Title Page
 Table of Contents
 List of Tables
 The legislative assembly and systemic...
 The institutional context
 The political context
 The electoral context
 The interest group context
 Patterns of legislative decisional...
 Patterns of non-decisional legislative...
 The implications of costa rican...
 Methodological and conceptual...
 Interview schedule
 Supplementary questionnaire
 Biographical sketch

Title: Costa Rican legislative behavior in perspective,
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00090223/00001
 Material Information
Title: Costa Rican legislative behavior in perspective,
Series Title: Costa Rican legislative behavior in perspective,
Physical Description: Book
Creator: Baker, Christopher E.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00090223
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
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Resource Identifier: alephbibnum - 000585037
oclc - 14174293

Table of Contents
    Title Page
        Page i
        Page ii
        Page iii
        Page iv
    Table of Contents
        Page v
        Page vi
        Page vii
    List of Tables
        Page viii
        Page ix
        Page x
        Page xi
        Page xii
        Page 1
        Page 2
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
        Page 7
        Page 8
        Page 9
        Page 10
        Page 11
        Page 12
    The legislative assembly and systemic decision-making
        Page 13
        Page 14
        Page 15
        Page 16
        Page 17
        Page 18
        Page 19
        Page 20
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        Page 33
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        Page 35
        Page 36
        Page 37
        Page 38
        Page 39
    The institutional context
        Page 40
        Page 41
        Page 42
        Page 43
        Page 44
        Page 45
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    The political context
        Page 66
        Page 67
        Page 68
        Page 69
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    The electoral context
        Page 97
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        Page 133
        Page 134
    The interest group context
        Page 135
        Page 136
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    Patterns of legislative decisional behavior
        Page 164
        Page 165
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        Page 222
        Page 223
        Page 224
        Page 225
    Patterns of non-decisional legislative behavior
        Page 226
        Page 227
        Page 228
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        Page 250
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    The implications of costa rican legislative behavior
        Page 252
        Page 253
        Page 254
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        Page 273
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        Page 276
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    Methodological and conceptual notes
        Page 278
        Page 279
        Page 280
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        Page 282
        Page 283
        Page 284
        Page 285
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        Page 293
        Page 294
        Page 295
        Page 296
        Page 297
    Interview schedule
        Page 298
        Page 299
        Page 300
        Page 301
        Page 302
    Supplementary questionnaire
        Page 303
        Page 304
        Page 305
        Page 306
        Page 307
        Page 308
        Page 309
        Page 310
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        Page 312
        Page 313
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        Page 315
        Page 316
        Page 317
        Page 318
        Page 319
        Page 320
        Page 321
    Biographical sketch
        Page 322
        Page 323
        Page 324
        Page 325
Full Text



Christopher I. Dake.

A D)IS.: i. _T* ON PREc '.:. ;. ) TO TE C A[.TL Cb.,. "1,_ OF

r. ,i T.9

To Jane, Lisa, Jon, and Jessie
Je s_.


In early February of 1968, I departed for Costa Rica

to undertake the research for this study, made possible by

a NDFL Title VI Fellowship and a Ford Foundation research

support grant administered by the Center for Latin American

Studies of the University of Florida. Since that time I

have received the support of numerous persons who have

taken an interest in my work.

The deputies and administrative staff of the Costa Rican

Legislative Assembly opened doors which could easily have

been shut. The reporters at the Assembly offered both

insight and friendship. Professor Andr6s Suarez, chairman

of my committee, and Professor Eric N. Uslaner provided

valuable critiques of my work. Weston H. Agor, Carlos Jos4

Gutierrez, Allan Kornberg, Samuel Z. Stone, and Fernando

Volio Jim6nez also read earlier drafts of this study and

provided suggestions which have helped to improve it. The

facilities of the Computer Center of the University of

Florida were made available for data processing. And

Mrs. Sue Kirkpatrick showed both patience and understanding

in undertaking the typing of the study. To these people

I express my sincere appreciation; shortcomings in inter-

pretlation and presntat ion should, naturally, notl be

attributed to them.

In Costa Rica the friendship of many helped to sustain

my efforts to bring this study to fruition. At home, the

moral and editorial support provided by my parents has been

of inestimable value. But it is to my wife and children

that I owe my greatest gratitude. It is to them, who have

given far more than they have received for seemingly endless

years, that I dedicate this study.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS . . . . . . . . . .

LIST OF TABLES . . . . . . . . . .

ABSTRACT . . . . . . . . . . .

INTRODUCTION . . . . . . . . . .


DECISION-MAKING . . . . . . .

General Characteristics of the Legislative

Sub-System . . . .
Power of Initiative . . .
Power of Enactment . . .
Power of Ratification . . .
Power of Appointmnt ....
Power of Investigation . .
Miscellaneous and Latent Powers
Surmmary and Conclusions . .


General Overview . . . .
The Judicial Branch .. ...
The Executive Branch . . .
The Autonomous Institutions .
Summary and Conclusions . .


The Political Party System .

Legislative Party Caucuses and External
Party Leaders . . . . . .
Summary and Conclusions . . . .




. . 15
. . . 18
. . . 21
. . 26
. . 28
. . 29
. . . 31
.. 33

. . 40

S 41
S 43
S 45

. . 67


t I




The Nomination and Election of Deputies . 98
The Product of the Electoral Process:
The Characteristics of the Deputies . 117
Summary and Conclusion . . . . .. 126


Contextual Variation in the Study of
Interest Groups . . ..... . . 136
A Typological Classification of Costa Rican
Interest Groups . . . . . .. 139
Style of Interest Articulation . . . 146
Means of Access . . . . . . . 149
Summary and Conclusions . . . . .. 159


The Committee Structure . . . . 164
The Floor . . . . . . . . 192
Decisional Cues . . . . . . . 207
The Influentials .. . . . .. 212
Summary and Conclusions . . . . .. 219

IOR . . . . . . . . . . 226

Radio Broadcasts: Visibility as a Critical
Contextual Variable . . . . .. 227
Representation Function ..... . .. 234
Information Function . . . . .. 237
Electoral Function . . . . . .. 241
Cathartic Function . . . . . .. 246
Summary and Conclusions . . . . .. 249

BEHAVIOR . . . . . . . . .252

Selected Research Implications . . . 253
Systemic Implications of Legislative
Behavior . . ... . . . . 263

APfL 'PDICES . . . . . . . . . . 277




II. INTERVIEW SCHEDULE . . . . . . . 298


BIBLIOGRAPHY . . . . . . . . . . 311

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH . . . . . . . . 322



Table Page

1.1 Committee Assignment of Bills . . . ... 20

1.2 Time Span Between Introduction of Bills and
Final Decision, by Sponsorship Type . .. 22

1.3 Committee Modification of Bills Given Affirma-
tive Committee Reports . . . . ... 25

3.1 Roles Attributed to the Jefe de Fracci6n by
PLN Deputies . . . . . . .... 82

3.2 Role Attributed to the Jefe de Fracci6n by
PR Deputies . . ... . . . . .. 83

3.3 Role Attributed to the Jefe de Fracci6n by
PUN Deputies . . . . . . . .. 84

4.1 Role of the National Leadership in the Nomina-
tion of Elected Deputies . . .... .108

4.2 Age, Education, Occupation, and Income of
Deputies and the Electoral Population of
Costa Rica . . . . . .. . 119

5.1 Interest Groups Contacting Deputies . . .. .137

6.1 Party Distribution in Committees in the 1968-
1969 Legislative Session ... . . .173

6.2 Continuity in Committee Membership in the
1968-1969 Session . . . . . . . 176

6.3 Age at Which Deputies First Became Interested
in Politics . . . . . . . . 180

6.4 When Deputies First Became Active in Party
Activities . ... .. .. ... . . .. 180

6.5 Primary Levels of Party Actitivies of Deputies
Prior to Election ... . ... . . 180


6.6 Previous Positions Held by Deputies . . .. .181

6.7 Time Transpired Between Submission of Bills to
Committee and Issuance of Committee Reports 192

6.8 Comparison of the Total Time Required to Pro-
cess Bills Granted Committee-Related Proce-
dural Exemptions and Those Bills That Were
Not Granted Such Exemptions . . . ... .200

6.9 Comparison of the Total Time Required to
Process Bills Granted Procedural Exemptions
Related to Floor Proceedings and Those Bills
That Were Not Granted Such Exemptions . . 203

6.10 Rand Ordering of Decisional Premises .. . 209

6.11 Party Affiliation of Influential and Non-
Influential Deputies . . . . ... 214

6.12 Previous Legislative Experience of Influential
and Non-Influential Deputies . . . . 215

6.13 Educational Level Attained by Influential and
Non-Influential Deputies . . .... .. 216

6.14 Previous Legislative Experience and Education
of Influential and Non-Influential Deputies 217



Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate Council
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of
the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Christopher E. Baker

August, 1973

Chairman: Andres Suarez
Major Department: Political Science

Despite the prevalent belief in the discipline that all

research should be executed within the parameters of clearly

defined hypotheses, this study reflects the view that sys-

tematic behavioral research on foreign institutions should

not be executed in the absence of an understanding of the

institutions to be studied in this manner. Given the absence

of previous studies which would provide, the foundation for

tightly designed research on the legislature of Costa Rica,

the primary goal of this study is to place the Legislative

Assembly in perspective. Its secondary goal is to provide

empirical proof that the Assembly does, as many claim, play

a significant role in the political system of this country.

The data of the study are the product of (1) structured

interviews of the deputies sitting in this legislature in

1968; (2) multi-variate classification of the bills before

the Assembly in that year; (3) content analysis of the ver-

batim records of floor debate; and (4) extensive observation

of and interaction within the Assembly.

In seeking to provide a comprehensive and well-

substantiated evaluation of the Assembly and of the context

within which it operates, the study deals with seven inter-

related topics:

1) the role of the Assembly in systemic decision-


2) the limitations placed upon this role by the dis-

tribution of decisional power within the other

governmental institutions;

3) the nature of the political party system and the role

of.the parties in legislative decision-making;

4) the impact of the electoral system upon representa-

tion within the legislature;

5) the impact of interest groups upon legislative and

other systemic decisional behavior;

6) the formal and informal aspects of the legislative

decision-making process; and

7) the non-decisional aspects of legislative behavior.

Contrary to the growing tendency to conclude that legis-

lative structures in the lesser-developed countries do not

play a significant role in decision-making, this study

concludes that the Assembly does exert an important influence

upon the initiation, modification, and enactment of legisla-

tion. This is true despite the fact that the allocati.onal

influence of the legislature is limited by the powers

exercised by the executive branch and the autonomous institu-

tions of the country.

Four specific findings of the study could be used to

focus any future research on the Assembly. First, the

study shows that, as would be expected, the political par-

ties play a determinant role in legislative decision-making.

Second, it demonstrates that most effective decision-making

behavior is to be found within the context of the committees.

Third, it concludes that the cues used by most deputies in

reaching decisions on non-routine bills tend to emanate from

a reduced and identifiable group of influential deputies.

The characteristics of these deputies suggest that a modi-

fied seniority system exists in this legislature despite the

fact that deputies may not be immediately re-elected. And,

fourth, the study demonstrates that the deputies play a

crucial role in the generation of specific and diffuse

support for the political system and that studies of legis-

lative behavior in Costa Rica should consequently not be

limited to decisional phenomena. Contrary to what would be

expected, it was found that centralized parties and a

closed party list electoral system need not undermine the

responsiveness of legislators to the needs of their consti-




In the past decade the bibliography of studies on

legislative structures and behavior has expanded in geometric

proportions. The heightened interest in legislative research

evidenced.by members of the community of political scientists

has led to the creation of a recognized disciplinary sub-

speciality which has been taken up by many interested in the

study of American as well as of foreign political systems.

Relative to prior interest and output, it has been those

interested in the study of political systems eincompassed within

the amorphous grouping of nations variously referred to as

underdeveloped, emerging, transitional, non-Western developing,

prismatic, and/or lesser-developed countries who have shown

the most noticeable increase of interest in. leg-islative sub-

jects. Among these, it is the scholars with an interest in

Latin America who have broken most clearly with a past ten-

dency of giving little or no resCearch attention to iegis.a-

tive structures.

Prior to the mid-1960s it was virtually impossible to

find any significant literature on the legislatures of Latin

America. In fact, there was little in the area literature

which encouraged research in the legislative field and much

that discouraged it. William Pierson and Federico Gil,

authors of a textbook used widely in the late 1950s,and

early 1960s may well have affected the outlook of many poten-

tial researchers in referring to Latin American legislatures

in the following way:

Although the constitutional systems of Latin America
have entrusted the legislature with the power to
enact laws and to determine public policy, the con-
gress, in reality, is not the center of the political
life of these nations. . Logically, the weakness of
all legislative assemblies and their inferior prestige
are the consequence of the almost omnipotent role that
the legal systems and political customs have assigned
to the executive branch.1

Alexander Edelmann, author of a more recent textbook, is

even less encouraging, and minces no words in stating that

"the Latin American legislatures ordinarily kowtow to the

president, cater to his slightest whims, and enjoy no more

independence or popular respect than political syncophants

could expect to."2 Such generalizations have been given

further legitimacy through their incorporation into the lore

of the non-area comparativists. The following statement by

Robert Stauffer is a good example of this extrapolation.

