Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho, It’s Off To Vote We Go

Giles
Giles

Click on the images to enlarge.

Costa Rica votes in the Presidential election this Sunday and, bluntly, all we haven’t had so far is the seven dwarfs.

We’ve had one party’s candidate pull out claiming that his election backers were secretly in league with the candidate of another party…..the backers protesting their innocence and claiming that the now ex candidate had wanted to impose on them support for an ex President of Costa Rica caught with his hand in the till…..

We have had a four times married candidate decide to marry for the fifth time – one more heave, one might say – and send his new dentist wife round poor districts of the country offering free dentistry, working from a van painted in the party colours….

We have had the interesting revelation that two of the main contenders are under investigation for misuse of public funds and influence in one case and for breaking electoral funding law in the other while a third can proudly proclaim that his only brush with the law was being arrested on a demo….

One – the one with campaign funding questions dating back years – is proudly unmarrried and is trying to court the religious conservative vote…..whose party’s candidate is the man who succeeded the one who pulled out….

The internet is alive with photographs of the five times married candidate’s last campaign rally….his party’s photographs giving the impression of the main approach to San Jose filled by his exultant followers, other showing the said enthusiastic followers filling about one block in ten….

Foreign owned firms have issued ‘guidance’ to their workforce, warning of the danger of the loss of jobs if they vote for the candidate who was arrested on a demo…..

American expats are packing their gear in readiness should the demonstration attender be elected, firm in the belief that the Red Hordes will immediately invade their gated communities to loot their gas fired barbeques and end civilisation as they know it….

People generally are complaining that the parties are not sending out vans laden with material in the party colours to drape round their houses….that the parties are spending the money on undermining each other on the internet instead is not regarded as a good enough excuse….

And a newspaper has cancelled a last minute pre-election poll on the grounds that it would confuse voters so close to an election. Rumour has it that it showed that the candidate who has the support of the newspaper’s owners does not show up too well in said poll….

Apart from that, it’s like any other election: wild promises, backstabbing and dirty work at the crossroads.

What did interest me was an article in ‘La Nacion’ – the newspaper which cancelled the election poll – detailing the arrangements made for transporting the voters and feeding the volunteers on election day.

I’m all too familiar with the problem of getting out the vote, taught the dark arts of which first by my father, who remembered the days when the dead walked and the war cry was’vote early, vote often…’ and later by a superb Labour Party agent who was to meet an untimely death.
He knew his election law to the last nth – and he knew the ways of the voter with an uncanny prescience, like a hunter stalking his prey.

Giles
Giles

From the article there is a clear disparity between the parties of the better off and the others: the others lack transport.

This echoes the cry heard at every election, local or national, in the offices of the Constituency Labour Party and which I first heard as a child.
‘The Tories have cars!’

Indeed they did and their party workers could afford to run them.
It was a great advantage and one my grandfather on my mother’s side would do his bit to nullify.
He would arrange that I spent the day before the election with him and his wife – partly to be out from under my parents’ feet, partly for his own ends.

A cynical gentleman injured in the First World War he had had the distinction in the Second World War of being drummed out of his local Air Raid Warden service in that he did
A. Not get past the Rose and Crown with vital messages when on exercise resulting in the gasworks being (theoretically) blown up
and
B. Causing alarm and despondency by creeping up on gossiping housewives and bellowing ‘Gas!’ swinging his gas rattle the while.

So the bystander might have been surprised to see this spry but elderly gentleman stepping out on the evening before the elections, a child at his side carrying a wicker pannier…not quite his image.
But, long before Baldrick, he had a cunning plan…and it involved potatoes, not turnips.

From his somewhat doubtful knowledge of the internal combustion engine he had worked out that if the exhaust was blocked the car would not go, so as we strolled along on his predetermined and well researched path he would point out a car with a flick of his finger and my job was to crouch down as if adjusting my shoelaces, insert a potato in the exhaust and shove it up as far as possible with the small stick I carried in the pannier.
Not all the cars were parked on the road…some involved darts into gardens and I was coached that if approached by indignant householders I was to plead incontinence and shyness in equal parts.

