As is often the case in Costa Rica nothing is simple nor is it totally comprehensible.

Presidential candidate, Johnny Araya, former mayor of San José has not really dropped out of the presidential race since that would violate Article 138 of the constitution, he has simply quit campaigning which is tad amount to a “withdrawal”.

Johnny Araya and his wife with their home in the background.
Johnny Araya and his wife with their home (white house) in the background.

That being clear, or almost clear, I have met with Araya for two hours each week for better than four months well before his nomination as a candidate and I might have a good perspective of him as a person.

During that period of time, Don Johnny reiterated his lofty goal to revamp the powerful political party, Liberacion Nacional (PLN). The party and its members, including both Laura Chinchilla as well as Oscar Arias who have moved too far to the “right” as in being neo-liberals. Araya has always expressed his desire to move Liberación back to the ideals and politics of its founding members in 1948, Don Pepe Figueres. However, that message never really played out with the public at large.

Next, Don Johnny often lamented about the substantial dropout rate of young people from high school, the almost impossible passing of entrance exams into public universities and the critical need to create more economic opportunities for these youngsters of lesser means.

His thoughts amount to an enhanced network of vocational or technical schools, especially in rural areas where now making a living mostly depends on picking the harvest or coming to the big “city” and flipping burgers. No question in his mind that what Costa Rica lacks are qualified and certified technicians in the areas of auto mechanics, computer repair, cellular techs, and even optometrist assistants. In short, a functional education for those who do not have the economic ability to become one of the thousands dedicated to academics. They need to eat and live.

Araya sincerely wants to offer middle-income Costa Ricans the ability to purchase a home and receive a home loan with a reasonable interest rate and a term that would make payments affordable. Before going to the moon or landing on mars, don Johnny wants to first walk then run and bring along that middle income class which is disintegrating before our very eyes.

Our conversations indicated that he is obsessed with bringing the current government under wraps, to control expenses and to eliminate the many useless and expensive duplications. His focus is on jobs and creating meaningful employment.

As to public health, the Caja, our national healthcare system, is to be saved. “It is humane, it is needed.” However, the Caja has failed miserably over the years, deteriorating into a shell of its original self. On the other hand, it serves the public when in need of health. The Caja is there as a safety net. Then again if one has the funds to purchase private insurance, it can be easily bought and private clinics can comfortably answer the wants of every patient, even down to a great club sandwich at Cima. However that is both expensive and beyond the means of most people who live in this country.

The number one industry to be supported? Tourism, “…bring the visitors and we will then have the investors.” This goes along with exports and while an euphemism, we very much need to subsidize our domestic manufacturing beyond making Raleigh baseballs. Loans to industry are critical to our life blood as is the reduction of paper-work and government intervention.

Taxes? A touchy subject no candidate ever wants to discuss. The national debt is in the bankruptcy stage, we must find solutions to government income needs while reducing government expenses. Another thought that lacked translation: Araya believes that the people cannot be expected to pay more taxes if the government, in turn, does not have the courage to reduce its costs of operations.

I can go on, but ask yourself; is Johnny Araya a centrist, right of center or left of center? Only from my conversation with him, I deduce he is left-of-center and despite his aura; is well meaning.

Perhaps I have been seduced, but not over two hour weekly meetings for months and months. I know Johnny Araya.

I congratulate Luis Guillermo Solís, wish him the best of luck and admire his energy. Asking the Arias question, “Is Costa Rica manageable?”