Former Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla, 62, says Central America is going through its most difficult days since the civil wars of the 1970s and 1980s. The first woman to lead her country, she ruled between 2010 and 2014 with a center-right program.
In recent times he has been an active voice in defense of democracy, in a region that has seen an escalation of authoritarianism in countries such as Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. A political scientist graduated from Georgetown University (Washington), Chinchilla has also been a consultant for the Inter-American Development Bank and USAID (United States Agency for International Development).
She spoke with Folha by videoconference from Tokyo, where she follows the Olympics as a member of the Ethics Council of the IOC (International Olympic Committee).
Is Democracy in Danger in Central America? Yes, without a doubt. The crisis of democracy in the region did not appear overnight, there were signs and trends from before. But they have been ignored by various regional bodies, organizations and the international community in general. We are witnessing various arbitrary acts in almost every country.
In Guatemala, prosecutors like Juan Francisco Sandoval were fired last week, who coordinated the Office of the Special Prosecutor Against Impunity (FECI) and led an anti-corruption mission. This was shortly after the dismantling of the United Nations Commission against Impunity in Guatemala. [que investigou escândalos como os que levaram à prisão do ex-presidente Otto Pérez Molina].
In El Salvador, Nayib Bukele’s advance against justice, removing judges from the constitutional court through a parliament he controls. In Honduras, there are also limits to justice.
And in Nicaragua, if the Daniel Ortega regime manages to commit electoral fraud on November 7, we will have irreversible damage in the region. Because, therefore, there will be incentives for other representatives to follow the same path of authoritarian escalation. The scenario is the riskiest and most dangerous for Central America since the years of civil wars.
In the case of Nicaragua, as well as in Venezuela and Cuba, it seems that the international community and its organizations realize that their capacity for action is very limited. Mrs. Okay? The world views with disappointment the degradation of the region’s democracies by factors emanating from the democracies themselves. Before, there were scenarios of violation of the rule of law, often for military use. For these cases, it seems that international organizations have had an answer. A more efficient way to act.
But when the degradation of democracy occurs in broad daylight and in slow motion, using the same instruments as democracy, it becomes much more difficult for the international community to act. These new autocrats use legislative votes, maneuver in the interpretation of laws, appoint judges by the means indicated, but they are their friends. This is a scenario for which we have not yet formulated an outcome, an adequate response.
And what has happened is, in these cases, when the international community decides it’s time to do something to help, it’s too late. Especially when these autocrats have also concentrated economic power, through alliances with businessmen or nationalizations. Then they become really, really powerful forces.
How to start to design new mechanisms to act against this new type of autocracy? You have to act drastically, in a coordinated way, and do it quickly. In the case of Nicaragua, it is already too late, but steps must be taken to prevent an election in which potential candidates are arrested, who will have no observers, in which the press is forced into silence. If the fraud consolidates, it will be the failure of all the international instruments currently available to us, and this will have an impact on the cases of Cuba and Venezuela, and on other autocracies that may arise or become stronger. It will be a truly dramatic precedent.
And what would be drastic, since we obviously do not envisage military interventions? Not at all. Calling for military intervention is something that arises in sectors of society affected by authoritarian escalations. But they are an elusive solution and even those who ask do not know how to apply it, or what the consequences would be. Obviously, they are a reprehensible option.
The populations of the countries are at the forefront of democracies, it is they who must defend it. You can’t just vote for autocratic leaders and then ask someone outside to remove them from power. This is why nothing can be done without popular representation. What I believe is that the sanctions plan is not doing the right thing. No sanctions package can be effective if it is not accompanied by a clear and coherent diplomatic strategy.
Could this have happened in Venezuela? Yes, in Venezuela we have a clear example of this. When he was president, Donald Trump boasted of imposing sanctions and more sanctions. But he did not have a clear conception of diplomatic and political action. Then, one day, it was said that all the cards were on the table, hinting at possible military action. In the other, they admitted conversations with mercenaries, then returned to talk about negotiations between the regime and the opposition. Everything was very erratic, not indicating a clear path. When we apply economic sanctions and we do not have a diplomatic strategy, it is like using a tourniquet without offering an exit.
So the departure to Nicaragua would be sanctions with another action? Who? The idea of economic sanctions is different in each country. Venezuela is a rich country. If they impose sanctions on plan employees, they have a place to find more resources for themselves, and they are doing it. In Nicaragua, this is not the case, because it is a very poor country. He does not have the fortune of the Venezuelan state. At the same time, there is no mystique surrounding their leaders as there is in Cuba, at least for a part of the population and of the world left.
So what’s missing is the Chavismo money and the charisma that Cuban leaders had until recently. So I think sanctions can work in the case of Nicaragua.
Block Ortega’s main resources, remittances and loans, which he does not use to fight the pandemic, but rather in his patronage election campaign. And, at the same time, to take a clear push for a dialogue for a free election.
the OAS [Organização dos Estados Americanos] shouldn’t wait to apply the Democratic Charter and expel Nicaragua, for example. We need real and drastic pressure which could lead Ortega to agree to create a negotiation mechanism.
Like Mrs. How do you rate Joe Biden’s management so far in relation to Central America? It seems that the only concern is to stop immigration. In fact, your priority is this. I think the intentions are good, but we have to look into the basic question, focus on the causes of this immigration. And, for that, one should not consider, as the current administration does, that the underlying problem in Central America is only the violence which occurs in the countries of the North Triangle. [El Salvador, Honduras e Guatemala].
The American strategy is not clear and there are at least three limits. First, this narrow view that the region’s problems are limited to the countries of the Northern Triangle. On the other hand, we must focus on the issues that lead to immigration and that have to do with the democratic health of these peoples.
And third, using more than US resources. I think they need to take more decisive leadership and catalyze the funds and resources of the Inter-American Development Bank, the Andean Finance Corporation, the World Bank. All funding policies in the region must be aligned with a clearer goal of real change. I see that they act in isolation, and the other actors too. Without coordination, it will be much more difficult.
Laura Chinchilla, 62
Graduated in political science from the University of Costa Rica, with a master’s degree in public policy from Georgetown University (USA), she was federal deputy (2002-06), vice-president of Costa Rica (2006- 08) and Country President (2010-14), has led several OAS election observation missions and is currently a member of the IOC Ethics Committee