling Chaves. One of his first actions as president was to sign an executive order to remove the mandatory nature of COVID-19 vaccines, contrary to medical recommendations, although it was later shown not to be. had no power.

Along with his Minister of Health, he attacked the scientists of the National Vaccination Commission for refusing to withdraw the order to vaccinate children, adolescents, public and private employees, accusing them of “liking things abnormal”.

At the beginning of August, one of these specialists, Hugo Marín Piva, was expelled from the commission. Marín accused the government of being allied with anti-vaccine groups and pressuring the commission to comply with its orders without “the proper technical basis”.

Very similar to when Trump threatened to remove expert Anthony Fauci.

The problem is that, although the journalists are crying to the skies, it seems Costa Ricans love Chaves’ confrontational style and are embracing him in front of the critical press. Nearly eight out of 10 Costa Ricans consider his work to have been “good or very good”, a record figure, according to a survey by the University of Costa Rica, one of the most credible.

At least until July, a majority backed the style with which Chaves handled the media and viewed him as a firm president with leadership.

In this case, it could be that the effects of the pandemic on the Costa Rican economy, which recorded the highest unemployment rate in Central America in 2021, or the recent corruption scandals in public works contracts, which led to the arrest of six mayors, dozens of civil servants and the owners of the largest construction companies in the country fed up with the Ticos and fertilized the land where Chaves sowed his seed. These were his campaign promises: “Restore hope” to the unemployed and entrepreneurs and fight against corruption.

The obvious question is what will happen from now on. The president’s popularity will depend on what he can actually do to keep his promises. His party has barely reached 10 seats in Congress and, like it or not, that is where any structural change is handled, so he is at the mercy of what he can negotiate with the majority of the opposition.

The cost of living and the economy are the main concern of the people and despite a polarizing political campaign, the citizens continue to strongly support the democratic system that sustains the country.

Scholars say Chaves’ high popularity is not a “blank check” or a “citizen’s mandate” for his government to fail to meet democratic standards. Just as they support its president, at least for now, the Ticos also believe he should obey the law.

And although the show and the confrontation with the press did not end and complicated things for Chaves – on September 2 he dismissed his Minister of Communication without giving reasons, who then assured that the attacks on the press were a personal decision of the president and correspond to “open wounds” during the campaign; they can also generate a loyal fan base.

But it is to be expected that an authoritarian one-upmanship on his part will not be welcome in a vain country, which likes to be recognized in the world as a little corner of “pura vida”.

You can read the original, in Spanish, at Washingtonpost.com.

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