Costa Rica’s debt and deficit have risen to the highest on record, and its credit rating has been cut repeatedly in recent years. But, forget all that: It is the prospect of legalizing gay marriage that dominated the debate and threatens to turn the Feb. 4 presidential election on its head. Many religious Costa Ricans were incensed by a Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling this month in favor of gay marriage, which the government said it would implement. Support for Fabricio Alvarado, an little-known evangelical candidate opposed to the notion, leaped sixfold, propelling him into first place in some polls and spooking investors. Alvarado’s “aggressive stance” on the issue “seems to have resonated with voters,”’ Eurasia Group analyst Risa Grais-Targow said.
Bonds had their biggest one-day drop in 14 months after a poll showed Alvarado, who said he would pull Costa Rica out of the court and the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights, taking the lead. “We aren’t willing to push an LGBTI agenda,” Alvarado said after the ruling.
Many investors had been looking to Antonio Alvarez, an opposition candidate who has called for a “fiscal rule” to limit the government’s ability to take on debt, and is proposing to extend the sales tax to goods that aren’t currently covered. He’s now likely to slug it out with Alvarado in a second round of voting on April 1.