NEWSMAKER-Unheralded Costa Rican economist’s unlikely path to presidency


SAN JOSE, April 4 (Reuters) — Rodrigo Chaves was an unheralded economist in his native Costa Rica until a series of personal setbacks propelled him into a brief, ill-fated spell in government, then into the race for the presidency, which he won on Sunday.

Chaves held positions across the globe during nearly three decades at the World Bank, until he left after an investigation into complaints of sexual harassment found he had engaged in misconduct, allegations he has repeatedly denied.

Resigning from the bank in 2019, Chaves, 60, suffered another blow when one of his sisters who looked after his mother, died from cancer that October.

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A few days later, President Carlos Alvarado invited Chaves to become finance minister. But he quit seven months later, blasting Alvarado for favoring political matters over economic rationale in his decision-making.

«They say I am very arrogant and very dictatorial, but I think I say things as they are, and people don’t like it,» Chaves said during the presidential campaign.

Still, the finance ministry fired his interest in politics, and became a springboard for his presidential aspirations, even as he dedicated himself to caring for his ailing mother.

Days before she died in September 2020, he told her he was going to run for presidency, aiming to end the privileges of the traditional political class and tackle the poverty that affects almost a quarter of the Central American country’s population.

After wrongfooting pundits by coming runner-up in a first round of voting in February, Chaves on Sunday night completed his transformation, defeating former president Jose Maria Figueres in a second-round run-off by 53% to 47%.

PUGNACIOUS

Chaves was born in 1961 into a large lower-middle-class family in the capital San Jose, and went on to earn a Ph.D. in Applied Economics and Financial Markets and Institutions from Ohio State University in the United States.

He subsequently led and participated in teams from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to assess financial markets in emerging countries.

His 27-year career at the World Bank took him to 45 countries spanning America, Europe and Asia.

But in 2018, two female colleagues lodged complaints alleging inappropriate sexual behavior dating back years, according to Chaves’ website.

The World Bank conducted an internal review in which it determined Chaves had engaged in misconduct and sanctioned him, Chaves said. Chaves said he returned to Costa Rica around that time to run the finance ministry.

«I have never inappropriately touched, insulted or intentionally any woman made uncomfortable,» he said on his website. «I came back to Costa Rica because I wanted to.»

Luz Mary Alpizar, president of Chaves’ Social Democratic Progress Party (PPSD), said she regretted the allegations but that her party still saw Chaves as an ideal candidate.

Some critics accused the PPSD of improper campaign spending, allegations under review by electoral authorities. Chaves has said he was not involved in overseeing party financing.

Voters were attracted by Chaves’ fiery speeches and opposition to traditional parties, analysts say.

The now president-elect has proposed lowering the cost of living through decrees that would drop the price of rice, electricity, medicine and farming supplies.

He has also suggested holding referendums to bypass parliament, where the PPSD will have only 10 of 57 seats.

His confrontational style and policy agenda have drawn comparisons with other anti-establishment leaders in the Americas such as former U.S. president Donald Trump, El Salvador’s Nayib Bukele and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro.

Chaves is married to an economist from Latvia, his second wife, and has two daughters.

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Reporting by Diego Ore, Additional reporting by Alvaro Murillo and Daina Beth Solomon
Editing by Alistair Bell

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.



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