Friday 24 September 2021

Costa Rica’s Choice

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This year’s election asks us not to just choose candidates or parties, but to decide the very nature of the government we wish to serve us. We are faced with an existential crisis asking us to reinvent the meaning of our ever-changing society. It is no surprise that the vociferous debate has brought to the forefront competing views, has revealed the division in our country.

The questions facing us are clear.

Do we want Fabricio Alvarado’s theocratic rule with the beliefs and doctrines of the evangelical church becoming law, and pastors looked to for legal opinions? Do we want sermons delivered from the Casa Presidencial? Do we really want a government led by a narrow definition of not only religion but who deserves dignity and respect?

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It is no surprise we are presented with this choice as marginalized groups push for equal rights, dignity, and respect. As all civil rights movements have done, the current push has revealed – not created – the undercurrent of bigotry in the country.

Perhaps we prefer Juan Diego Castro’s approach? A feeble course revealing him as too cowardly to withstand the trials of compromise and democratic discourse. Do we want to be ruled by a dictatorial president who has eliminated any checks on his power – both governmental (his attacks on both the assembly and the judiciary) and non-governmental (his attacks on the media and the very public he would rule)? Do we want a president who rules by decree like Maduro in Venezuela or Pinochet in Chile?

It is no surprise we are presented with this choice amidst a corruption scandal and legislative ennui. Costa Ricans rightfully disgusted with the dirty deals and the frigid pace of change have turned to Castro, a candidate who promises to fight corruption and act.

Desperate for change, the country has turned to these populist villains who seek to flip the table and scatter the cards and chips of the political game.

But you can’t fight corruption with a corrupt process, a process that threatens the rights and protections our forefathers fought wars and dictators to secure. (Have we really forgotten so easily the Civil War of 1948?) And you can’t run a democracy – a government that requires involving diverse voices and finding a compromise – on bigotry and hate.

Amid this chaos have come voices seeking to define democracy, all too many of which have relied on the common fallacy of democracy as the will of the majority. But too often the majority has run ramshackle over the minorities, enslaving them, stealing their land, and massacring them. You can’t have a democracy without individual and collective rights even if the majority wishes to destroy them.

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A functioning democracy protects its most fragile citizens, the marginalized and forgotten, the downtrodden and hopeless. We have too often failed in this ideal with disastrous consequences, but we have never rejected it, knowing that to do so creates a tyranny of the majority as Adams, Madison, Burke and so many others claimed. And if we forget and reject these protections, we open ourselves to the frenzy of a mob, angered by what they don’t understand, stripping dignity and rights from anyone who doesn’t fit their narrow definition of a person.

As we head to the polls on Sunday, our choice is clear. Let us choose rights and protections. Let us choose democracy.

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Jeff Lile
Jeff Lile is a dual US and Costa Rican citizen. A teacher and a writer, he fell in love with Costa Rica and his Costa Rican wife 13 years ago.

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