Rodrigo Chaves leaves scandal behind in fast track to Costa Rica’s presidency
Chaves was accused of improper conduct towards two young subordinates between 2008 and 2013.
Rodrigo Chaves of the Social Democratic Progress party speaks at his campaign headquarters after the polls closed in San Jose, Costa Rica, on 3 April 2022. Picture: Luis Acosta / AFP
Right-wing conservative Rodrigo Chaves entered politics like a racing car.
At high speed he dodged accusations of sexual harassment and stormed straight to his goal: the Costa Rica presidency.
Leading the brand new Social Democratic Progress Party, Chaves was a relative unknown to many.
His only previous political experience was a six-month stint as finance minister between 2019 and 2020 in the outgoing administration.
But his confrontational attitude and promises to tackle the economy under the slogan “I’m up for the fight” helped him negotiate a congested field of 25 candidates in February’s first round.
Although he finished a distant second to former president Jose Maria Figueres in that, by polling day for Sunday’s second-round run-off, Chaves was leading voter intentions.
“We’re going to win … We’ve climbed the mountain, without resources, with the media against us, with insults and disgraces. But you said ‘we’re up for the fight’ for our country,” the 60-year-old called out to 250 supporters as he ended his campaign.
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An economist with a 30-year career at the World Bank, Chaves jumped to the head of the opinion polls as soon as he made the second round.
Voters seemed more interested in his economics background than his shameful behavior.
“We have more than 25 years of constant economic and moral crisis and we hope that Don Rodrigo will manage to help us in this really difficult situation,” said Rolando Gutierrez, 58, an automotive technician.
With a degree in economics from the University of Ohio, Chaves has vowed to pick the country up off its knees.
Known as a beacon of political stability, Costa Rica has been plunged into an economic crisis partly by the coronavirus pandemic that lashed its vital tourism sector.
It was at the World Bank that the 1.85-meter tall Chaves, whose opponents accuse him of arrogance, became embroiled in a scandal.
He was accused of improper conduct towards two young subordinates between 2008 and 2013.
The sexual harassment charge earned him a demotion in October 2019 to a position with no responsibilities and no prospects of a salary rise for three years.
He resigned around a month later, and took on the role of finance minister in Carlos Alvarado’s government.
In defense of his conduct, Chaves insisted it had been merely “jokes” that were “misinterpreted due to cultural differences.”
“I have a wife, six sisters, eight aunts and two daughters – I have a deep respect for all women,” Chaves told AFP in February, ahead of the first round of voting.
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Even so, last month the Wall Street Journal accused Chaves of continuing his improper behavior in a World Bank post in Indonesia between 2018 and 2019.
It also said he was denied a position in Brazil because the institution’s employees there refused to work with him due to his reputation.
His troubles don’t stop there. Chaves been accused of paying for campaign expenses from bank accounts that have not been declared officially, something he denies.
“We’re worried that when someone like that takes power it will normalize even more so harassment and violence against women” by his supporters, said Rocio Jimenez, a member of the Women to the Fore collective.