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This weekend, Costa Ricans turned up to the polls to overwhelmingly elect center-left candidate Carlos Alvarado Quesada in an election that could serve as a bellwether for LGBTQ rights in Latin America in 2018.

Winning more than 60% of votes, Alvarado campaigned on a platform of unity and equality, including promising to legalize same-sex marriage, The Guardian reports

“My commitment is to a government for everybody, in equality and liberty for a more prosperous future,” Alvarado told a crowd of supporters Sunday. “There is much more that unites us than divides us.”

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For the small nation of Costa Rica, and the rest of Latin America, a lot was riding on Alvarado’s election in what could be an important year for gay rights in the Americas. Elections are coming in two countries that have legalized same-sex marriage, but have also seen conservative backlash to those laws — Brazil and Colombia. 

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In recent weeks, Costa Rica’s election had become a referendum on gay marriage, after the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) ruled in January that Latin American countries should treat LGBTQ individuals “without discrimination,” the New York Times reports

After the ruling, Costa Rica’s government, led at the time by center-left president Luis Guillermo Solís, said that it would recognize the ruling “in its totality.” 

But the rise of right-wing candidate Fabricio Alvarado Muñoz, an evangelical preacher and TV journalist who campaigned against Carlos Alvarado Quesada (no relation) on a platform of “traditional values,” threatened to undermine that decision. 

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While Alvarado Quesada struck a pro-same-sex marriage stance throughout his campaign, Alvarado Muñoz said he would eliminate sex education from schools and disavowed what he called “gender ideology,” according to the New York Times.  

Costa Rica has recognized domestic partnerships since 2013, but same-sex marriage is not yet legal. Currently, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay and some parts of Mexico, recognize same-sex marriage, according to Reuters

Anti-gay sentiment is lower in Costa Rica than it is in other Latin American countries, including neighboring Nicaragua. According to a study by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans and Intersex Association, 12% of Costa Ricans agreed or strongly agreed that homosexuality should be a crime versus 64% who disagreed or strongly disagreed.

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Still, Costa Rica saw an increase in hate crimes against LGBTQ people after the IAHCR ruling, The New York Times reports

Now Alvarado will have an opportunity to put a same-sex marriage law on the books and quell rising discrimination. On Sunday, his opponent Alvarado Muñoz conceded the election, saying he would work together with Alvarado going forward, according to the Guardian

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Alvarado, who previously served as a minister of human development under the Solís administration, will also have an opportunity to continue to address poverty in Costa Rica. 

In his role as minister of human development, Alvarado saw poverty decrease from 22.4% to 20%, according to the Tico Times

His interest in politics began when he served as a journalist in low-income communities. 

Interviewing a poor woman whose mentally-ill son had been killed, Alvarado said: “I remember that woman crying with such impotence, and I understood that moment of inequality, of injustice. I was going to share it with many people, but I could not change that inequality. That was my separation from the life of a journalist, because I understood that you have to get involved to change things.” 

The youngest-ever president of Costa Rica, Alvarado now has a chance to do just this.

Global Citizen campaigns on the Global Goals for Sustainable Development, and reduced inequalities — which includes eliminating discrimination based on race, gender, and sexual orientation — is goal number 10. You can join us and take action here.  


Demand Equity

Costa Rica’s New President Wants to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage, Eliminate Poverty, and Serve All People

By Erica Sánchez  and  Phineas Rueckert