Saturday, July 02, 2005

Schism in Movimiento Libertario

Like many US Libertarians, I have been a huge fan of Movimiento Libertario (ML). They basically took all the positive lessons of the US Libertarian Party (LP), stripped away the ideological shoegazing, set themselves to the real work of politics and elected real live Libertarians to their national assembly.

Now comes sad news of a schism over the latest slate of candidates. So far I've only been able to find the opinion of one side of this dispute, so reasonable conclusions are hard to come by. It seems that the faction led by Otto Guevarra was narrowly successful in recruiting and nominating candidates that in one estimation are "only 70% Libertarian" and in another are simply politicians of all ideologies who simply wish to avoid the taint of corruption that other party labels carry in Costa Rica.

The blog of Jacqueline Mackie Paisley Passey has the most complete news on this I could find. Apparently she is in regular contact with many of the folks involved. There you can also find further illumination on the statements of Jorge Cordina and Ricardo Mendez, and much more material if you can read Spanish.

Without knowing much more, I can still relate much of this to our own experience. The struggle between so-called "pragmatists" and "purists" is endemic to any movement. The crying shame of this is that the conflict is unnecessary. It is most practical to stick to your guns, or as we say in NC, you dance with what brung you. The fact that we have principles is precisely what makes us appealing to voters, and we must maintain them in order to set ourselves apart from our opponents and give voters a reason to switch from more popular parties to our side. If we want to actually bring about real Libertarian solutions, it is self defeating to stop talking about them.

And yet it seems to be human nature that the greatest temptation to sell out to "real world libertarianism" or whatever it is called today comes just at the point where you are beginning to taste success. The danger of losing one's way is greatest at this point. Sorry folks, but success on our terms takes hard work and perseverance, and some apparent short cut to success not on our terms is no success at all.

And yet we must make choices. As I said two posts below, there are times when we have to stand with non-Libertarians. These situations need to be well defined. It is always right to support anyone while they are doing the right thing, but it is always a bad idea to unquestionably support someone just because sometimes they do right. We have to draw the lines when we select our candidates. Obviously, you don't have to be in 100% ideological lockstep with the Platform or the collected wisdom of Murray Rothbard or some other detailed litmus test to be a great Libertarian candidate. You can even disagree on some relatively major points, as long as you run on Libertarian issues. So the debate within ML seems natural on the surface.

But we have received plenty of comeuppance when we have been overeager to embrace non-Libertarians as our own. I personally supported a Republican candidate for Congress in 2004 who I thought was one of those 70% Libertarians, but he turned out to be just another hard right Christian conservative in his campaigning. I still am honored to know the guy, and he does have a lot of Liberty in his heart for sure, but backing him was a mistake I won't repeat.

I have found I am much happier when non-Libertarian candidates come crawling to me hat in hand for our help, while trying to latch onto a non-Libertarian candidate in a quest for relevance only leads to not respecting yourself in the morning.

Opening up our process so that people can run as Libertarians from a variety of views is healthy for the party. Opening it up so much that people who couldn't reasonably be described as Libertarians can claim our banner is doom. From the reports I've read, it appears that ML has chosen the later course.

I'll also point out from our own experience that schism is not necessarily a bad thing. It all depends on whether Liberty burns enough in your heart that you will not give up, no matter what comes. The largest schism in the LP was when a bunch of so-called pragmatists left and founded CATO Institute, which is clearly one of the greatest things that ever happened to the American Libertarian movement. I thank God for that schism every time I think about it. I would urge the losers in ML's fight to look to CATO's example and find a way to keep expressing their view in Costa Rican public policy.

All is not lost for ML either. This is but one event, one swing of the pendulum, and that by a narrow vote. The party is not over, it never is unless you let it die. I have provided a blueprint for taking back your party in my article When State Parties Attack. I would urge people who want to keep ML truly Libertarian to keep their memberships and not give up. This is but one battle.


Blogger Jacqueline Mackie Paisley Passey said...