The typical stereotype [of legislatures in developing
countries] is of a rubber-stamp body made up of indi-
viduals drawn from a narrow elite or from the govern-
ment bureaucracy. Such a stereotype is fully justified
for a large number of nations, especially those of
Latin America where institutional units called legis-
latures have simply not been relevant to the mainstream
of political life.3

But the growing interest in studies of legislative behavior

experienced in the discipline has provided a number of polit-

ical scientists with the motivation, long-dampened by such

statements, to pursue Latin American legislative research

This study was partially motivated by the inertia of

this prevailing thrust in the discipline. But even in the

absence of this inertia there would have been good reason to

focus upon the Costa Rican legislature. It is in fact quite

surprising that this structure had not been subjected to any

detailed scrutiny prior to the time that the research for this

study was initiated in 1968, for the Assembly was certainly
viewed by many as a deviant case in Latin America. For

some time there has been a consensus among a sizeable number

of scholars to the effect that this legislature plays a sig-

nificant role in systemic decision-making. Nevertheless,

no attempt has ever been made to substantiate this belief.

Indeed, most of the literature which mentions the Assembly

has tended to be highly impressionistic, and in some cases has

been entirely inaccurate and/or misleading.

The most glaring example of this tendency is found in

the writing of James Busey, who in 1962 wrote that "the

Costa Rican Assembly . plays an active role in the govern-

ing processes of the country." But instead of substantiat-

ing this evaluation, he chose to devote the major part of his

monograph chapter on the Assembly to a quaint description of

an opening session which he had observed. Those writing

after 1962 did little to improve on Busey. Thus one finds

that rather than address the evaluation in question in

substantive terms, Edelmann simply draws upon this descrip-

tion and contributes to the perpetuation of an entirely mis-

leading view of the Assembly when he states:

In Costa Rica . members of the legislature are not
the least bit awed by the president. Only when his
party has a large majority can he be assured that his
program will be approved, and even then some members
of his party may defect and oppose it. He cannot even
be sure of the respectful attention of legislators
during the reading of his annual message, which in most
of the nations is a very ceremonious, pompous, and
solemn event. His remarks may be greeted with derisive
laughter, boos, hisses and catcalls.8

The boos and hisses, which may or may not have been indicative

of a prevalent pattern of behavior when Busey wrote, are now

a part of not only a quaint but also an unfounded description

which does little justice to the Assembly and provides an

entirely erroneous impression of this legislature. This Roman

circus atmosphere is by no means present on these occasions,

when the entire diplomatic corps is present; nor is it present

in less formal sessions. Such statements provide no evidence

that would help to substantiate the view that the Assembly is

a significant participant in systemic decision-making in

Costa Rica. And even if one were to assume that this evalua-

tion is correct, what has been written tells us very little

about the nature and characteristics of such decison-making

within the Assembly.

The justification for the choice of the Costa Rican

Legislative Assembly as a structure worthy of study is

apparent. However, some questions may be raised regarding

the approach used in the study. The prevailing view at the

present time would seem to be that legislative research

should be directed toward the testing of specific hypotheses.

Such a view is implicitly expressed by Samuel Patterson when

he states:

We have made great leaps ahead in our knowledge about
legislative institutions outside the United States,
although it is largely descriptive knowledge. Almost
all of the new research has been on a country-by-
country basis, and there still are very few attempts
to test hypotheses cross-nationally.-0

On the other hand, Joseph LaPalombara argues that

Those political scientists who claim that we are deluged
with randomly, unsystematically chosen empirical studies
have never attempted, as I see it, to assess what is the
nature of all of the supposed information we have about
the political systems and processes of the West. Regard-
less of the range of one's linguistic skill. and the
resources of American libraries, it is frequently im-
possible to come by the most elemental information about
the political institutions of other countries.11

Hunt, Crane, and Wahlke admit to conspicuous failures in some

of their research, and indicate that these failures "reflect

the necessity for thorough knowledge of institutions as
preconditions for effective behavioral research."12 The

implications of these two statements are certainly at odds

with the prevailing view expressed by Patterson.

If we take LaPalombara's statement at face value, which

is certainly justified in the case of Costa Rica, and if the

testing of hypotheses, certainly part of the behavioral

orientation, requires previous background knowledge, the

legislative researchers undertaking studies in many foreign

countries are likely to be faced with a real dilemma. On the

one hand, they may value rigorous and systematic research

placed within a specific propositional context. But,on the

other hand, they must face the possibility that such research

will lead to the type of failure identified by Hunt, Crane,

and Wahlke in the absence of substantial prior knowledge of

the institutions which they wish to study. Research in

countries where adequate descriptive studies have been carried

out can well afford to focus on very specific research ques-

tions, because investigators have good reason to believe that

in doing so they may identify meaningful patterns of behavior

or relationships. In Costa Rica the spadework that would

lead to the identification of factors which could be used in

generating a useful series of research propositions is yet to

be done, as is that required to determine which research

instruments can be used effectively within the Costa Rican

context. Under such conditions a broad and largely descrip-

tive study is called for as a first step toward more precise

research at a later date. This study, admittedly a configu-

rative probe, seeks to build a bridge between the highly

impressionistic research that has preceded it and a more

systematic and scientific form of research.

In broad terms the goal of this study is to attain a

better understanding of Costa Rican legislative behavior and

of the significance or consequences that this behavior has

within the context of the national political system. The

study is a preliminary probe which seeks to do some of the

initial spadework required before more rigorous studies of

legislative decision-making, and political behavior in

general,.can be carried out in Costa Rica.

Chapters I and II place the Legislative Assembly within

a systemic decision-making context. In Chapter I the propo-

sition that the legislature in Costa Rica participates

actively in decision-making is tested by examining the be-

havior of deputies in the introduction, study and enactment

of legislation. Other miscellaneous powers of the legisla-

ture, such as the powers of appointment and that of ratifica-

tion of foreign loans or treaties, are also taken into con-

sideration. Since the impact of legislative decision-

making may be overestimated unless evaluated within the over-

all institutional context of systemic decision-making, Chapter

II seeks to identify the limitations of the legislature as

an allocator of values which are a result of the distribution

of decisional power among the totality of governmental insti-

tutions and of the relationships which exist between these

institutions. Toward this end, the roles in the decisional

process of local government, of the judiciary, of the execu-

tive, and of the autonomous institutions are examined.

The next three chapters identify some of the main varia-

bles which help to define the context of legislative decision-

making. Chapter III focuses upon the role of political

parties in decision-making. The nature of the Costa Rican

political party system and the characteristics of the external

parties, as well as of the legislative parties, are discussed

in this chapter. Chaper~ IV axildiies the recruitment and

election process as a means of determining what types of ob-

ligations are incurred by deputies in seeking election and

what interests or groups would seem to have ready access to and

perhaps influence over the deputies. It also focuses upon the

background of the deputies as a means of discussing the na-

ture of representation within the Assembly. Chapter V is

devoted to a description of interest-group phenomena and of

the relative impact that these groups may have on legislative

decisional behavior. Particular attention is given to an

evaluation of the various means or channels of access that are

available to interest groups in the articulation of their


After this discussion of some of the main external inter-

mediate variables which were suspected to have some relevance

to the decisional behavior of deputies, Chapter VI focuses

upon the formal and informal processes by which the Assembly

reaches decisions. Emphasis is placed upon the significance

and characteristics of the committee and floor processes in

Costa Rica; the main actors in these processes are identified

and analyzed. The decisional cues utilized by these primary

actors and the supporting actors are also identified as a

means of suggesting what types of variables would seem to be most

pertinent to an explanation of legislative decisional outcomes.

The original research design for this study envisioned

a broad analysis of the non-decisional as well as the

decisional aspects of legislative behavior in Costa Rica.

Though experience in tlhe Lield.in dicated that it was un-

realistic to attempt to study both aspects with equal rigor,

and a primary decisional focus was opted for, it was not

deemed advisable to exclude non-decisional aspects from the

study entirely. In those cases where the research executed

allowed for easy tapping of information related to non-

decisional behavior, an attempt was made to obtain such

information so as to allow for at least some tentative state-

ments about this type of behavior. Chapter VII provides the

reader with a discussion of some of the non-decisional

aspects of legislative behavior in Costa Rica and emphasizes

the significance that can be attributed to them.

The concluding chapter identifies the main research im-

plications of the study and draws upon the findings of the

previous chapters to demonstrate that legislative behavior

in Costa Rica has clear consequences for the national

political system, thus refuting the contention that the

Assembly is an institution which is not "relevant to the

mainstream of political life."14

No attention is given in this study to the detailed

historical, geographic, and economic questions, customary

in many studies of "foreign" countries, since these ques-

tions would serve no specific purpose within the framework

of the study. Readers interested in the specifics of the

research methodology and in the problems encountered in

executing field research in Costa Rica are referred to the


It is important to mention by way of introduction that

the bulk of the material presented is limited to a single

legislative period, that of 1966-1970. The absence of

substantive prior studies of the Assembly and the difficulty

of obtaining comparative data covering an extended period

of time made it impossible in most cases to obtain the in-

formation required for even the most rudimentary comparisons

between the characteristics of the particular legislature

in office at the time that the research was carried out in

1968 and any preceding one. Therefore, this study.must be

viewed as a baseline case study. General conclusions are

drawn from the data presented, but the reader should keep in

mind that these need to be subjected to further verification

in future studies.


1William Pierson and Federico Gil, Governments of Latin
America (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1957), p. 542. (Emphasis

2Alexander T. Edelmann, Latin American Government and
Politics (rev. ed.; Homewood, Illinois: The Dorsey Press,
1969), p. 443.
Robert B. Stauffer, "A Legislative Model of Political
Development," Phillipine Journal of Public Administration, 11
(January, 1967), p. 5.

For example, sufficient interest in legislative matters
in Latin America has developed to warrant the publication of
a compilation of articles on the subject in a book of read-
ings. See Weston H. Agor, ed., Latin American Legislatures:
Their Role and Influence (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1971).

5The legislatures of Chile, Costa Rica, and Uruguay are
classified as the main deviant cases in Latin America in
Weston H. Agor, "Introduction," in Agor, pp. xxiii-xlviii.

6For a discussion of the degree of consensus which
exists on this question see ibid., p. xxiv.

James L. Busey, Notes on Costa Rican Democracy (Boulder:
University of Colorado Press, 1962), p. 44. Similar lip
service to the significance of the legislature can be found
in a study of the Costa Rican political system in which it
is stated that "the presidency of the Assembly is a position
of prestige and power second only to the presidency of the
Republic." See Paul C. Stephenson, Costa Rican Government and
Politics (Ph.D. dissertation, Emory University, 1965), p. 79.
Several recent publications reflect such a lack of interest
in the legislature that the authors have not even gone to the
trouble of checking out basic descriptive data. Edelmann, for
example, states that the length of sessions is two months,
when in fact the Assembly is in ordinary session for a total
of six months and in extraordinary session for much of the
remainder of the year. See Edelmann, p. 458. Harry Kantor
and Charles Denton attribute the alternate representative
(suplente) system to the Assembly in books published in 1969
and 1971 respectively,when in fact this system was eliminated

in 1962. See Harry Kantor, Patterns of Politics and Political
Systems in Latin America (Chicago: Rand McNally & Co., 1969),
p. 219, and Charles F. Denton, Patterns of Costa Rican
Politics (Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 1971), p. 37.

Edelmann, p. 445.

9Newspaper reporters covering the Assembly informed the
author that about one year prior to his arrival in Costa
Rica there had been a brief physical scuffle on the floor of
the Assembly between two deputies. But this incident, like
that mentioned by Busey, is hardly indicative of behavior on
the floor,and devoting extended attention to it would only
distort things. It may be interesting as a side note or as
the subject for study as aberrant behavior but not as a major
section in a general description of the institution. No doubt,
allusion to this incident will lead some readers to jump to
the conclusion that this is an obvious manifestation of
traditional Latin American machismo. But,before reaching such
a conclusion, it would be well for the reader to consider the
cases of similar aberrant behavior which have taken place
within the United States Congress and within state legisla-
tures. See Alan P. Balutis, "Legislative Security: An
Overview," in James J. Heaphey, ed., Legislative Security
(Albany: Research Center, Graduate School of Public Affairs,
State University of New York at Albany, 1972), pp. 9-19.

10Samuel C. Patterson, "Comparative Legislative
Behavior," Midwest Journal of Political Science, 12
(November, 1968), p. 600.

11Joseph LaPalombara, "Parsimony and Empiricism in
Comparative Politics: An Anti-Scholastic View," in Robert T.
Holt and John E. Turner, eds., The Methodology of Comparative
Research (New York: The Free Press, 1970), p. 136.
12William H. Hunt, Wilder W. Crane and John C. Wahlke,
"Interviewing of Political Elites in Cross-Cultural Compara-
tive Research," in Samuel C. Patterson, ed., American Legis-
lative Behavior (Princeton:- D. Van Nostrand Co., Inc., 1968),
p. 420. The need for prior knowledge of phenomena under in-
vestigation is also emphasized in Frederick W. Frey, "Cross-
Cultural Research in Political Science," in Holt and Turner,
eds., pp. 257-260.
13 ra, p. 2.
Supra, p. 2.



