Costa Rica’s Close Election Tests Women’s Rights 

SAN JOSÉ, Costa Rica — He was demoted from a senior place on the World Financial institution due to sexual harassment. Now, the economist Rodrigo Chaves — who has campaigned as a populist outsider in an election marked by anger at conventional politicians — leads the polls to turn out to be Costa Rica’s subsequent president on Sunday.

It’s an sudden rise to prominence in a rustic that has taken a lead position within the development of progressive insurance policies in Central America, underlining how the will to punish political elites for financial stagnation is overshadowing most different points.

In 2019, Mr. Chaves was reprimanded by the World Financial institution for what was proven to be a sample of sexual misconduct in opposition to junior workers, although the main points of his conduct have been made public by a Costa Rica newspaper solely in August — particulars the presidential candidate has repeatedly rebutted.

Mr. Chaves’s denial and downplaying of a documented historical past of sexual harassment come two years after one other Costa Rican politician, the previous president and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Óscar Arias Sánchez, narrowly averted prosecution for sexual abuse, in a scandal that shook the nation.

Mr. Arias was accused in 2019 of sexual assault or misconduct by at the very least 9 ladies, rising as one of the vital vital #MeToo instances in Latin America. Nonetheless, in December 2020, the fees introduced in opposition to him by two of the ladies have been dropped.

Human rights activists now say that Mr. Chaves’s bid for energy threatens to undermine progress in Central America’s most liberal and egalitarian nation.

“The message that that is sending to society is that sexual abuse is one thing minor, one thing not critical,” mentioned Larissa Arroyo, a Costa Rican human rights lawyer. “This marketing campaign is normalizing and legitimizing the abuse.”

Mr. Chaves and his press workplace didn’t reply to an interview request.

Mr. Chaves languished in obscurity till his alliance with Pilar Cisneros, a outstanding feminine Costa Rican journalist, who presented him to Costa Rican voters as an skilled administrator who would sort out corruption.

Only a day after Ms. Cisneros joined Mr. Chaves’s marketing campaign in August, the native newspaper La Nación made public the World Financial institution’s investigation that discovered he demonstrated a sample of sexual harassment in opposition to junior feminine workers between 2008 and 2013.

Mr. Chaves responded by enjoying down the findings. “Those that have kidnapped the nation are already displaying their concern of the candidacy of Rodrigo Chaves,” he mentioned in a video address posted on social media hours after the article’s publication.

The revelations did little to wreck Mr. Chaves’s marketing campaign. When the investigation was revealed, he was polling at simply 2 %. By the primary spherical of nationwide elections, held in February, he had earned sufficient votes to maneuver on to the presidential runoff.

Ms. Cisneros got here to Mr. Chaves’s protection, serving to to defend him from the total affect of the revelations. “Do you suppose that Pilar Cisneros would have supported a sexual harasser?” she advised the native media in January. The following month, she received a congressional seat for Mr. Chaves’s social gathering.

Forward of the ultimate vote on Sunday, the state-run College of Costa Rica discovered Mr. Chaves narrowly main in opposition to his opponent: a former Costa Rican president, José María Figueres. In a ballot of 1,000 voters carried out by the college on March 24-28, Mr. Chaves led by 3.4 share factors, barely above the survey’s margin of error of three.1 %.

A separate ballot revealed by the College of Costa Rica on March 1 discovered that solely 13 % of voters thought that harassment accusations in opposition to Mr. Chaves have been false. However 45 % mentioned that the accusations wouldn’t affect their vote.

Mr. Chaves has benefited from the unpopularity of his opponent, Mr. Figueres, who has been marred by accusations of corruption throughout his first time period in workplace within the Nineteen Nineties. Mr. Figueres, who leads the nation’s oldest and largest political social gathering, the Nationwide Liberation Get together, is accused of receiving funds within the early 2000s from a French telecommunications firm in return for preferential remedy whereas he was president.

Mr. Figueres has denied the accusations, and prosecutors who investigated the funds, which occurred after he stepped down, didn’t press fees.

Nonetheless, within the eyes of many Costa Ricans, Mr. Figueres and his social gathering have come to symbolize the venality and elitism of the nation’s political system, which many imagine is not in a position to remedy financial issues, mentioned Ronald Alfaro, who leads the College of Costa Rica’s Heart of Political Research and Investigation.

