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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Costa Rica’s President Carlos Alvarado elbow bump after a news conference Tuesday, June 1, 2021, in San Jose, Costa Rica.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Costa Rica’s President Carlos Alvarado elbow bump after a news conference Tuesday, June 1, 2021, in San Jose, Costa Rica. (Evelyn Hockstein/AP)

There are a dizzying number of candidates running in this Sunday’s presidential election in Costa Rica. Some 25 in all at last count.

They include school teachers, doctors, lawyers, a farmer and an evangelical singer, and, of course, career politicians. But one of them in particular, 44-year-old Jose Maria Villalta, has triggered trepidation among the moneyed class in the capital city of San Jose.

That’s because Villalta is a socialist cut out of the same mold of Gabriel Boric, the candidate who just won the presidency in Chile promising to overhaul the country’s free-market economy. His political party, the Broad Front, even shares the same name as Boric’s.

Villalta isn’t in first place in polls -- that spot belongs to former President Jose Maria Figueres --- but with the backing of about 8% of Costa Ricans, he has a shot at qualifying for the second-round runoff between the top two finishers on Sunday. And for wealthy Costa Ricans who’ve watched political change sweep through a region battered by the pandemic, that possibility is unnerving.

“If he reaches government, capital flight and economic crisis would become a reality,” said Gerardo Corrales, a former bank CEO of BAC San Jose.

A congressman and former student protest leader, Villalta once called his ideology “Socialism a la Tica.” (Tica is a slang term for Costa Rican.) He opposed the free trade agreement with the U.S., the ending of a state monopoly on telecommunications, and the current program with the International Monetary Fund. Last year, he was the only member of congress to vote against a motion condemning government repression in Cuba.

Villalta’s press office didn’t reply to an email seeking comment.

According to his 260-page manifesto, Villalta wants Costa Rica to transition into an economy “made up of a large number of private companies that are cooperatively owned and managed.” He has called for taxes on extraordinary profits made by financial companies, large inheritances and “hot money” capital flows. He also says he would regulate the prices of medicines.

There is at least one piece of economic orthodoxy in his platform: a pledge to make government spending both fair and “sustainable.”

To become president he will have to overcome establishment candidates such as Figueres, who promises to speed up economic growth with a wave of foreign investment, and evangelical singer Fabricio Alvarado, who accused Villalta of promoting “the same ideas that ruined other Latin American nations.”

Polls in Costa Rica will open at 6 a.m. on Sunday. If no candidate wins more than 40%, the runoff will be held on April 3.


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