In the past, the relevance of many of the questions

raised by legislative researchers has been posited upon the

assumption that legislatures universally play a significant

role in systemic decision-making. But recently a number of

scholars have pointed to the necessity of overcoming the

knee-jerk reaction of researchers in making such an assump-

tion. Robert Packenham, in fact, has gone so far as to argue

that most legislatures do not play an important, if any, role

in decision-making.1 The warning which has been issued is

well-worth taking into account in the case of Costa Rica, in

which it has become all too prevalent to assume on the basis

of highly impressionistic evidence that the Legislative

Assembly is a significant decision-making structure. The

question which needs to be answered is whether there is any

substantive empirical evidence that would support this assump-


The powers granted to the legislative branch of govern-

ment in Costa Rica suggest that the Assembly was meant to be

an active ,i' direct participant in the decision-making

process. But these are only formal, powers. In attempting

to determine whether a structure plays a role in this process,

it is necessary to establish not only what the formal powers

of the structure are or were meant to be but also to deter-

mine the extent to which these powers are actually used.

Given the contention of some that all Latin American polit-

ical systems are characterized by executive omnipotence,3

it might well be posited that these powers will prove to be

more symbolic than real. The possibility that Costa Rica

may be similar to a country such as Mexico, where the

Congress is reported to be "an instrument for the ceremonial

ratification of decisions taken elsewhere, i.e. in the
executive branch of government," though very unlikely,

should not be excluded a priori.

The data collected in the field for this study covered

a period of seven months in 1968 and do not lend themselves to

generalizations in respect to behavior over an extended

period of time. It is fortunate, however, that much of the

data to be presented in this section can be checked against

data covering a longer time span in order to determine whether

or not the data collected generate distorted findings and

fail to reflect a general phenomenon. This comparative data

will be drawn from a study which seeks to determine whether

"the executive or legislative branch occupy a position in

the policy process that is dominant relative to the other"5

and which utilizes some of the same data categories used in

the present study. The dissertation in question examines a

random sample of bills covering a tel.ve-year period from

1958 to 1970 and will allow, in this section at least, for

the drawing of some conclusions of a general nature which

will not be limited to the period in 1968 which was studied.

It should be noted though that the purpose of this chapter is

not that of proving that the legislature is the predominant

branch in policy-making. Its purpose is simply that of

determining whether or not the Costa Rican Legislative

Assembly fulfills an effective decision-making function. This

end will be sought by describing the main formal powers of

the Assembly and by determining to what extent these are

exercised in practice.6 But,before proceeding to do so, it

will be useful to provide a brief description of some of the

most outstanding superficial or formalistic characteristics

of the legislature.

General Characteristics of the
Legislative Sub-System

The legislative branch of the Costa Rican government

consists of a fifty-seven member unicameral Legislative

Assembly.7 The deputies are elected at-large within each of

the seven provinces of the country in the quadrennial general

elections and may not be immediately re-elected. The propor-

tion of the fixed number of seats to which each province is

entitled is proportionate to the population of each according

to the latest census taken. Candidates run on legislative

closed list party ballots, and,although these are provincial

in nature, the candidates need not meet any residence

requirements. Votes are cast for entire legislative party

tickets within each province rather than for individuals.

The provincial seats are apportioned among the candidates

by applying a proportional representation formula intended

to favor small parties but not miniparties. The provincial

slates of national parties are formally determined by party

nominating conventions, consisting of ten delegates from each

province, in which all delegates have an equal vote in the

selection of the candidates that go on each of the slates.

In those few cases where a party is only registered as a

provincial party and thus seeks only to participate in the

election of the deputies of one province, the slate is deter-

mined by a provincial party nominating convention, consist-

ing of five delegates from each of the cantons in the province.

Each of the five general elections held since 1953 has

given one party, the National Liberation Party (Partido

Liberacidn Nacional--PLN), a majority in the Assembly.10

The traditional opposition to this party, however, has won a

substantial number of seats in each election. In three of

the periods the predominant party has held a precarious

majority of one and has never held more than two-thirds of

the seats. The executive power, on the other hand, has changed

partisan hands with each election. The PLN won it in 1953,

1962, and 1970, and the opposition in 1958 and 1966. Thus,

the Assembly has had a presidential-party majority system

on three occasions and a presidential-party minority system

twice since 1953. These two factors--substantial opposition

representation in the Assembly and fluctuating control of the

executive branch--have led Robert Dix to classify Costa Rica

as one of the three Latin American countries that have gone

farthest in legitimizing the opposition role in politics.11

No doubt, they have also been crucial in placing Costa Rica

consistently within the top three Latin American nations in
Russell Fitzgibbon's "democracy" rankings.. Within the

Latin American context, the fact that the incumbent party has

turned over the executive power in a peaceful manner after

each election is a strong indication of the development of a

relatively stable political system. The gracious acceptance

of defeat, despite early morning grumblings of electoral

fraud, by the incumbent parties has without any doubt been

related to the fact that they have been guaranteed continuing

significant political participation as an opposition force

within the legislature.

Though the Assembly only meets in ordinary session six

months out of each year, it may also meet in extraordinary

session if convened by the president of the Republic. Such

sessions are an essential part of the legislative calendar

and usually keep the Assembly in session an extra five months

out of each year. Were it not for these sessions, the legis-

lative backlog of bills would reflect a marked inability on

the part of the Assembly to cope with the matters that are

presented before it.

The main powers granted to the Assembly by the Constitu-

tion of 1949 are those of legislative initiative, enactment,

ratification of international agreements and loans, and

certain appointive, investigatory, and oversight powers. These

will now be considered in some detail.

Power of Initiative

The power to introduce bills before the Assembly is a

shared one. Bills may be introduced by the executive as well

as by any deputy. 3 An examination of the sources of bills

can be revealing. If one were to find that most of the bills

originate in the executive branch, it could be argued that

the executive is predominant because the subject, scope, and

nature of the lawmaking input would be determined by the

executive. This, however, was not found to be the case.

Over a seven-month period,14 72 per cent of the bills on the

docket of the legislature had been introduced by the deputies,

and only 28 per cent by the executive. The bills covering

the twelve-year period analyzed in the Mijeski study support

the conclusion that legislature initiates a majority of the

bills considered. It was found that over that period of time

64.1 per cent of the bills were initiated by the legislature
as opposed to 35.9 per cent by the executive branch. But

this breakdown may be misleading. The executive, though sub-

mitting a lesser number of bills, might.well have submitted

the majority of the most important bills.

Classifying bills according to their relative importance

is an extremely difficult task. Two tentative rough indi-

cators might be suggested. One is the scope of the bill and

the other is the committee to which it is assigned. In the

research carried out, the scope of a bill was classified as

being either "national" or "local." Bills which dealt with

matters that would affect only a local segment of the total

national population were classified as "local" bills. Those

which dealt with matters affecting the totality of the

national population or a segment of it which cut across paro-

chial lines were classified as "national" bills. Using this

scheme, it might be posited that "national" bills are more

important than "local" ones because they have a broader impact.

Consequently, it might be argued that if the executive submits

a majority of the "national" bills, it does in fact play a

preponderant role in the introduction of important bills. It

was found, however, that the deputies sponsored the majority

of both types of bills in the period studied as well as in

the 1958-1970 period studied by Mijeski. In the case of the

"national" bills, legislative sources accounted for 68 per

cent; whereas executive sources accounted for only 32 per

cent of the bills. The distribution of the "local" bills

was 80 per cent and 20 per cent for the legislative and execu-

tive, respectively.16 Thus, it is clear that the executive

not only did not submit the majority of the most "important"

bills but did not in fact submit the majority of either type.1

Committee assignment was used as the second criterion

for judging the importance of each bill. The deputies were

asked to rank the committees according to the relative

importance of the bills handled by each. A high degree of

consensus was found in the rankings they made. The process

was then reversed and the importance of each bill was judged

according to the committee to which it had been assigned.

The proportional breakdown of the sources of the bills and

the committee to which each was assigned is shown below.


Committee Assignment of Bills

Committee (in decend- Executive Legislative
ing rank order) Sponsored Sponsored

Economic Affairs
Committee 42.5% (31) 57.5% (42)

Budgetary Affairs
Committee 23.3 (20) 76.7 (66)

Governmental and
Affairs Committee 34.6 (37) 65.4 (70)

Social Affairs
Committee 12.5 (15) 87.5 (105)

Judicial Affairs
Committee 31.6 (25) 68.4 (54)

In no case were more than 43 per cent of the bills submitted

to any committee sponsored by the executive and in one case

the proportion was as low as 12.5 per cent. The findings of

Mijeski's study differ only slightly from these. His sample

contained a slightly higher percentage of executive sponsored

bills in each committee and a slight edge in one of the two
most important committees. Despite these minor differences,

it may be concluded that if committee assignment is a valid

indicator of the importance of a bill, at best the executive

has a very slight predominance in the sponsorship of "impor-

tant" bills.

Power of Enactment

The Legislative Assembly has the power to amend the con-

stitution. And it has used this power to effect significant

constitutional changes over the years. The revised edition

of the constitution printed in 1968 indicates that 22 of the
117 articles in it had been amended since 1949. It must

be noted though that such amendments are usually,if not always,

carried out in close coordination with the executive.

The Legislature also has the power to enact, amend, repeal,

and interpret legislation. The form in which these powers are

exercised, as reflected in the processing of bills, might well

be used as an indicator of the extent to which the legislature

is subject to control by the executive. For example, it could

be posited that the procedure followed in processing and act-

ing upon executive bills will reflect a tendency to give

automatic approval to such bills. If this were true, the

proportion of executive bills not fully processed in a given

time period should be much lower than that of bills sponsored

by the deputies. The data for the seven-month period studied

indicate that the respective proportions were 59 and 62 per
cent.20 This small difference in favor of the executive

bills would not seem to indicate that they are given prefer-

ential treatment and certainly does not suggest that the

Assembly rubber-stamps bills submitted by the executive.

It could also be posited that, if the proposition is a

valid one, the time span between introduction and final

action for the executive bills that are fully processed will

be shorter than that for similar legislative bills. Table

1.2 shows the distribution of the two types of bills accord-

ing to time-span criteria.


Time Span Between Introduction of Bills and
Final Decision, by Sponsorship Type

Per Cent of Per Cent of Legis-
Executive Bills lative Bills
Processed in Processed in
Time Span Time Span Time Span

Less than 1 month

More than 1 but less
than 3 months

More than 3 but less
than 6 months

More than 6 but less
than 12 months

More than 12 months

14.3 ( 8)

32.1 (18)

21.4 (12)




( 8)

26.1 (37)

16.2 (23)

23.2 (33)





1_------- -----------1~-.1-1

If a weighted average is calculated, assigning each bill

in the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth categories

scores of one, two, three, four, and five, respectively, we

find that the average score for legislative bills is 2.83 and

that for executive bills is 2.86. If the same weighted

average score is computed for processing time in committee,

the legislative bill score is 1.48 and the executive is 1.51.

The differences evidently are very small. But, if anything,

since the lower the weighted average the less the processing

time, the differences indicate that legislative bills were

processed slightly more rapidly than were the executive bills.

An additional indicator which might be used to test the

proposition inquestion could be based on the bills that are

rejected. An examination of such bills indicates that the

frequency of outright rejection was so low as to make a com-

parison meaningless. Out of a total of 207 bills which were
fully processed,21 only 8 were rejected; 5 of these were

deputy sponsored and the other 3 were executive bills.22

However, it is revealing to note that,during the 1966-1970

Assembly, an executive bill which called for the demise of

the nationalized banking system was rejected by the Assembly.

This bill was a measure which had been promised during the

campaign by the victorious presidential candidate. Of course,

it should be recalled that his party did not have a majority

in the legislature. But, nevertheless, this example serves

to illustrate that the legislature is by no means a pawn of

the president.

No data related to the extent of committee modification

of executive bills were compiled in the field research

carried out. But observation of committee proceedings

seemed to indicate that this prerogative is used with some

frequency. Money bills, for instance, were consistently

modified during the 1966-1970 period. These modifications

tended to increase the amounts covered, by these bills. For

example, in 1968 a bill which called for an emission of

bonds to the amount of 12 million colones for school construc-

tion was approved after the amount was increased to 41

million colones. (The official rate of exchange on the

col6n is $6.65 to the dollar.) The extra funds were allocated

for the construction of school buildings in specific com-

munities chosen by individual deputies from all of the

parties. The ordinary budget of 1969 was increased by 17
million colones, an increase of 2.8 per cent. A large part

of the additional funds was allotted to specific projects

(obras especificas) of the pork-barrel variety. These were

picked exclusively by the majority party (PLN) deputies,

due to their control of the budget committee. Modifications

of money bills, however, do not always involve increases.

In 1969, an extraordinary budget amounting to 177 million

colones was trimmed down to 95 million colones before it was

approved. These types of supplementary budgets were usually

subject to a degree of bargaining between the majority party

in the Assembly and their political opponents in the

executive branch and will be the subject of further comment

in another chapter.

The Mijeski study does allow us, however, to draw some

specific conclusions on the significance of the committees

in the modification of executive bills. Table 1.3 reflects

the findings reported therein based upon the comparison of

the text of the bills reported out of committee favorably and

the original text of these bills. Again, though legislative


Committee Modification of Bills Given
Affirmative Committee Reports

Degree of Modification*
None to Significant
Sponsorship of Bill Slight Moderate to Complete

Legislative 61.4% (51) 26.5% (22) 12.1% (10)

Executive 73.0 (46) 22.2 (14) 4.8 ( 3)

Source: Kenneth J. Mijeski, The Executive-Legisla-
tive Policy Process in Costa Rica (Ph.D. dissertation,
University of North Carolina, 1971), p. 81.

*The operational definitions of the degree of modifica-
tion utilized were the following: (1) no change: the
verbatim acceptance of the original bill; (2) slight change:
mostly rearranging words rather than changing substance;
(3) moderate change: rearranging and modifying both words
and substance, but with general intent of bill unchanged;
(4) significant change: much substantive modification which
would affect some of the bill's original intent; and
(5) complete change: original intent of bill modified com-
pletely, with no resemblance to the original proposal.

bills were found to have suffered more substantial modifica-

tion in committee than executive bills, the fact that 27 per

cent of the executive bills were modified in a "moderate"

or "significant to complete" manner is ready evidence of the

decision-making that takes place within the Legislative


The executive, however, may veto any bill--other than

the ordinary budget or a convocation of a Constituent Assembly

or a constitutional amendment--which is not acceptable to it.

During the period studied an unusually large number of vetoes

were exercised. A total of thirty-nine vetoes were inter-

posed as compared to seven in the same seven-month period

the previous year. The sizeable difference is explained by

the fact that 61.5 per cent (24) of the bills vetoed in the

period studied reflected a radical change in the position of

the president in respect to the granting of small tax exemp-
tions.24 The data which would indicate whether the Assembly

exercised its right to overrule vetoes by a two-thirds

majority vote in any of these cases were not obtained. Al-

though the data are not complete and are not entirely repre-

sentative, they do illustrate that the president has the means

to counteract legislative decisions. This fact leads to a

balance of power in respect to the power to enact legislation.

But it is obvious that the executive is hardly omnipotent if

it must resort to the final alternative of a veto.

Power of Ratification

All international agreements and foreign loans negotiated

or-suscribed to by the executive branch must be ratified by

a two-thirds vote in the Assembly.' In the great majority

of cases, the noncontroversial nature of such agreements and

loans makes this step a pure formality. But it would be a

mistake to assume that the executive has a completely free

hand in such matters. For example, a loan agreement with the

Agency for International Agreement (AID) for the construction

of a new wholesale produce market in the capital city of

San Jose was frozen by the Assembly for more than a year and

eventually withdrawn by AID during the period studied.

In 1969, one very important agreement, the San Jose

Protocol, received similar treatment. This was a protocol

drafted by the finance ministers of the Central American

Common Market (CACM) countries which would have authorized a

regional sales tax on luxury goods and a 30 per cent increase

in the taxes on imports from outside of the CACM region. The

measure was supposedly meant to reduce the balance-of-payments

problem faced by the member nations. Within the PLN caucus,

however, it was argued that the Protocol was nothing more

than an attempt by the other countries to increase government

revenues without having to carry out the direct tax reforms

which Costa Rica had already adopted. Some of the PLN legis-

lative leaders also argued that it would be politically un-

sound to ratify the Protocol because they had previously

stated publicly that they would not approve any new taxes.

Extreme pressures were exerted upon the deputies in an

attempt to get them to ratify this agreement. These pres-

sures emanated not only from the executive branch but also

from external party euaaers, international lending agencies,

and the United States government. Jos6 Figueres, at that

time the assumed presidential candidate for the PLN in 1970,

pressured the deputies of his party. The World Bank hinted

that no further loans would be granted to Costa Rica unless

the agreement was ratified. Similar pressures came from the

International Monetary Fund and AID officials, as well as di-

rectly from the Ambassador of the United States in San Jos4.

The fact that under such conditions the Assembly froze the Pro-

tocol in committee for more than six months and eventually

went on to reject its ratification is an indication of its

potential for independent action.26 An inability of the execu-

tive to control even the behavior of the presidential party

deputies was evidenced by the fact that a substantial number

of them voted against the ratification of the agreement.

Power of Appointment

The deputies of Costa Rica are the sole electors of the

justices of the Supreme Court and of the comptroller and

assistant comptroller of the republic. Due to the fact that

these appointments are made by majority vote, the executive

has had no influence to speak of in the selection of these

officials when the opposition has controlled the Assembly.

The choices in the past years have been made within the PLN

caucus because their absolute majority has allowed it to

determine the outcome on the floor. Although the professional

qualifications of the candidates have been carefully examined

and used as the final selection criteria, only those with

the appropriate partisan background have reached the final

stage of the selection process within the caucus. During

the seven-month period of field research in Costa Rica,

several justices were appointed, and in each case the list

of final candidates considered by the PLN caucus was a parti-

san list. The comptroller and assistant comptroller, who

were appointed prior to the time that the study was carried

out, are also men who are known to be PLN supporters. In

fact, one recent comptroller had been a PLN deputy and re-

signed in 1972 to run for the Assembly again on the PLN

ticket in 1974.

Power of Investigation

The constitution grants the Assembly the power to create

special legislative committees to investigate any matter of

interest to it. These committees are provided free access

to all government records and may request testimony from any

person in the country. Appearance before these committees

is compulsory. The reports which are written after investiga-

tions are carried out, however, tend to be rather ineffec-

tual. Most of them are never voted upon and many are not even

discussed on the floor. Thus, the recommendations contained

in them are seldom acted upon.

The Contraloria General de la Republica, a rough equiva-
lent to the U.S. General Accounting Office,7 does carry out

effective investigations related to public expenditures.

As the auditing agent of the legislative branch, it is fre-

quently ordered to carry out specific investigations in this

area by the Assembly.

Though it is not true that the Assembly has the power

to impeach the president, as some have claimed, it is called

upon to rule upon accusations against the president, vice-

presidents, and other members of the executive, legislative,

and judicial branches. It is up to the deputies to establish

whether or not there is due cause for judicial processing in

such cases. If they find due cause, they place the case

before the Supreme Court and suspend the defendant from his

functions temporarily, or, in the case of deputies, lift

their congressional immunity. Several such accusations were

lodged against the members of the executive and legislative

branches during the period of study. In all cases but one,

due cause was found to be lacking. The one exception involved

a deputy who was accused of malfeasance. It seems more than

likely that the Assembly would exercise this power regardless

of the branch of government involved if due cause were in

fact found to exist.

The Assembly has the power to interpellate the ministers

of state. It may also censure a minister by a two-thirds

vote if it is found that he has acted in an unconstitutional

or otherwise illegal fashion or that he committed errors that

are obviously detrimental to the public interest. During

the period of study three ministers were interpellated, and

a vote of censure was sought against one of them, but this

attempted censure did not receive the necessary votes to

pass. In all cases nothing but the most rudimentary cour-

tesies were observed in cross-examining these high officials.

Partisan motivation tends to be a strong factor in the exer-

cising of these powers. It was clearly present on the two

occasions in which the son of the president, who served as

minister of public security, was called before the Assembly.

But regardless of the motive, the fact remains that the

legislature does exercise this investigative power.

Miscellaneous and Latent Powers

There is one additional power granted to the Assembly

which should not be overlooked. Article 98 of the consti-

tution prohibits "the establishment or functioning of parties

which, due to their ideological programs, procedures, or

international ties, tend to destroy the foundations of the

democratic organization of Costa Rica." The final inter-

pretation of this article is placed in the hands of the Legis-

lative Assembly rather than the Supreme Court. Thus, the

Assembly has the power to prevent certain types of parties

from participating in the general elections. It used this

power to proscribe what were considered to be communist-

front parties in the elections of 1.953 and 1966. In 1969 the

Assembly was once again called upon to exercise this power.

In August of 1969 the registration of the Bloc of Workers,

Peasants and Intellectuals (Bloque de Obreros, Campesinos e

Intelectuales) was annulled on technical grounds by the

Supreme Electoral Tribunal as a result of a challenge to the

registration presented by the members of the anti-communist

Uni6n Civico Revolucionaria party. This ruling came after

the deadline set for registering parties for the upcoming

elections--which meant that the newly named traditional

communist part could not run candidates on its own ticket.

Shortly after the ruling was announced, the Socialist Action

Party (Partido Accion Socialista, better known as PASO)

offered to run the top candidates of the Bloque on its legis-
lative slates.29 The attempt to keep these candidates from

participating in the election was then carried to the

Assembly. A bill which called for the legislature to rule

that the PASO met the prohibitory requisites of Article 98

and should therefore be proscribed was presented by the UCR

deputies. As the Assembly is required to send such bills to

the Supreme Electoral Tribunal for its opinion, it was sent

there before being fully debated in committee. The opinion

emitted by the Tribunal was that the PASO should be proscribed.

The committee that studied the bill also reported in the

affirmative. Despite this report and the respect in which

the Tribunal is held by most Costa Ricans, no action had been

taken on the bill when the Assembly went into recess two

months before the election. In this case, inaction was a

conscious strategy followed by those who did not feel that

the PASO should be proscribed, a form of decision-making

through inactivity. The party was able to participate in

the election in the absence of a specific vote proscribing it.

The Assembly has several other powers which it has

seldom been called upon to exercise. Among these are the

powers to (1) authorize entry and presence of foreign

troops on national soil, (2) authorize the president to

declare war or to sign peace treaties, (3) suspend certain

constitutional rights and guarantees, and (4) decide when a

president is physically or mentally incapacitated and to

call in his legal replacement. Although there has been no

reason to resort to any of these powers, except that of sus-
pension of constitutional rights and guarantees, since

the promulgation of the constitution in 1949, it is signifi-

cant to note that the Assembly could play a very important

role in such crisis situations.

Summary and Conclusions

The purpose of this chapter has been that of testing

the heretofore unexplored proposition that the Costa Rican

Legislative Assembly is an active and significant participant

in the systemic decision-making process. The data presented

in the previous sections clearly indicate that the Assembly

is not only granted significant formal decisional powers; it

also makes effective use of these. Consequently it may be

stated that the study of decision-making within the legis-

lative context of Costa Rica is justified and relevant to an

understanding of the manner in which systemic resources are


allocated by the Costa Rican political system. Legislative

decision-making is clearly not of the symbolic-legitimating

type in this country.


Robert A. Packenham, "Legislatures and Political
Development," in Allan Kornberg and Lloyd D. Musolf, eds.,
Legislatures in Developmental Perspective (Durham: Duke
University Press, 1970), p. 522.

The Constituent Assembly, which drew up the constitu-
tion, placed a great deal of emphasis on the need to establish
an effective checks-and-balances system which would reduce
the abuse of power on the part of the executive.

Supra, p. 2

4Martin Needler, "Mexico: Revolution as a Way of Life,"
in Martin Needler, ed., Political Systems of Latin America
(Princeton: D. Van Nostrand, Co., Inc., 1964), p. 17.

5Kenneth J. Mijeski, The Executive-Legislative Policy
Process in Costa Rica (Ph.D. dissertation, University of
North Carolina, 1971), p. 32.

6Unless otherwise stated, the data presented in the text
and tables of this and subsequent chapters are those collected
by the author.

7In the elections of 1953 and 1958 constitutional pro-
visions called for the election of forty-five deputies and an
additional number of alternates to serve as substitutes
(suplentes) in the temporary absence of the proprietary
deputies. As of 1962, the number of deputies was increased
by constitutional amendment to fifty-seven. This amendment
also eliminated the previous system of temporary alternates.
8The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (Tribunal Supremo Elec-
toral) redistributes the fifty-seven seats in the Assembly
among the provinces after each census is taken, i.e., approxi-
mately every ten or twelve years.

9A description of the specifics of this formula may be
found in Paul C. Stephenson, Costa Rican Election Factbook,
February 6, 1966 (Washington, D.C.: Institute for the Compara-
Study of Political Systems, 1966). The system is established
by Articles 134-3.38 of the Costa Rican Electoral Code.

0In 1953 the PLN won thirty of the forty-five legisla-
tive seats. In 1958 it gained a majority of twenty-three
of the forty-five seats after it worked out its differences
with a group that had splintered away from the party, run on
an independent ticket, and elected a total of three deputies.
This majority proved to be unstable in certain cases as is
illustrated by the fact that the party was able to elect a
member of its group to the presidency of the Assembly in only
two of the four annual sessions of the 1958-1962 period. In
1962 and 1966 the party won twenty-nine out of the expanded
total of fifty-seven seats. And in 1970 it managed to win
thirty-two of these fifty-seven seats.

1The other two countries ranked in this group are Chile
and Uruguay. See Robert H. Dix, "Opposition and Development
in Latin America" (paper delivered at the 63rd Annual Meeting
of the American Political Science Association, Chicago,
September 5-7, 1967), p. 26.
1Russell H. Fitzgibbon and Kenneth F. Johnson," Measure-
ment of Latin American Political Change," in Peter G. Snow,
ed., Government and Politics in Latin America (New York:
Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1967), pp. 262-276.
Private bills may be submitted to the Assembly,but in
order to be processed they must be countersigned by at least
one of the deputies.
1The period studied was that of May through November,
1968. This covered the first ordinary session period of the
legislative calendar (May through July), an extraordinary
session period (August), and the second ordinary session
period (September through November). The remainder of the
calendar year consisted of the second extraordinary session

For the purposes of this study, private bills have
been classified as deputy sponsored because they require the
countersignature of at least one deputy. In this case 9
per cent were private bills and 63 per cent were "normally"
sponsored deputy bills. The equivalent breakdown for the
Mijeski study is 17.2 per cent private and 46.9 per cent
deputy bills. Though Mijeski retains the private category
throughout most of his study, the author has collapsed his two
categories into one. An evaluation of the Mijeski conclusions
indicates that no great distortion is introduced by proceed-
ing in this fashion. Yet there is another justification
worthy of note for combining private and deputy bills. In
the research carried out it became obvious that a great
number of bills presented by the deputies as personal bills
were in fact bills which they had been requested to present by
others. Thus the primary usefulness of the differentiation

of private and deputy bills, i.e., the identification of the
source of the idea, is lost. In most cases private bills
are introduced as such not because the sponsors find it dif-
ficult to have them presented by the deputies but because
for one reason or another they want to have their names
associated with the bill. See Mijeski, p. 66.

1Mijeski utilized the same operational definition of
"national" and "local" bills used in this study and found
that legislative bills accounted for 52.8 per cent of the
"national" bills and 80.3 per cent of the "local" bills.
If one were to use a more sophisticated classifica-
tion scheme, it might be found that a majority of the
"crucial" bills sent to the Assembly have their origin in
the executive branch. Even if this assumption were made,
the data available would still indicate that the deputies
play a significant role in the introduction of bills.
Ibid., pp. 77-78.

19Costa Rica, Asamblea Legislativa, Constituci6n
Political de la Republica de Costa Rica (San Jos4: Imprenta
Nacional, 1968).
20Mijeski's study does not focus on this and several
other questions raised in this section. In those cases
where comparisons are not made, it will be due to the
absence of comparative data.

It will be noted that this figure (207) does not
match the total figure (198) which would be obtained from
Table 1.2. The discrepancy is due to the fact that time-
span data were not available for nine bills.

22Though Mijeski has utilized an indicator of rejection
in his study, he has operationalized it differently than in
this study. His rejection figures cover not those bills
voted in the negative on the floor but those bills which
were not passed. Consequently they include bills which for
a variety of reasons died before they reached the final vot-
ing stage. Given the fact that all bills must be reintro-
duced (puesto a despacho) at the outset of each annual session
in May, many bills fail to obtain approval not because of any
negative action by the Assembly but because of a lack of
interest on the part of the sponsors who fail to reintroduce
their bills. In effect,then, Mijeski has tapped, perhaps
unconsciously, a dimension which is not really related to the
rejection of bills by the legislature. It is worth noting,
however, that even if his indicator is utilized it is found
that 23.7 per cent of the "defeated" bills that he studied

had been initiated by the executive branch. Though it is
true that legislative bills accounted for more than three-
quarters of the "defeated" bills, the fact that a significant
number of executive bills were "defeated" indicates that
even if one were to rely exclusively on the Mijeski data, it
would have to be concluded that the Legislative Assembly is
far more than a symbolic participant in the allocational
2Though the legislature must show where the funding for
an increased budget will come from, it is usually not difficult
to obtain legally acceptable evidence that the executive has
underestimated the projected income for a fiscal year.

2The municipal governments of Costa Rica have long
sought and obtained a dispensation on tax payments for pur-
chases of such things as cement supplies. Many bills dealt
with by the Assembly requested such negligible exemptions.
Until a constitutional amendment was passed in 1969,
the Assembly had to authorize the executive to negotiate
foreign loans. This meant that the legislature could formerly
play a greater role in setting certain types of fiscal and
credit policies than it can at the present time. It now
resorts to the introduction of certain enabling clauses which
limit the way in which the executive may utilize the funds
obtained through foreign loans.
It is of interest to note that in this case the agree-
ment was ratified in 1970 shortly after the installation of
the Figueres administration, in which there is a presidential-
party majority legislature. This fact would suggest that the
influence which can be exerted by a president varies from
term to term. The style of each president and the conditions
under which he serves may well be just as significant or more
significant than the institutionalized aspects of the executive-
legislative relationship.
2Robert D. Tomasek, "Costa Rica," in Ben C. Burnett and
Kenneth F. Johnson, eds., Political Forces in Latin America
(Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing Company, Inc., 1968), p. 112.

28Paul C. Stephenson, Costa Rican Government and Politics
(Ph.D. disseration, Emory University, 1965), p. 38.

29Manuel Mora, the main leader of the Communist party
since its inception in the early 1930s, was nominated to run
in the first slot of the party ticket for San Jose province,
which is the preferential position on any party legislative
slate. The vast proportion of the PASO campaign focused upon
the election of Mora rather than on that of any of the
legitimate PASO candidates.


3This power was exercised briefly in 1955, when the
supporters of former President Calder6n Guardia invaded from
Nicaragua and sought to overthrow the Figueres government
elected in 1953.



Any study of legislative behavior carried out in Latin

America is likely to fall victim to the type of imbalance

and defensiveness that Hans Baerwald has pointed to in his

recent comparison of the literature of "well-established"

and "non-established" legislatures. In a critique of a

recent legislative reader, he states:

Compare, for example, Crick's mature reflections on the
British Parliament with Agor's heavily footnoted pro-
testations concerning the "highly developed" character
of the Chilean Senate; or Ko'-nbcerg's severe recrimina-
tion regarding the Canadian Parliament with Stauffer's
comments concerning the Phillipine Congress's vitality
"in keeping democratic politics alive." Ccmrnonr cri-
teria or expectations appear to be lacking, ni.d a
rather pernicious condescension J,- aipparent-.. One can
evidently criticize well--established legislatures; and
freely discuss their shortcomings, especCally the
perceived chasm between expectations ; and performance;
but it is apparently not quite proper to find fault
with similar institutions in less hospitable climes;
nay, their performance must be extolled.J-

Though it is of questionable value to analyze legi.latures

within the context of "common expectations," sirce to do so

would probably lead to a rebirth of highly prescriptive

literature, it is certainly of value to beware of the exces-

sive degree of defensiveness alluded to by this critic. Though

it is not surprising that the imbalance cited should exist,

given the prevalent downgrading of Lat-ii. Aerican legislature.a

and those of other developing areas, an objective and bal-

anced focus should be a clear goal even of those who quite

naturally feel that they must justify the merit of research

topics which until recently have been considered of little


In the first chapter of this study the proposition that

the Costa Rican Legislative Assembly is a significant par-

ticipant in systemic decision-making has been tested and

supported. It is difficult, however, to evaluate the decision-

making relevance of any given institution in isolation from

the institutional context of which it is a part. Consequently,

this chapter is devoted to an examination of the limitations

of the role of the legislature in decision-making implied by

the relationship which exists between the legislature and

these other institutions. A failure to focus upon this ques-

tion would make this study subject to the type of criticism

lodged by Baerwald.

General Overview

The relative compactness of Costa Rica, which covers an

area of approximately 19,600 square miles and has an esti-

mated population of 1,832,000,2 and the relative homogeneity

of its population have contributed to the establishment of

strong centralized government in this Central American nation.

The effective locus of decisional power.in the Costa Rican

presidential-unitary system lies without any doubt within

the central government. The seven provinces of the republic

lack any form of self-government. Each has a governor, who

is appointed by the president, but these officials may be

removed by the president at will and are largely symbolic

and anachronistic figures whose responsibilities and powers

are quite limited even in administrative matters. A degree

of self-government does exist at the cantonal level in the

form of elected municipal councils, but these councils have

very restricted allocational powers and rely heavily upon the

central government for those resources that they do receive.

Municipal government is supposed to fulfill important func-

tions at the local level, but there has always been a marked

discrepancy between the formalistic precepts found in the

various constitutions of Costa Rica and the effective powers

and resources granted to municipal councils for the fulfill-

ment of these functions.4 The fact that all modifications

in municipal budgets or in local tax structures must be

approved by the Legislative Assembly, i.e., the lack of home-

rule powers, is ready evidence of the absence of any signifi-

cant national-local decentralization. It has, in fact,

been observed that

This dependency upon allocational decisions made at
other levels of government has sharply curtailed the
development of a strong municipal system of government
in Costa Rica. This is true not only of the constric-
tions placed upon the independence of action of the
councils but also of the attitudes which it has engen-
dered in the local populace. The relevance and signifi-
cance of municipal government for the populace cannot
but be affected by this condition and is reflected in
the attitude that we found that the solutions to most
basic problems of the cantons had to be sought outside
of the municipal structure of government.5

This is to say that it is the Legislative Assembly that

impinges upon the decisional power of local government rather

than vice versa. Thus, if the overall systemic impact of

legislative decisional activity is reduced by decisional

activity within other structures of government, it is appar-

ent that this activity must take place at the central govern-

ment level and not at local levels of government.

The central government consists of the three traditional

branches--judicial, executive, and legislative--and is

patterned after a common Latin American variant of the presi-

dential system. This variant is characterized by the power

of the legislature to interpellate and censure individual

ministers of state, although in Costa Rica such actions need

not lead to the resignation of the minister in question. It

is also worth noting that the institutional fabric of the

nation, indeed the centralization of power found in Costa

Rica, is most definitely affected by the existence of a large

number of national autonomous agencies which operate in a

relatively independent fashion.

The Judicial Branch

The judicial branch of government in Costa Rica cannot

be said to impinge upon the decisional powers of the legis-

lature to any significant extent. It is, however, very

stable, and political meddling in its adjudicative activities

is quite unusual. This branch consists of a Supreme Court

and a number of lower courts. The judicial system, and the

Court in particular, enjoys not only a high degree of inde-

pendence but also substantial prestige, both jealously

guarded by the magistrates of the high court. This inde-

pendence is substantially supported by the fact that the

constitution stipulates that the judicial branch shall re-

ceive no less than 6 per cent of each annual budget and thus

needs not involve itself in political jockeying for adequate

funding within the executive and legislative branches. This

provision makes the court system one of the few institutions

within the Costa Rican public sector which would seem to

have an overabundance of funds. The fact that the Supreme

Court and some of the lower courts in San Jose occupy two

of the most modern and luxurious buildings in this capital

city serves as evidence of the privileged position enjoyed

by this branch of government. The independence of the court

system is further bolstered by the fact that permanence on

the high court tends to be the rule despite the fact that

appointments are for eight-year terms. This apparent weak-

ness is compensated for by the fact that magistrates on this

court are automatically reappointed to successive terms

unless the Assembly votes by a two-thirds majority to elect

a replacement.

The Supreme Court dces have the power to take decisions

which in some instances would reduce the impact of the

Assembly upon systemic decision--making. It is, for example,

empowered to make binding interpretations of constitutional

provisions and of their relevance to the actions of the

other branches of government. It also serves as an adjudi-

cator between the executive and legislative branches through

its required duty of ruling upon the validity of presiden-

tial vetoes which are based upon constitutional interpre-

tation. The Court has played an active role in solving the

latter kind of conflict, but it has not exercised the type

of broad interpretative power which has been resorted to by

the Supreme Court of the United States. It can thus be

stated that the high court of Costa Rica has not moved in

the direction of utilizing the potential power of judicial

legislation that it has to impinge upon the legislative

function of the Assembly. But there can be no doubt that

Costa Rica has one of the most influential court systems to

be found in all of Latin America. It may well be that full

utilization of judiciary constitutional powers has not and

will not be resorted to in the near future for fear that to

do otherwise would endanger the existing balance that has

allowed the judicial system to survive as a viable and

independent branch of government.

The mutual independence which characterizes the re-

lationships between the legislative and judicial branches

is not, however, replicated in the relationships between

the legislative and the executive. Without any doubt, the

major limitations upon the systemic decisional impact of

the legislative branch are related to the existence of a

competing source of decision-making within the executive

branch. The following section of this chapter is devoted

to an analysis of these limitations.

The Executive Branch

The executive branch is headed by a president who is

elected directly in the general elections held in Costa Rica

on the first Sunday of February every four years. He, in

turn, is granted the exclusive power to appoint and dis-

charge his ministers of state, who with him make up the top

hierarchy of this branch of government. The main formal

powers of the president and the ministers are those of

direction of the executive branch bureaucratic structure,

initiation of legislation, veto or ratification and execu-

tion of legislation, submission to the Assembly of the

national budget, disbursement of budgeted funds, direction

of the law enforcement and defense forces, temporary suspen-

sion of certain constitutional rights and guarantees subject

to legislative ratification within forty-eight hours, direc-

tion of foreign policy, and negotiation of international

agreements and loans, most of which require legislative


Although the powers of the Costa Rican chief executive

are by no means minor, he is less powerful than most of his

counterparts in Latin America. For example, he does not

have the power to rule by decree in any but administrative

matters and cannot veto the annual budget as modified and

approved by the Legislative Assembly. Most important of

all, he lacks the power to exercise effective control over

the autonomous institutions which, as will be indicated in

another section, control a very substantial portion of the

allocational resources of the Costa Rican public sector.

The fact that presidential re-election has recently been

prohibited by constitutional provision leads to further

limitations on the influence that may be exercised by the

president. The fact that there has been party alternation

in power at the executive level in the past five elections

has prevented any continuity at the ministerial level and

has made it extremely difficult tc establish effective con-

trol over the state bureaucracy, most of whose members are

guaranteed job stability through a relatively advanced and

effective civil service system. The formal and informal

system of checks and balances in Costa Rica, of which the

bureaucracy is a part, has been referred to as one leading

to a form of immobilism that favors preservation of things

as they are and leads to a situation in which "system

maintenance is the keynote of . .formal government, and

change other than the most adaptive type is restricted."8

The above, however, does not mean that the president plays

a secondary role in the allocational process. Any given

Costa Rican president may be less powerful than his

counterpart in another Latin American country, but he is

still a dominant factor in the Costa Rican setting.

It is impossible to evaluate adequately the effective-

ness of the executive-branch inputs into the legislative

sub-system of Costa Rica in isolation of party-related con-

siderations. The means available to a president to affect

the decisional behavior of deputies are without doubt

determined in large part by the presence or absence of a

presidential-party majority in the legislature. It may also

be affected to a lesser, yet significant, extent by the

style and personality of the person occupying the presiden-

tial post. The fact that the occupants of legislative and

executive positions are changed every four years and that

presidential-party majority and minority legislatures have

also alternated in power during each of the last five terms

has in fact prevented executive-legislative relations from

becoming highly patterned. It is very likely that the

inputs into the legislative sub-system emanating from the

executive branch have been subject to substantial variation

from one term to another. The reader should keep in mind

that the discussion which follows is based almost entirely

upon observation of the behavior of one set of executive

officers vis-a-vis a presidential-party minority legislature.

It is also significant to note that the president in power

during the period studied lacked one of the most important

traits which has tended to characterize Costa Rican chief

executives. President Jos6 Joaquin Trejos was not a

national leader of any of the coalition parties which

backed his candidacy; he was a relatively obscure university

professor at the time of his nomination. It is quite likely

that this obscurity and previous non-involvement in politics

was useful to the coalition in projecting an image of a

candidate who was uncorrupted by previous participation in

politics; he was referred to as the candidate of the clean

hands manoss limpias). But once in office he was not able

to call upon the normal loyalty ties that have usually

existed between presidents drawn from the national leader-

ship ranks and the deputies. All of which points to the

fact that this one experience is not particularly represen-

tative and that generalizations based upon it may not be

accurate or applicable in many cases.

The relationship between the executive and legislative

branches was, to say the least, strained during the period

studied. Active coordination and collaboration between the

two branches was the exception rather than the rule. But

what is most important to note is that this was the product

not only of expected partisan conflicts inherent in a

presidential-party minority situation but also of a high

degree of discontent among the deputies of the coalition

that elected the president. In a country where personal

relationships are valued highly and where many feel that

they must go to the very top in order to achieve anything,

it was felt that the president and his ministers did not

provide their deputies with adequate access to them. An

attempt to generate a feeling that the representatives of

the coalition in the executive and the legislative branches

were working as a team was made by the president in the

first months of his term, but it was not successful. Weekly

meetings between the president and these deputies were

dropped by the former due to the fact that the latter wished

to utilize such meetings as a means of obtaining special

favors for their constituents and/or drawing constituency

demands to the attention of the chief executive. The presi-

dent, however, viewed these meetings as a means of discuss-

ing broad policy questions and of seeking to coordinate

legislative and executive activities. The failure of this

experiment led to reduced contact not only with the coalition

deputies as a group but also with individual deputies and

even with the main coalition leaders in the Assembly. The

coalition deputies came to resent this lack of personal con-

tact and were irked by the fact that the president and many

of the ministers failed to take their political interests

into account and at times even acted against these interests

without so much as a symbolic consultation.

Liaison with the legislative branch was carried out to

a limited extent by individual officials of ministerial rank.

But very few coalition deputies were satisfied with this

limited access. The office of the president had one

legislative liaison officer on its staff, but his role in

smoothing things out was peripheral at best as is indicated

by the fact that none of the deputies interviewed even

mentioned his existence. Under such conditions, the con-

clusion that the representatives of the executive power were

not in a strong position to ask special favors of the depu-

ties is obvious. The caucus leaders of the coalition par-

ties at times sought to convince their deputies that they

should toe the line on some matters for the sake of the

coalition's record in power but very frequently found this

to be an extremely distasteful and difficult task. In

general, the government deputies came to feel that,given

the treatment that they received from the executive, they

had no responsibility to it. In fact, some of them seemed

to enjoy watching the president and his ministers struggle

to get themselves out of hot water without any significant

help from the legislative sidelines. Though this feeling

of detachment from the executive was clearly affected by

the personal style of the president, it could be posited

that in countries, such as Costa Rica, where presidents

attain office without having elaborated or campaigned on

a specific programmatic platform, presidential-party depu-

ties will feel less obligated to go along with executive

branch initiatives than would be the case in countries where

these deputies have committed themselves in campaign to

support specific or even general types of measures.

Interestingly enough, most of the pressure mechanisms

at the disposal of the executive were ones which could be

used most effectively vis-a-vis the majority party within

the Assembly. For example, it was able to push for action

on certain bills, given the fact that failure to act upon

them would have brought forth angry protests against the PLN-

controlled legislature rather than the executive branch.

The executive was also in a position to negotiate passage

of certain bills by promising to exercise its power to dis-

burse authorized funds for the pet projects of the PLN

deputies. Most such pressures by and negotiations with the

executive were largely limited to budgetary bills. The

fact that the PLN deputies were the ones who stood to benefit

most from negotiated bills and to lose most from failure to

act upon certain types of urgent legislation explains why

it was these deputies who acted as the main defenders of

certain executive bills in the presence of the lethargy of

the government deputies. Such lethargy was in large part

the product of the fact that the government deputies were

marginal to the entire bargaining process, and this fact

could only contribute to the alienation of this group.

But it would be a grave error to evaluate the impact

of executive inputs exclusively on the basis of the ability

of the executive to pressure the legislature into approving

its bills. Without any question, the power of a president

who lacks a majority in the legislature is relatively

limited, but he is far from being a lame duck. The

executive, through control of or ready access to a vast

bureaucracy, is inevitably in a better position than the

legislature to acquire the data and expertise required to

evaluate the favorable and negative aspects of some types

of legislation. The executive is consequently in a position

to provide or withhold information as best suits its inter-

ests. This power is of considerable significance in a legis-

lative context such as that of Costa Rica, where the legis-

lature has had virtually no support staff capable of acquir-

ing data independently. In some cases the executive has

what amounts to a monopoly on certain types of information.

Representatives of the ministries may be obligated to appear

before committees when requested to do so, but they may be

quite selective in the types of information that they choose

to divulge. If directly asked to produce a given type of

information, they may resort to endless means of withholding

information that they do not wish to divulge. And deputies

are frequently not well-enough prepared or informed to know

which direct questions are critical to an adequate evaluation

of a bill before them if it is the least bit complex. Exec-

utive inputs of highly technical bills and of budgetary

bills are rarely affected in any drastic fashion by the

legislative conversion process.

The data acquired do not allow for the determination

of how frequently highly complex or technical bills are

initiated by the executive branch. The number of such bills

has probably been increasing over the years, though they

still do not seem to represent a very large proportion of

the bills submitted to the Assembly. But it is likely that

those that are introduced, though a minority in number, may

be among the most significant. And if this is true, the

impact of such executive inputs is not to be underestimated,

as the legislature of Costa Rica is virtually unable to

evaluate most of such bills given its lack of support staff.

Consequently, the Assembly is in no position to analyze,

and much less to offer counter-proposals to, bills of this


Yet it is in the second area, that of budgetary inputs,

that the impact of executive input becomes most evident.

The executive not only has the exclusive power of budgetary

input but has an even more inclusive impact on budgetary

allocational politics due to the fact that the legislature

is not equipped to analyze large budgetary bills such as the

annual budget in more than an extremely superficial fashion.

A brief examination of the process followed in studying an

annual budget will provide ready evidence of the fact that

with very limited exceptions executive budgetary inputs

represent final financial allocational policy.

This author was given permission to sit in on the

closed sessions of the sub-commi.ttee of the budgetary

committee, made up exclusively of PLN deputies, that carried

out the preliminary study of the 1969 budget. This sub-

committee met daily for periods of up to eight hours to

analyze the budget submitted by the executive. They had

only two staff members working with them, and their efforts

were largely reduced to the time-consuming process of

checking the budget line item by line item against the bud-

get of the previous year and against the requests made by

each ministry to the budget office of the executive branch.

They were thus able to cut out new positions or to lower

certain line items which were felt to be detrimental to the

PLN in an upcoming election year, e.g., the funds to

ministries for publicity purposes. No significant attempts

were made to evaluate general programs, a task which would

have been impossible, given the fact that only two out of

the eight members of the sub-committee had any economic

training or understanding of budgetary analysis. In fact,

the main interest of the majority of the members was to work

out the details of the pork-barrel funds built into the

budget at this stage. Thus, though this group was able to

add approximately ten million colones to the budget in

pork-barrel funds for the PLN deputies by cutting or re-

ducing certain items in the budget and by obtaining an

opinion from the Comptroller General's office that the exec-

utive had underestimated its income, it did not and could

not come to grips with an evaluation of the desirability of

authorizing funds for one type of program rather than some

other. The full committee made only minor changes in the

report of the sub-committee and was equally hamstrung as

far as executing a detailed analysis of expenditures. It

is thus apparent that executive budgetary inputs are modi-

fied only slightly by the legislature in the process of

converting them into outputs.

The power of the president to affect the allocational

process in Costa Rica is not, however, limited to the for-

mal decisional process which ends once a bill has been

approved or disapproved by the Assembly. As in most politi-

cal systems, it is the executive branch that must implement

most legislation. This power is potentially significant in

an area of the world where, from colonial times, the phrase

"laws are issued but not followed" (la ley se dicta pero no

se cumple) has been oft repeated. In Costa Rica this is

not a widespread rule, but one can certainly find numerous

cases where it would apply. No doubt, many of these cases

involve what Charles Anderson has referred to as "poetic

laws" or "the grand proyecto."0 The laws are not imple-

mented because it is simply not feasible to do so. For

example, the law passed in 1969 dealing with the protection

of forested areas comes close to being a model law, but the

cost of hiring the manpower needed to guarantee that it not

be violated is prohibitive. In other words, there are some

laws which could not be implemented even if the executive

were highly disposed to do so. But in many cases laws go

by unapplied due to the discretionary power of the executive

to allocate greater or lesser enforcement energy to the law

in question. Individual deputies do from time to time draw

cases of laxity in enforcement to the attention of the

Assembly and of the public, but this type of oversight is

the exception rather than the rule--in large part due to

the fact that the Assembly is simply not equipped to fulfill

an encompassing oversight function.

The discretionary powers of the executive in the imple-

mentation of legislation are substantially bolstered by the

fact that it is normally authorized to issue the specific

implementing orders related to any bill. It is in a posi-

tion, especially in the case of highly technical laws, to

exercise a high degree of unsupervised discretionary power.

The deputies interviewed indicated that they did not con-

sider that such authorization granted the executive a signi-

ficant instrument of power. The prevalence of this feeling

is manifested in the fact that the Assembly and the deputies

expressed no need to follow up on such matters to assure

themselves that the spirit of the law has been faithfully

followed in issuing implementing orders. In reporting a

similar phenomenon in Argentina, Lee Fennell writes that

Under the constitutional power to issue "the instruc-
tions and regulations that may be necessary for the
execution of the laws of the Nation, being careful
not to alter their spirit by exceptions," presidents
have in fact frequently made law by executive

This phase of executive behavior merits careful scrutiny in

future studies of Costa Rica. It is unlikely that Costa

Rican presidents have gone so far as to make law by executive

decree utilizing this subterfuge in very many cases, but it

would not be surprising to find that executive implementing

orders with some frequency reflect biases not specifically

contained in the law. But the discretionary power of the

executive in implementing legislation is not limited to such

orders. One additional prerogative of even greater import

is granted to the executive.

The budgets of Costa Rica establish ceilings on the

disbursements that may be made but in few cases make the

disbursement of authorized allocations obligatory. And

since virtually all budgeted funds must be disbursed by the

Ministry of Finance, the executive branch is in a position

to issue payments according to its priorities and to with-

hold funds when it so desires. This power is used not only

to block certain types of expenditures which it may not deem

appropriate even though budgeted but also as a bargaining

mechanism in a process not unlike that which exists in the

Phillipines and is described in the following terms by

Robert Stauffer:

Because in the centralized Phillipine system the
president has the authority to release or hold back
funds already appropriated, especially, funds for pork
barrel projects, much of the interbranch bargaining
operates on a quid pro quo level with the chief
executive following through on past commitments in

return for which Congress accedes to new proposals
made by the president while simultaneously extracting
new commitments for future allocations.12

In conclusion it can be stated that the president of

Costa Rica is probably in a position to affect the allo-

cational process more than any other single individual or

institution in the country. There is, however, good reason

to question Lloyd Mecham's argument that Latin American

government, and thus Costa Rican government, is mainly

ruled by unchallenged personalistic executive fiat.1 The

weakness of this argument is to be found not only in the

proven role that the legislature plays in Costa Rican

decision-making but also in the presence of a set of insti-

tutions which if grouped together by type must be viewed as

the major single challenge to both executive and legislative

decisicnal power. The institutions in question are those

referred to as autonomous institutions and are briefly dis-

cussed in the following section.

The Autonomous Institutions

In general, research on governmental institutions found

within the Costa Rican political system is limited. But

nowhere is this scarcity or absence of research more notable

than in the case of what could be referred to as the fourth

branch of government of this country-'.-the autonomous insti-

tutions. In fact, any attempt to evaluate the allocational

powers of the traditional branches of government of Costa

Rica in a definitive way will be impossible until adequate

research on these institutions has been carried out.

