— April 4, 2022 SAN JOSE, COSTA RICA—
By Brian Busy, International Correspondent for Hemp Synergistics
In a stunning turnabout, maverick candidate Rodrigo Chavez narrowly defeated Jose Maria Figueres to secure the presidential chair for the next four years. Chavez pledged to shake up the political elite in Costa Rica and even vowed to use public referendums to bypass the legislature to bring change.
While Chavez certainly owes a debt of gratitude to outgoing President Carlos Alvarado as the latter appointed him as Finance Minister, a top post, in the presidential cabinet. This led to Chavez’s entrance into the World Bank and into the spotlight in Costa Rica and his eventual selection as the new president.
With a record low turnout and barely squeaking by popular former president Jose Maria Figueres, Chavez certainly cannot claim a public mandate. This means his road to expected changes could be slowed or even stymied as he attempts to build influence on an already disparate legislature.
Unlike U.S. presidential elections that also feature legislature elections that can significantly change presidential influence on the Congress, Costa Rican presidential elections are solely about the Executive branch. This minimizes the sway a newly elected candidate will likely have over the legislature.
Economist Chaves is facing an uphill struggle to make the changes he has promised including reviving an economy slammed by the COVID pandemic, alleviating the poverty endured by over 20% of the population and a growing income disparity including an unemployment rate of nearly 15%.
These challenges, along with the numerous infrastructure upgrades set in motion by outgoing President Alvarado, are going to test the resilience of the incoming president in seeking the necessary funding.
President-elect Chaves has not publicly commented on the recent legalization of medicinal cannabis but some sources indicate he may have reservations about the new law. Supporters say Chaves may want to actively try to block it from becoming a reality, but has not yet publicly commented on this subject. As polls show a strong majority in favor of legalization of medicinal cannabis, it is highly unlikely that any public referendum could muster enough votes to pass and halt the new laws from coming into effect.
Costa Rica has suffered for 2 years with reduced tax income due to Covid and is in desperate need to boost both the coffers of the government and the sagging economy. Medicinal cannabis would certainly be strong and profitable for taxation, help those suffering painful ailments and in generating jobs as well, something the incoming president has proclaimed a top priority of his incoming administration.
While political pundits are unsure of Chavez’s possible reluctance to endorse the new medical cannabis law, they do agree that due to likely large foreign and local investment in these new products the incoming president may not stand in the way of their implementation and indeed may even consider endorsing legalization of recreational cannabis in the most trend-setting nation in Central America.