Personally, I am in favor of idealist goals and pragmatic strategy. From what I've heard the problem with the new slate of candidates in Costa Rica is that many of them do not have libertarian goals. The problem is that they are not libertarian, not that they are gradualists or whatever.

Costa Rica is also different from the US in that they have proportional representation. So when they win 10% of the votes, they win 10% of the seats, not nothing, like here. So Libertarians can and should run as Libertarians, and can then form coalitions with non-Libertarians as necessary and appropriate once in the national assembly. It's not necessary for them to compromise on ideology to get into office, nor to affect policy outcomes once there.

I think this will end up hurting the Movimiento Libertario a lot because it will destroy the brand they have spent the past 12 years cultivating. Even when people disagreed with them, they knew what the ML was about and what they would do. The public saw them as having integrity in their positions, not just supporting whatever it takes to get elected like the other parties. Now that is gone.

Raul Costales (the founder) is a fighter so I expect he will find another outlet for libertarian activism in Costa Rica. Unfortunately I think things have been set back about 10 years, and it sounds like the intra-party fight is just getting nastier so that many activists will burn out and never return to politics in any form...

Thanks for the link. I'm still going down there in September, and thus will be blogging occasionally about Costa Rican libertarian politics. I also might visit some other libertarian organizations in Latin America.

12:49 AM  
Blogger Sean Haugh said...

Thanks a lot for the straight dope on this stuff. Since we're facing very similar issues here about the direction of our party, I do hope people pay attention to this lesson. I'd still like to hear Otto's side of the story to get the full view, but as you can see that didn't keep me from drawing a lot of conclusions. :-)

Oh yes, this is bad for ML in the short term, and very sad news. But what they already have achieved is not lost. Being Mr. Pollyanna, I am convinced that Liberty is an historical inevitability. If the Libertarians in Costa Rica don't give up, that day will still come a little sooner.

Have fun in Costa Rica! It's still my #1 choice if I ever decide I have to get out of here. Your blog rules.

7:43 PM  
Anonymous Tim West said...

I spent a bit of time nosing around down there, and it seems to me that the good guys won. I could not find a single actual example of any of the new gang that described in detail exactly what "un-libertarian" things they are for.

I DID find a lot of evidence that those who were forced out were anarchists, self described and proud of the fact. I scribed a response and went along my way.

If they would say what these people did that was so un-libertarian, I might listen to em. But they dont actually say what those things ARE. Thata a pluzzer to me. I would think the crimes would be notable.

1:06 AM  
Blogger Jacqueline Mackie Paisley Passey said...

Well, one thing that has a bunch of people upset is that in May the legislative staffers were told that they could support whichever candidates they wanted without fearing for their jobs. They supported the "wrong" candidates at the party convention and were promptly fired the next week by the winning "pragmatist" faction, including apparently the same guy who told them they did not have to fear for their job.

Some of the candidates nominated on the Movimiento Libertario ticket have publicly stated that they are not libertarians.

I'll have more details once I'm there in September and get to chat with people. In the mean time, your best bet is to read the message archives on the party's Yahoo group (you can run the messages through Babelfish for a rough translation).

2:01 AM  
Anonymous Tim West said...

If they actually did that, they are very stupid. A victor is always gracious to the loser in battle. Turning them out instead of treating them as a loyal (to the party) opposition to respected is wrong.

I would bet anything that the former "nonlibertarians" got treated like shit and got mad enough to do something about it, and after having done so, chose revenge over the right thing to do. Not good. There always a temptation to punish those that have screwed you, and I wrestle with it all the time. But it's not good in the end to give in to the urge. I try not to, but sometimes it gets the better of me.

2:23 AM  
Anonymous Ricardo J. Méndez said...


I've made my views as to how I feel about the party rather clear in my blog, but I'd like to comment on the future of the organization.

People tend to have short memories in this country, and most don't really keep abreast of the news. It's possible that the winning faction is playing the odds that, by the time the political campaign starts full-bore in October, most people will have forgotten about this.

Whatever else he may be, Otto Guevara is not dumb. He's already using this in the right way.

You see, the most prevalent perception among costarricans about the Movimiento Libertario is that they're radicals. I've heard people equate libertarianism with private monopolies, complete anarchy and the far right. A good friend came to me and asked if the Movimiento was really right-wing, adding "because that's like... Nazis... right?"

So people here have no idea what any of these possible political leanings imply. They just know that libertarians are radicals, and being radical is bad.

Otto has already used the result of this internal election to paint the new, mostly-non-libertarian association as a moderate party. Moderate in what way? Who cares about definitions and platform, they're moderate now. That's a lot better for people's ears than radical. In a nice touch of storytelling, he has even given the radicals a face - Raúl Costales'.

Will this new public moderate face help? It may, if the battlefield doesn't get too bloody. If these "moderates" can get the party transition over and done with in the next couple of months, it'll likely work for them and they may increase the number of congressmen. However, if this carries on into the 3-4 previous to the election, all bets are off.

In either case, not only I can't see it as a libertarian party anymore, I'm not even happy about the way they've handled things. Even balancing for my pessimism I don't foresee good, libertarian things for when they get closer to power.

10:07 AM  
Blogger Jim Capo said...

Slightly off topic -- hang with me:

I got my own taste of Costa Rican politics a couple of months back when the CR Ambassador to the US Tomás Dueñas was in Charlotte and Raleigh with his fellow Central American ambassadors promoting CAFTA...on a tour funded in part by US taxpayers.

During a break, I asked him about this issue of trading away sovereignty in this deal. He said "Let me tell you a the record of course."

His story amounted to this: Costa Rica sought a bi-lateral trade deal with the EU, but the EU said they weren't interested until Costa Rica acheived political merger with the rest of Central America first. Dueñas said the Costa Rican response was, "What are you crazy political merger BEFORE we get an economic deal in hand?"

So, I guess my point is we should watch the MI saga closely. Human Nature is very constant across time and space.

I posted an MI photo from happier times on my blog...a souvenier from our trip to Costa Rica during the 2001/2002 elections

8:05 PM  
Anonymous Jorge said...


I am surprised that you have been unable to find information about the un-libertarian nature of the candidates selected. Below are some links. The first is a yahoo group, where you can read about the people being fired for supporting ideological candidates, along with many other things. From both sides. The next four are links to La Nación, Costa Rica's largest circulation daily, with stories about the problems within the ML, mostly from the side of the "pragmatists", or as they call themselves, "moderates". The last is the blog entry where I posted my reasons for resigning my various responsibilities (all volunteer) within the ML. There are comments from someone who disagrees with me and who thinks that what happened was a good thing. Note that I was not "forced out". I left the day following the National Assembly. I would have done it that night, but if I had, my resignation letter would have contained quite a bit of vitriol, which would not have helped anyone. I am not a delegate to the Assembly, just someone who has been working for Liberty in Costa Rica.

I left before anyone was fired. After the dismissals more people left.

The first candidate for the province of Heredia is a woman who advocates employment quotas for women. This is her main issue. She has all but said that this is what she is running on.

There are several other candidates which do not even claim to be libertarian. Which have not attended ideological training and who have no track record within the party.

The basis for choosing these candidates over people who are ideologically committed and who have worked hard for many years, was, in theory, that they could attract votes. In other cases the only basis I can figure is a pure power grab, or they did not want any real ideological commitment in the candidates. Some of those chosen are much weaker candidates, but will not cause waves if elected. They will vote as told. Which, as far as we can tell, will not necessarily be for smaller government.

The sad thing, from my point of view, is that we were on track to get 20% to 30% of the vote in Feb. of 2006. The ML had a strong and sustainable growth rate, going from 3% in 1998 (1 Diputado, (congressman), to 10% in 2002 (6 Diputados). This was done by following an ideological course. Some seem to think that abandoning that course will get them to power quicker. I think it will destroy the party.

11:54 PM  

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