The autonomous institutions are public institutions

which have been created to meet functionally specific,

largely service-oriented goals in a decentralized fashion.

They play a highly significant part in the allocational

process and in meeting the needs and demands of the Costa

Rican society. Provision of water and sewerage services, of

electrical and telephone services, and of public housing is

all in the hands of such institutions. The social security

system, the national insurance monopoly, the nation's two

railroads, and the nationalized banking system are also

characterized by this form of autonomous control and organi-


The autonomous institution system has clearly fulfilled

one of the primary goals which motivated its creation, that

of preventing an excessive centralization of power in the

executive branch. But a. price has been paid for this type

of decentralization. A number of independent structures,

jealously guarded by their bureaucratic overlords, have

emerged, and coordinated development has become virtually

impossible to achieve. In effect, these institutions oper-

ate independently of any real direction from or control by

the central government. This situation is due in large part

to the fact that in most cases the budgets and resources of

these institutions are not subject to the normal controls

which can be exercised by the executive and legislative

branches through their respective powers of budgetary

initiative and review. The vast proportion of the resources

of these institutions come from service charges andmandatory

contributions or are guaranteed either by law or by specific

constitutional provision. And budgetary review is restric-

ted to approval of the annual budget of each institution by

the Comptroller General's office, which is not empowered to

exercise any substantial independent judgment in terms of

the priority allocation of the funds of these institutions.

In 1968 one deputy sought to obtain passage of legislation

that would have made these budgets subject to direct legis-

lative review and within-budget priority reallocations, but

he was unsuccessful in his attempt due to the ability of

these institutions to mobilize strong political pressures

against it.

The president and ministers have the shared power to

appoint the directors of the boards of these institutions

and thus would seem to have an effective means of attaining

control over them. But the established staggered term

system of appointment has at times prevented the president's

appointees from gaining control of the boards until his

third year in office. Even when such control has existed,

the directors seem to have acted relatively independently

because, once named, they cannot be removed by the president

during their four-year term.

The implications of this apparent absence of control by

either the executive or the legislature need not be elab-

orated upon beyond indicating that in 1969 the incomes of

these institutions represented 54.6 per cent of public sec-

tor income and a staggering 19.2 per cent of the nation's

gross national product. Clearly, the power of the legis-

lative and executive branches to allocate societal resources

is severely limited, given the existence of the autonomous


Summary and Conclusions

In Chapter I, a case was made for classifying Costa

Rica as an exception to the rule that the legislatures of

lesser-developed countries do not have any meaningful

participation in systemic decision-making. But the degree

of independence exercised in decisional matters by a legis-

lature and the significance of legislative decision-making

can be overestimated unless evaluated within the overall

institutional context of systemic decision-making.

In this chapter the institutional context of the coun-

try has been examined in an attempt to identify the possible

limitations which this context may place upon the decision-

making role of the Legislative Assembly. It has been found

that local levels of government and the judicial branch do

not place any notable restraints upon this role. The formal

and informal powers of the executive branch and the

independence and aliocational power of the autonomous

institutions, however, have been found to be a limiting

factor upon this role. Thus an objective evaluation of

the decision-making role of this legislature must indicate

that the legislature of Costa Rica shares its decision-

making role with the above-mentioned institutions and may

in some cases have a lesser impact upon decision-making

than these other institutions do. But the existence of

these limitations does not contradict the finding reported

in the previous chapter that the Legislative Assembly does

play a significant role in the allocation of systemic

resources in Costa Rica.


Hans Baerwald, review of Legislatures in Developmental
Perspective, ed. by Allan Kornberg and Lloyd D. Musolf,
American Political Science Review, 66 (March, 1972), p. 248.
2This estimate is based upon projections to April of
1972 and was provided to the author by the Tribunal Supremo
de Elecciones of Costa Rica.

A recent study of the municipal governments of twenty-
five predominantly rural cantons indicates that the sub-
ventions of the central government accounted for an average
of 54.9 per cent of the revenues of these units of local
government. The study draws the conclusion that "at the
present time the rural municipal councils of Costa Rica
fulfill little more than an administrative function and are
not at all equipped to participate actively in the process
of resolving the needs of a 'developing' society." See
Christopher E. Baker, Ronald Ferndndez Pinto, and Samuel
Z. Stone, Municipal Government in Costa Rica: Its
Characteristics and Functions (San Josd: Associated Colleges
of the Midwest, 1971), pp. 84-85, 122.

Ibid., p. 17-31.

Ibid., p. 130.
A constitutional reform passed in 1969 now prohibits
the re-election of all presidents elected after 1969. Prior
to this reform, re-election was possible after a lapse of
eight years (two terms). For example Jos6 Figueres, who
was president from 1953 to 1958, was eligible for re-election
in 1966. His election in 1970 eliminates him from any
future contention for the presidential post.

To the knowledge of the author, there has been only
one minister who has been carried over from one administration
to another since 1949. This was Oscar Barahona Streber,
who served as Minister of Finance in the latter part of the
term of President Jose Joaquin Trejos (1966-1970) and the
first months of the term of President Jos4 Figueres

Charles F. Denton, The Politics of Development in
Costa Rica (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Texas, 1969),
p. 112.

9It is to be noted that unless the government deputies
had managed to have the executive include port-barrel items
in the budget for their communities before sending the
budget to the Assembly, which did not seem to happen very
frequently, they were totally locked out of the pork-barrel
grab bag.

10Charles W. Anderson, Politics and Economic Change in
Latin American (Princeton: D. Van Nostrand Co., Inc., 1967),
p. 135.

l1Lee C. Fennell, "Congress in the Argentine Political
System," in Weston H. Agor, ed., Latin American Legisla-
tures: Their Role and Influence (New York: Praeger
Publishers, 1971, p. 157.

12Robert B. Stauffer, "Congress in the Phillipine
Political System, in Allan Kornberg and Lloyd D. Musolf,
eds., Legislatures in Developmental Perspective (Durham:
Duke University Press, 1970), p. 351.
13J. Lloyd Mecham, "Latin American Constitutions:
Nominal and Real," Journal of Politics, 21 (May, 1959),
pp. 258-275.



K. C. Wheare has aptly stated that

We would misunderstand profoundly the working of
legislatures if we thought of them as bodies which,
between elections, thought things out in isolated
tranquillity independence, free to initiate or to
decide matters as they thought fit, influenced only
by members' contacts with each other.'

The institutional setting described in the preceding chapter

is clearly one of the set of factors which limit the degree

of independence that may be exercised by the members of the

Costa Rican legislature. But many Costa Ricans believe that

the most limiting factor in this context is that of the con-

trol exercised over the deputies by supposedly monolithic

party structures. If one were to accept what is written by

some local reporters, the conclusion would have to be drawn

that the deputies of the Legislative Assembly behave like a

herd of cattle and vote at all times according to party

lines and instructions.

Though it is safe to state that many aspects of politi-

cal behavior in Costa Rica must be analyzed within the con-

text of party politics, the view that the behavior of all or

most of the deputies of the Assembly is ruled by monolithic

party structures is open to question and empirical verifica-

tion. The purpose of this chapter is to examine the

characteristics of the political party system as a means of

drawing some informed conclusions in respect to the signifi-

cance that party structures have within the political system

of this country and more specifically within the legislative


The Political Party System

The political party system of Costa Rica has been clas-

sified accurately by Ronald McDonald as a multi-party domi-

nant system.2 There is a dominant party, the National

Liberation Party (Partido Liberacidn Nacional), which will be

referred to as the PLN, and a number of smaller parties, most

of which can be classified as anti-PLN parties. Yet, despite

the predominance of the PLN, these smaller parties in coali-

tion are capable of challenging PLN control of the govern-

ment. Such anti-PLN coalitions have been formed in three of

the four elections held between 1958 and 1970, a fact that

would seem to support the proposition that

As one party grows increasingly dominant, incentives
arise for opposition coalitional party activity, which
are based rationally in the aspiration to maximize
party influence against a strong opponent.3

They have run common deputy slates as well as a common presi-

dential candidate in the last two elections and were success-

ful in wresting the executive branch from the dominant party

in 1958 and 1966, though they have never been able to deprive

the PLN of an absolute majority in the legislature.

The crushing defeat experienced by the two largest

minority parties in 1962, when they chose to run separate

presidential tickets, provided ready evidence that there was

little hope in the immediate future of defeating the PLN

without resorting to coalitional behavior. In that election

the PLN candidate won by a margin of 57,317 votes; but, if

it is assumed that a single opposition candidate would have

received the combined votes of these two parties, it could

be argued that this could have been a close election given

the fact that the margin of victory of the PLN would have

been that of a precarious 2,577 votes. In 1966 a coalition
presidential candidate won by a margin of 4,220 votes. The

anti-PLN coalition reappeared in 1970 but suffered defeat at

the hands of the dominant party.

Anti-PLN coalitions have regularly chosen to register

under the name of National Unification Party (Partido Unifi-

cacion Nacional). Invariably the largest party in the coali-

tion has been the Republican Party (Partido Republicano).6

Until the election of 1970, the second largest party in the

coalition was that known as the National Union Party (Partido

Uni6n Nacional). Other nominal parties have been members of

the coalitions, but they have tended to be parties on paper

only and generally have been legal entities formed by a very

reduced number of people seeking to attain some bargaining

power in the nomination process of the coalition. Generally

speaking, it is possible to classify the Republican Party as

somewhat left of center whereas the National Union Party

and the other mini-parties can be classified as right of


The roots of this alliance can best be understood by

placing the major political parties within the historical

context of the "revolution" experienced by Costa Rica in

1948. A full explanation of this event would require an

extensive treatise and cannot be entertained in this brief

chapter. But in capsular form, and in somewhat simplistic

terms, it may be said that in 1948 constitutional order was

interrupted in Costa Rica as a result, among other things, of

the attempt of the leaders of the Republican Party in power

to nullify the outcome of the election held in that year, in

which they lost the presidential race. The leaders of the

revolution eventually became the leaders of the National

Liberation Party when it was founded in 1951. The reasons

for the basic antagonism between these two parties are to be

found in the events surrounding the conflagration of 1948.

It is somewhat more difficult to deal with or classify the

National Union Party. This party has traditionally repre-

sented the more conservative sectors of Costan Rican society.

But it has not always been associated with the other main

anti-PLN party. Thus in 1948 one finds that this political

group was associated with the rebellion against the Republi-

can Party then in government. In fact, the main leader of

the National Union Party was the victorious candidate whose

election was honored by the future PLN leaders, and he served

as president from 1949 to 1953. How then does one explain

the fact that this party is now in the anti-PLN camp?

The explanation for this lies in the recurrence of what

might be referred to as "unholy alliances" between liberal

and conservative parties in Costa Rica. Both the Republican

Party and the National Liberation Party have liberal inclina-

tions, but they have never been able to unify under a common

banner. The conservative forces, on the other hand, have

tended to ally with whatever liberal group has been out of

power. Thus, between 1940 and 1948, when the Republican Party

was undertaking substantial reform, one finds a growing

association between the liberal outs, who would eventually

form the National Liberation Party, and the conservative

forces. Once the PLN attained the status of the main liberal

party, i.e., as of 1953, the conservative party group switched

to an alliance with the Republican Party, which has since

then been unable to recoup its previous status. Though

these alliances have been ones of convenience for both the

liberal outs and the conservatives, it should be noted that

in each case coalition with the conservatives has led to a

sacrifice on the part of the liberal coalition party of some

of its change-oriented perspective. In the years preceding

the events of 1948, one sees that the liberal leaders

opposing the Republican Party were forced to downplay their

real intentions for fear of losing the support of the

conservatives. Thus one is faced with the anomaly that

the leaders of the.Republican Party were led to nullify

the elections of 1948 partly out of fear that the liberal-

conservative opposition coalition would act against the

reforms introduced between 1940 and 1948 if allowed to

take power. The "revolution" indeed was seen by them as a

resort to arms to attain this end; whereas in retrospect

one sees that the leaders of the revolution acted to re-

inforce these reforms and to introduce new ones. The case

at the present time is somewhat different in that coali-

tional behavior has led not so much to the temporary sub-

limation of the reformist inclinations of the Republican

Party but to an extended sublimation of these since 1958.

