On Sunday, Costa Ricans came out to vote in the presidential election and resoundingly shut out Fabricio Alvarado Muñoz, an evangelical pastor and singer who saw a rise in support after strongly speaking out against same-sex marriage. With 95% of the votes accounted for, novelist and musician Carlos Alvarado Quesada is up more than 20 percentage points. Though he supports same-sex marriage, Alvarado’s connection to the current administration – he served as labor minister in President Luis Guillermo Solís’s cabinet – brought him added scrutiny as the government faces corruption allegations. As Alvarado Quesada nabs headline after headline, you may not hear as much about his vice president, Epsy Campbell Barr – the Afro-Costa Rican woman who, with this victory, is making history in the Central American country and around Latin America.
She is the first person of Afro-descent to serve in this role in Costa Rica and throughout Latin America. It’s something Campbell – a member of the Partido Accion Ciudadana (PAC) – doesn’t take lightly. “I wouldn’t just be the first in Costa but also in Latin America,” she told CRHoy.com. “And eventually, if the president leaves [his post], [I would be] the first woman of African descent to assume the presidency in the entire American continent. It’s a big responsibility.”
54-year-old Campbell – named after her grandmother who immigrated from Jamaica to Costa Rica – is an economist who has served in the legislature and previously ran for vice-president. She has used her platform to speak out against racism in the country. In 2015, for example, she criticized Cocorí, one of Costa Rica’s most famous works of literature. Joaquín Gutiérrez’s 1947 children’s book features a young Afro-Caribbean boy searching for a monkey while leaning on stereotypes and racist caricatures. When the National Music Center aimed to adapt the book into a musical, Campbell spoke out and successfully stopped the project.
As of the 2011 census, the Central American country had a 7.9 percent – or 334,000 – Afro-Costa Rican population, so her involvement in politics is crucial. Having worked with the Center for Women of African Descent, the Alliance of Leaders of African Descent in Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Black Parliament of the Americas, Campbell has made her mark. She vows to do more in her new role. “It will be a responsibility not only to represent people of African descent but to represent all women and men in the country,” she said, “a country that gives us all the same opportunities.”
Given her historic victory, Twitter is celebrating. Check out a few of the elated reactions below: