October 10th, 2008

Presidential Elections, 1970’s Style

In the 1970s and early 1980s, Costa Rican presidential elections were spirited, colorful affairs, far more entertaining than the more serious elections held in other countries. With the passage of time, however, Costa Rican elections have become more straightforward and similar to elections elsewhere.

Different Costa Rican political parties have always had their own signature colors, which every Costa Rican immediately recognizes. Years ago, political parties distributed cloth flags to all of their supporters. Costa Ricans proudly announced their party affiliation by hanging their flags everywhere. Around election time, people attached flags to their car antennas and windows, to the rooftops of their houses, and, using several broomsticks as makeshift flagpoles, to the tops of mango and lemon trees in their yards. At election time, the country was festooned with green-and-white and red-and-blue striped flags.

Costa Ricans also assigned each presidential candidate a signature horn honk, which simulated the candidate’s name. Monge’s honk was one long and one short beep in mimicry of him name, while Carazo’s was three beeps with an accent on the middle beep. Supporters of each candidate rode up and down the streets, honking for their candidates, flags whipping colorfully behind them. When supporters of the same candidate encountered one another on the street, they honked in cheerful greeting. Opponents tried to out-honk one another, and the streets were lively with these car-horn debates.

The elections themselves were particularly interesting. The presidential ballot consisted of one single sheet of rough paper. Printed horizontally across the paper were photographs of each candidate and an empty box under each photograph. Voters arrived at their polling places and dipped their thumbs into indelible purple ink. Then, to cast their votes, they pressed their inked thumbs under the photograph of the candidate of their choice. Each vote consisted of one thumbprint.

The ink served two purposes. Because it couldn’t be rinsed off for several days, it kept people from voting twice. It was also handy for voters who wanted others to know they had done their civic duty. People walked up and down the street, giving one another purple thumbs-ups and cheering. Others piled into the backs of pickup trucks, shouting, waving flags and showing everyone their purple thumbs.

The election process may now be more streamlined, and elections are no longer determined by thumb-printed pages pushed through the slots of ballot boxes. However, elections were certainly more fun in the past.

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.


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September 29th, 2008

Literary Lessons

Carlos Luis Fallas is one of Costa Rica’s best regarded authors. His life and his books touch upon some of the most important periods in Costa Rican history. His most famous books, Mamita Yunai and Marcos Ramírez, deal with the plight of Costa Rican agricultural workers and the lives of everyday Costa Ricans, respectively.

Born in the early part of the 1900s, Carlos Luis Fallas had little formal education. He spent much of his early life working in the banana plantations of the United Fruit Company near Limón, on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. He became involved in the labor struggles of the plantation workers and soon was an active member of the Communist party in Costa Rica. He later served as a Diputado, or Congressman, in Costa Rica’s national congress and took part in Costa Rica’s civil war of 1948.

Mamita Yunai describes the unfair labor treatment and grim conditions Carlos Luis Fallas witnessed firsthand on the plantations of the United Fruit Company. (“Yunai” is a latinized shortening of “United.”) This book was an early criticism of American involvement in Costa Rica’s economy and workforce.

In Marcos Ramírez, the eponymous hero is a young boy in 1920’s Costa Rica. More lighthearted and far less political than Mamita Yunai, Marcos Ramírez still makes an important literary and historical statement. The details of life and customs it describes are those of a pre-industrialized and pre-globalized Costa Rica that has now all but disappeared.

Before Fallas’ death in 1966, Marcos Ramírez won an award from the William Faulkner Foundation for the best Latin American novel, and Fallas won Costa Rica’s highly regarded Magón cultural award.

Costa Rica’s congress posthumously awarded Carlos Luis Fallas the country’s highest national honor, Benemérito de la Patria.

Click here for more information about Carlos Luis Fallas.

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.


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