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How a Journalist Saved the Presidential Candidacy of a Man Drowned in a Sex Scandal

Pilar Cisneros demuestra su poder en Costa Rica

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When Pilar Cisneros Gallo (Lima, Peru, 1954) announced in September last year that she would enter the political arena to run for a congressional seat in Costa Rica, controversy soon appeared. On the same day after her announcement, La Nación reported that Rodrigo Chaves, former Minister of Finance and presidential candidate of Cisneros’ party, had been sanctioned by the World Bank due to claims of sexual misconduct.

In a country like the United States, where the #MeToo movement has had a boom capable of ending the careers of politicians, journalists, film producers and actors, the sanction against Chaves would have been grounds for immediate cancellation. In Costa Rica, however, his presence not only prevailed in the midst of the accusations, but he managed to advance to the second round of elections to compete against former social democrat president José María Figueres Olsen.

It seems inexplicable: how is it that a man who has been accused of sexual misconduct can rise in the polls when two years ago he was an unknown person? How is it that the former minister of such an unpopular government can enjoy so much support when public opinion questions his moral integrity to assume the presidency of the republic?

The answer for some people was a clear one: Pilar Cisneros.

“I can tell you today, with the information I have, that this is the political project of Pilar Cisneros. Hunger and desire combined, but the political project is Pilar’s. We all talk about Rodrigo Chaves, but where is he in the polls and why is he there? Because he is Pilar Cisneros’ political project! Nobody knew who Rodrigo Chaves was until he came to Costa Rica fleeing from the World Bank to become Minister of Finance. The one who had the project, which I did not know, was Pilar. The one on the billboards all over the country is Pilar. In the foreground is Pilar”, journalist Vilma Ibarra told me two days before the election.

I do not doubt Cisneros’ ability to carry out an outstanding performance as a congresswoman for San José. Moreover, I am convinced that her main motivation for coming out of the retirement she enjoyed for eight years is the great love she has for the country that adopted her so long ago. However, I must confess that in the beginning I underestimated the power of her figure and never imagined that she would be able to sustain Chaves’ candidacy in the midst of the scandal to the point of achieving with tireless work 9 deputies (out of 57), the third largest political force in the next Legislative Assembly

It is clear that debate in social networks corresponds to a bubble of society that has a quite different perspective on things than that of “ordinary” citizens.

Pilar Cisneros voting during the February 6 elections in Costa Rica. (Facebook)

For social networks the sanction against Rodrigo Chaves was unforgivable, but the bulk of the electorate (305,000 people) thought that his government proposal was good enough to forgive him for the questionable acts of his past.

It is also evident that Costa Ricans abroad have a different view of things with respect to our compatriots at home. According to the last report of the Supreme Tribunal of Elections, Costa Ricans abroad favored the Progressive Liberal Party and the Broad Front over the Social Democratic Progress Party -of Chaves and Cisneros-.

But Costa Rica is not Twitter and neither are its expatriates (by the way, only 12.41% of Ticos registered to vote abroad exercised their right).

My country is looking for a change, where the voice of Pilar Cisneros has an impressive weight. The now elected congresswoman put her credibility on the line defending her candidate with heart, soul and life. It seems that her sacrifice was worth it.

Costa Rica is now facing a second round of elections between a historically detested former president and a former minister questioned in his private life. It seems that the country will have to decide to whom of them it hates more, and I doubt that I will see anything good coming out of all of this.

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