As I recall I survived these evening strolls unscathed and was rewarded by a lemonade in the beer garden of his local pub before we returned home and the reproaches of his wife to the tune of ‘keeping the child up late and is that whisky I smell on your breath?’

Did it work? I have no idea.
Election day was spent with the house full of people comparing electoral rolls with the returns of the canvassers and the reports from the tellers outside the polling stations – grandfather despatching sorties to get out the votes from whichever part of the area appeared to be backsliding.

Giles
Giles

Which brings me to the other part of the article….the parties announcing how many volunteers they proposed to feed – and with what.
Grandmother sustained the troops on her wonderful victoria sponge cake and tea: in later life the Labour Party offices would be sustained on election day on sandwiches and cigarettes.

Costa Rica does it on a meal of arroz con pollo – literally rice with chicken – which strikes me as being a sort of chicken risotto using whole portions of poultry. Beats sandwiches hands down.
All parties bar one are serving their volunteers this traditional dish.

The exception is the party whose candidate is the one with problems with previous election finding, who refuses to marry and is courting the conservative religious vote.
They are supplying burritos..a flour tortilla with a filling of minced meat, cheese and salad with a tomato sauce.
We shall see whether these torpedo shaped recipes for indigestion propel him to victory or depthcharge his chances.

But not on Sunday.

For to win outright a candidate needs to obtain more than forty percent of the vote, and, from the polls published so far, barring skulduggery on the scale of Tammany Hall crossed with the European Union, no candidate is likely even to approach that figure.

So it will all need to be done again in April…and no, not on April 1st.

If it wasn’t for the European Union and President Obama this would be Paradise.

travel-to-costa-rica.com

The European Union has been poking its nose into Caribbean and Central America for some time now.
It has built itself offices in Barbados: top of the range 4x4s are parked outside the best restaurants in Nicaragua, and it has been advising Costa Rica on:

A. A grand plan to zone the Gran Area Metropolitana – the capital and its major suburbs.
Result? Vast amount of money spent and no plan forthcoming.
Just what might be expected of the EU.

And

B ….more successfully…how to raise taxes.
Also what might be expected of the EU.

The Costa Rican government are eager to follow the advise of the experts on how the twisting of balls will miraculously result in blood gushing from stones and tried eagerly to bring in VAT – that most iniquitous tax – until the Constitutional Court stopped their gallop on the grounds of technical failures in the passage of the appropriate law.

As an alternative, the government brought in a luxury tax…thus making it even more difficult for poorer people to vary their diet.
Since when has an aubergine been a luxury?
Answer…when you buy it in a supermarket catering to the high end trade which obeys the law.
If you buy it from the chap on the market he has as little interest in collecting the tax as you have in paying it.
Olive oil is also a luxury…but the chap on the market doesn’t sell that, so people are stuck with palm oil and its by products.

Another bright idea from the EU was to give local authorities a sound tax base from the rates on property, and experts were seconded to help in this laudable effort.
What seems to have resulted is that ‘technicians’ have clicked on to Google Earth, have calculated the extent of your roof space and whopped on a tax according to their measurements.
Up to you to argue the toss…and if you haven’t argued by the due date there’s no appeal.
Except you didn’t know what would be charged until you went to argue…..and our local authority has discovered a black hole in its finances following the departure of the last mayor.

The Man from the Ministry would be in attendance at the Municipalidad (local government offices) on Tuesdays and Fridays running up to the deadline and Violetta suggested I go with her for support in case of problems.
We went on a Tuesday. The Muni was shut for a conference.
We went again on the Friday. The Muni was open, so we entered and took our place in the queue.

Now the Muni is housed in a traditional colonial style building with offices round a central courtyard, wide eaves giving shelter from the sun. The door of the appropriate office was open and customer number one was being dealt with.
We were third and fourth in the queue and sat on the chairs provided. As time passed, more people arrived, the supply of chairs ran dry and staff brought out benches.
People began chatting. People produced their papers, comparing same. Problems were perceived.
A member of the local tax staff was raked out of her lair and the perceived problems were explained. At length.

There were members of vast families with incredibly confused documents thanks to the habit of chopping a bit off a holding to give to a son or daughter to build a house and not remembering to get it registered properly….there were cadastral plans which resembled blobs on flypaper….there were people whose property was held in a company who had not supplied themselves with a power of attorney….