Costa Rica’s tourism-reliant financial system suffered tremendously from the pandemic; in 2020, its gross domestic product noticed its biggest drop in 4 many years. Whereas elements of the financial system bounced again, the nation is struggling to rein in rising meals and gasoline prices.

“The accusations find yourself canceling one another,” Mr. Alfaro mentioned. “Voters find yourself casting their ballots not for the candidate they like however in opposition to the candidate they imagine has extra fleas than the opposite.”

Turned off by the scandals round each candidates, most Costa Ricans seem to have misplaced curiosity within the election. Solely 1 / 4 of all registered voters forged their ballots for both Mr. Chaves or Mr. Figueres within the first spherical of elections, which had the bottom turnout in 70 years.

Paperwork from the World Financial institution’s inside tribunal and labor union present that Mr. Chaves was punished in 2019 after two feminine workers filed harassment complaints. On the time, he was the financial institution’s nation head for Indonesia, a director-level place overseeing billions of {dollars} of lending to one of many world’s largest creating economies.

The ladies mentioned Mr. Chaves made makes an attempt to kiss junior workers on the mouth, made sexual feedback about their appearances and repeatedly made unwelcome invites to lodge rooms and dinners. The identities of the ladies haven’t been made public.

One lady, who reported to Mr. Chaves, advised the tribunal that he “commented that he appreciated it when she bent over, then proceeded to drop an merchandise and ask her to choose it up for him,” a request she mentioned she refused.

Mr. Chaves was demoted and his wage was frozen, however the financial institution stopped wanting explicitly calling his conduct sexual harassment. He left the group days later and returned to his native Costa Rica to turn out to be the finance minister for the president, Carlos Alvarado.

The Costa Rican Communication Ministry mentioned that the present authorities had been unaware of the harassment case, and that Mr. Chaves advised its members on the time that he returned as a result of he wished to spend his retirement along with his aged mom.

Inside six months, Mr. Chaves left his ministry place and introduced a presidential bid with a little-known political social gathering, promising to “return energy to residents” by holding referendums on vital coverage matters.

Regardless of Mr. Chaves’s departure from the World Financial institution, his accusers introduced an attraction to the interior tribunal to assessment the financial institution’s misconduct investigation.

“The details of the current case point out that Mr. C’s conduct was sexual in nature and that he knew or ought to have identified that his conduct was unwelcome,” the tribunal mentioned in its June ruling. A World Financial institution official mentioned the financial institution didn’t dispute the details of the case as introduced within the ruling.

Even earlier than the ruling was issued, in January 2021, the group banned Mr. Chaves from its premises and imposed a rehiring ban. The financial institution’s sister group, the Worldwide Financial Fund, mentioned it additionally restricted Mr. Chaves’s entry to its premises.

Within the months since, Mr. Chaves has denied or misrepresented the findings; as an alternative, he has mentioned that the World Financial institution discovered little greater than an allegation in opposition to him, referring to the financial institution’s preliminary choice to not name his wrongdoings sexual harassment.

He has additionally mentioned that he can freely go to the World Financial institution’s places of work — contradicting the financial institution’s ban on his entry — and that as president he’ll proceed doing enterprise with the financial institution, which has $2.3 billion in excellent loans in Costa Rica.

Mr. Chaves has additionally promised to “revise” the laws on in vitro fertilization and abortion, which have been made extra accessible by current presidential decrees. Abortion is authorized in Costa Rica when the being pregnant threatens a girl’s well being.

These measures threaten to derail the gradual however noticeable advances in ladies’s reproductive rights beneath the current governments, mentioned Ms. Arroyo, the human rights lawyer. She mentioned the proposals additionally would injury Costa Rica’s position within the development of social rights in a deeply socially conservative area the place abortion is basically banned and the place violence in opposition to ladies goes principally unpunished.

Costa Rica’s political stability and robust democracy have lengthy made it an outlier in a area dominated by authoritarians and arranged crime, and the nation has achieved one among Latin America’s highest ranges of social inclusion, in areas starting from entry to training and well being care to civil rights.

“If Costa Rica declines in its safety of girls’s rights,” Ms. Arroyo mentioned, “it’s most definitely that the remainder of the neighboring nations won’t have this instance to maintain transferring ahead.”

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