The member of staff took a deep breath and began to send people to the appropriate places to get their documents sorted…a vast file took off for the Post Office where copies of powers of attorney could be obtained…others were busy on their mobiles summoning family members whose signatures would be needed and a few were sent in search of their lawyers.

She inspected the remnant. My documents were passed as being adequate, as were those of Violetta and number two in the queue.

Chatting resumed.
I don’t mind waiting in Costa Rica….the chatting is good for my Spanish and the knowledge I pick up of all the infinitesimal trivia which make up the bricks of daily life is invaluable.

The first customer came out and number two rose to enter the office as the Man from the Ministry came out at the charge, heading for the exit.
Given the sheaf of papers clutched by the first customer I wondered whether he had decided to make a permanent bolt for freedom, but the local lady explained that he had gone for a coffee.

After half an hour people were wondering loudly if he had gone to pick the coffee rather than just drink it and when, a little while later, he was seen entering the courtyard, number two shot into the office, ready for action.
But he had headed instead for the loos on the other side of the building.
After some little time Don Hugo went over and kicked the door.
The Man from the Ministry emerged and, drawing breath like a diver about to plunge into the depths, entered the office.

This interview went smoothly and then Violetta and I entered together, neatly blocking his attempt to escape round the corner of his desk.
Resigned, he started the process.

It appeared that the Ministry has designated the base value of land in the canton according to criteria which seemed as much of a blank to him as to us…but since ours were at rock bottom we were not complaining.
So, given that, he moved on to the nature of the property itself.

He pulled up a map showing the contour lines which in both our cases evidently passed muster as hilly…

On to the next…the house itself. He pulled up Google Earth. Our houses appeared as faint blurs. Google Earth had clearly not been doing much updating lately.
Collapse of EU system.

Well, Senoras, said he, let’s just say traditional build, traditional materials….tax as last year and no declarations of value for another three years.

We agreed, signed and left at a smart trot. Mission accomplished.

Another lesson the Costa Rican government has learned from the EU is to cover a rip off by claiming that something which is going to cost you an arm and a leg is for your own security.

So now we are faced with changing our car’s number plate in order to have a ‘secure’ one.
One with a sort of watermarked map on it…one that can’t be duplicated for nefarious purposes. Supposedly.
One that costs an arm and a leg.

Our household operates on a sort of division of labour basis.
If it’s fiscal or legal it’s mine.
If it’s the car it’s his.

So my husband was OIC of Operation Replace Numberplates.

There are two ways of doing this.

A. You go to the National Registry special office in the suburbs of the capital bearing your documents, proof of payment for arm and leg at a bank and your numberplates.
You queue.
Once your papers pass the desk you wait an hour until the new numberplates are handed over.

The Men were going to the San Jose house…not too far from the offices…so I suggested that this would be the best solution.

No, it appeared that it would not. It involved wasting time waiting in the National Registry when much more exciting activities could be undertaken.

So it would be

B. You go to the local post office armed with your documents, proof of payment for arm and leg at a bank and your numberplates.
Once your papers pass the desk you wait six working days for the return of your plates…and in the interim cannot take the car on the road.

Danilo had to change the plates on his motorbike, so The Men decided to make a joint trip to the Post Office.

All went swimmingly…..

Except that the six days had lengthened to twelve….
Except that there would now be two weekends to add on…and the public holiday on May Day and, to add insult to injury, the day on which the President of the U.S.A. arrived in the country for a visit whose purpose eludes me would be a non working day for civil servants in the San Jose area – mostly because they would be unable to get into work for all the security cordons in the centre where offices for four blocks round his destinations will be off limits to their normal occupants.

Given that May Day is a Wednesday and Obama arrives on Friday a fair number won’t see much point in going into work on Thursday…so don’t hold your breath for the twelve working days either…Costa Rican civil servants can make a French ‘pont’ with the best of them.

Normally there would be no great problem.
We can drive up the back road into town…park the car behind the football pitch – a no go zone for the traffic police – and walk up the hill to go shopping or get the bus into the capital.

But there is a complication.
A friend from South Africa is arriving at the airport on what will be working day thirteen.

Fingers crossed!