Despite claims to the contrary by some authors, at

the present time there is no evidence that any of the parties

has a structured ideology. Frequently they lack even the

most basic of party programs or platforms. No doubt,

party activists may refer one to party documents which are

said to enunciate party ideology. But it is hard to

believe that even these so-called "ideologies" are particu-

larly relevant to the political life of the nation when

the main unifying factor in the opposition coalition is

openly described as follows: "We of the Unification, in

essence, are those Costa Ricans who are neither in agree-

ment with the theses, procedures, and points of view of

the National Liberation Party nor with the political be-

havior of their leaders." The relevance and credibility

of "ideology" is even more difficult to take seriously,

given the fact that PLN partisans and officials have in

the past taken actions that are in clear contradiction with

certain principles set out in their ideological charter.1

The relative irrelevance of ideology in Costa Rica is

cogently described by Charles Anderson in the following


The Costa Rican political process does not encourage
political success through the mobilization of a
narrow coalition circumscribed by a rigorous ideo-
logical position. Rather victory is apt to
come to that movement which can successfully appeal
to many disparate elements in the population.l1

The policy differences between administrations, which in

theory have reflected different "ideological" orienta-
tions, are found by Anderson to be virtually non-existent.2

The only visible ideological commitment within the

PLN, which claims to be an ideological party in a most

vociferous fashion, is the defense of the institutional

reforms which its present leaders carried out in the late

1940s and early 1950s. Generally speaking, it can be said

that the main difference between the general orientation

of the PLN and the other parties revolves around the ques-

tion of the degree to which the state should intervene in

the economy. But despite the predictions of some Costa

Ricans, this one precept has not produced any sort of

integrated ideological formulation on the part of the
parties. The PLN has tended to favor more state interven-

tion in the past, but even it has become more conservative

in this respect in recent years. It is certainly not true

that party affiliation is based to any significant extent

on ideological positions. In fact, the interviews carried

out for this study indicate that few PLN or PR deputies

felt that there were any significant "ideological" differ-

ences between these two parties. Party affiliation related

much more closely to a sense of loyalty to or repudiation

of the leaders of the two main groups which participated in
the 1948 civil war,4 though changes in this highly person-

alistic pattern are becoming evident with the attrition in

the ranks of these leaders due to age.

The main parties of Costa Rica are very similar in the

sense that they are all multi-class parties in terms of

the class composition of their voters. The absence of

clear-cut social cleavages among the major parties contri-

butes to the fact that pressures for substantial realloca-

tion of systemic resources are not strong enough to lead

to action on the part of the political decision-makers.

Upper- and middle-class interest, which tends to be status

quo oriented, tends to predominate in the parties, even

though the largest proportion of Costa Rican voters is of
the urban and rural lower class. Though Suzanne
the urban and rural lower class. Though Suzanne

Bodenheimer was only referring to the PLN and the other

so-called Social Democratic parties of Latin America when

she wrote that they "have in practice defaulted on their

rhetorical promises to the masses and reinforced the landed,
commercial and industrial elites,6 this evaluation is

applicable to all of the major parties of Costa Rica.

The major parties of the country are also similar

in that, despite the fact that all three of them have been

in existence for at least twenty years, and have generally

enjoyed a continuity in leadership and membership, they

have developed no permanent structures and activities of

note.17 Foreign observers may be shown numerous detailed
organizational charts and descriptions, but the truth

of the matter is that in Costa Rica, as in most other

countries of the world where relatively free elections are

held, political parties are electoral organizations, and

as such come to life as active organizational structures at

the time of elections. Although all three parties have had

national committees and directorates, these have tended to

meet irregularly as formal structures. Even the PLN, which

has come closest to maintaining any semblance of permanent

activity, has shown visible signs of experiencing this

dormancy between elections. It has maintained the only

permanent national headquarters office, but this office has

been a symbol rather than a reliable indicator of permanent

activity. All that remains of the political parties after

an election has been held is a group of elected represen-

tatives within the governmental structure at the local

and national levels and a limited number of loosely asso-
ciated party leaders.9 The organized structures of the

parties are usually limited to the congressional party

caucuses (fracciones) and, to a more limited extent, to the

supposedly permanent national party directorates.

Legislative Party Caucuses
and External Party Leaders

At the time that the research in Costa Rica was carried

out, four different parties were represented within the

Legislative Assembly. The National Liberation Party (PLN)

held twenty-nine seats and thus an absolute majority in a

legislature of fifty-seven seats. Despite the fact that

they had run on common legislative tickets, the Rupublican

Party (PR) and the National Union Party (PUN) were organized

as separate political groups at both the congressional and

national party levels and tended to lack any significant

degree of coordination. The PR held eighteen seats and the

PUN held eight.2 The fourth party, the Revolutionary

Civic Union (UCR), was represented by two deputies but

lacked any visible organizational structures both inside

and outside of the Assembly. The other parties, i.e., the

three major parties, each had, to a greater or lesser extent,

a caucus organization and a formally organized national


The caucus or fraccidn of the PLN was by far the most

highly organized one in the Assembly. The party deputies

met in scheduled fracci6n meetings twice a month, unless

unforeseen circumstances or recesses led to their cancella-

tion or urgent matters led to the scheduling of extra-

ordinary sessions. To the best knowledge of the author,

eleven such meetings were held between June and November
of 1968.21 It was difficult to establish how many times

the PR and PUN fracciones met during this six-month period

though it can be stated that they neither met jointly nor

did they tend to seek any coordination between themselves.

The PR caucus did not meet on a regularly scheduled basis

but did so only when special issues or needs for coordination

arose. It was quite apparent that it met far fewer times

than the PLN caucus did. Several deputies of the PUN

claimed that their caucus met weekly at the home of the

president of the national directorate of the party. Informal

conversations with other PUN deputies led to the impression

that this fracci6n met once every three or four weeks for

a total of perhaps six to eight meetings during the period

in question.

The author was granted the unusual permission to sit

in on all of the caucus meetings of the PLN, but it was

impossible to gain access to the meetings of the other two

parties. Thus, in discussing the types of matters dealt

with in caucus meetings, primary attention will be given

to observations made in the meetings held by the more

accessible group. There is reason to believe, with the

exceptions that will be pointed out, that the general de-

scription provided would apply to all three parties.

It is widely believed and reported that party disci-

pline is strictly enforced in the Costa Rican Assembly.22

But the small number of bills discussed in the PLN meetings

does not support the view that party deputies must fre-

quently vote according to party-line stands liness de

partido). A party line, obligating all caucus deputies to

support a specific stand on a bill, is taken whenever two-

thirds of the fraccion deputies vote to subject a bill to
such treatment.2 No more than 7 of the 587 bills before the

Assembly were discussed in the fracci6n meetings held during

the six-month period in question, and only 3 of .these.

were subjected to party-line stands. And, even in those

cases where a party line was voted, deputies were allowed to

vote against the stand agreed upon if they could present

arguments considered valid by the other members of the caucus

as to why it would be politically unwise or difficult for

them to support the party line publicly.24 It is doubtful,

however, that this obligation would have been waived had the

release of one or more votes represented the defeat of the
position of the fraccin.25

Though it was impossible to obtain detailed reports

from the PR and PUN deputies on the bills discussed by their

caucus groups, the impression given by them was that they too

discussed a very small number of bills, possibly even fewer

than those considered by the PLN group. One main difference

that was established was that the PR and PUN fracciones

tended to discuss bills in the later stages of processing,

i.e., after they had been reported out of committee, whereas

the PLN fracci6n tended to discuss them while they were still

in committee, thus seeking to affect them positively or nega-

tively in a more organized manner.26 No party-line stands on

the part of the fracciones of these two parties were evident

in the period June-November, 1968. The PR deputies indicated

that lines de partido had been taken in previous years but

that they were very infrequent. As in the case of the PLN,

it was indicated that a flexible application of party lines

was utilized. The PUN deputies, on the other hand, indicated

that party lines could be voted by their group, but there

was a consensus among them that they had not done so and were

not disposed to do so because they felt that the freedom of

choice of the individual deputy was of paramount importance

to their group. There is reason to believe that they were

the least subjected to caucus or external party pressures.

To a greater or lesser extent, all of the fracciones

drew upon the advice of outside experts associated formally

or informally with the party when discussing certain bills.

The PLN fracci6n seemed to draw upon such assistance more

frequently than the others. But even in the case of the PLN

this occurred in a minority of the cases. The difference

between the Costa Rican dependence upon external party direc-

tion and that of a strong external party legislature such as

Venezuela's is worthy of note. In Venezuela it is

reported that

It is in the fraccidn that party policy from the party's
central committee is debated and/or explained and/or
legitimate for purposes of defending it in Senate
floor or committee debate.27

The relative influence of the national party leadership

upon the actions of the caucuses of the PLN and the PR and

its individual members is not, however, to be discarded out-

right.28 The personalistic nature of Costa Rican politics

which persists to this day would suggest that to proceed in

such a manner would be quite careless. The influence of the

national party leadership is not evidenced so much through

actions or positions taken by the national party directorate

as by those of individual leaders. No cases in which the

national directorate approached the PR fraccidn as a whole

recommending or demanding that it take certain positions were

identified. Occasional communication from the PLN direc-

torate was received by. the PLN fracci6n, and one joint session

was held by the fracci6n and the national directorate in

order to discuss a highly controversial bill. But even in the

case of the PLN, such contacts were clearly secondary in

importance to informal contacts between certain national

leaders and the key deputies of the fracci6n. Though formal

channels of communication existed between the fracciones and

the national directorates, most communication and pressure

from the external party leaders tended to take place at the

individual level, though this was more marked in the case

of the PR than of the PLN.

It is difficult to generalize about the extent to which

external party leaders in Costa Rica can be said to exercise

control over the behavior of their party deputies. During

the period studied, it appeared that PR deputies tended to be

more highly influenced by such leaders than were the PLN

deputies. In the case of the PR, it seemed that a word from

the party president or one of his lieutenants was sufficient

for consensus to arise on any given issue. No specific cases

of independence in the face of concerted efforts from above

were identified within the PR. The PR deputies argued that

the views of the national leadership were not imposed upon

them. But at least it can be said that these deputies were

not very prone to analyze and evaluate the "word" from above

in a critical fashion. In fact, on several occasions there

were indications that a phone call from one particular national

leader, the brother of party president, Dr. Rafael Angel

Calderon Guardia, during a floor session was all that was

needed to establish the line to be followed by the legisla-

tive party. The PLN caucus, on the other hand, did stand

behind the independent judgment of its members in some cases

in the face of strong pressure tactics by individual external

party leaders. Efforts in 1968 on the part of party president,

Jose Figueres. to get the PLN deputies to approve the San

Jo s P r o t ocol, which called for an increase in a number

of import duties, met with failure. But it must be noted

that the leadership of the PLN was divided by significant

schisms at the time that this study was carried out, and most

cases of independence in the fracci6n reflected an indepen-

dence from pressures emanating from only one sector of the

leadership. The main loyalty referent of most of the PLN

deputies was Daniel Oduber, defeated presidential candidate

in 1966, and not Jose Figueres. Thus, there is some reason

to question whether the PLN deputies would have shown the

same degree of independence had the pressures in question

emanated from Oduber as well as Figueres. The deputies

probably would not have behaved as independently, although

observation of the behavior of these deputies would seem to

indicate that even under these conditions the PLN deputies

would have been less willing to toe the line than the PR

deputies appear to have been.

But any evaluation of the impact of party pressures

upon legislative decision-making, regardless of the potential

that may exist for effective exercise of such pressures, must

take into account the frequency with which this type of input

takes place. In the case of all three parties, it is accu-

rate to state that few decisional matters brought forth the

mobilization of external party pressures. And it has already

been indicated that few legislative matters were discussed

in fracci6n meetings. Yet in order to place the significance

of caucus groups within the Assembly in its proper context,

it is essential to focus upon the role of the jefe de fracci6n

(caucus or majority and minority leaders). Much of the

coordination of the fracciones and the pursuit of partisan-

oriented goals and interests were left to the discretion of

the lefes de fracci6n, especially in the cases of the PLN and

the PR. These leaders were chosen by vote of the party

deputies and, at least in the cases of the mentioned parties,

were paid a supplementary salary by the caucus so that they

could devote their full attention to legislative and caucus

matters. The degree to which they were relied upon by their

caucus deputies is reflected by the following responses indi-

cating the roles attributed to them by the deputies of their

respective parties.


Roles Attributed to the Jefe de Fracci6n by PLN Deputies










Dealing with the external party leadership in name
of the fracci6n
Serving as a link between the deputies and interest
Serving as a spokesman of the fracci6n in contacts
with the press and the public
Serving as a spokesman of the fracci6n in contacts
with the executive brance


Keeping up with what is going on in committees
Keeping tabs on important bills coming into the
Making tactical decisions on the floor and watching
for tactical moves of other parties

TABLE 3.1--(continued)

4. Coordinating tactics with presiding officers of the
5. Providing main thrust and direction to political
debates on the floor
6. Serving as the main spokesman of party positions in
floor debates
7. Dealing with representatives of other fracciones in


1. Providing direction to the fracci6n on certain types
of bills of national interest and arranging for
external advisement if required
2. Coordinating fracci6n as a group so as to make it
an efficient team
3. Promoting group cohesion and spirit
4. Serving as a conciliator inside and outside of the
5. Enforcing fracci6n decisions
6. Helping party deputies
7. Calling fracci6n meetings


Role Attributed to the Jefe de Fracci6n by PR Deputies


1. Serving as fracci6n spokesman with external groups
2. Keeping up with what the press is saying and providing
it with information for public consumption


1. Making tactical decisions on floor
2. Being on watch for tactical surprises by the PLN
3. Providing tactical direction to debate on the floor
4. Being spokesman of party position on the floor


1. Providing direction to fracci6n by studying bills and
explaining pros and cons of bills
2. Coordinating the group for debate purposes so as to
achieve fracci6n goals

TABLE 3.2--(continued)

3. Providing political direction to the fracci6n
4. Keeping the fracci6n members up-to-date on develop-
5. Maintaining harmony and cohesion among members of the


Role Attributed to the Jefe de Fracci6n by PUN Deputies











Serving as fracci6n spokesman in maintaining press


Maintaining contacts with other fracciones and reach-
ing agreements with other groups
Representing the fracci6n in any formal conversations
Defending the interests of the party
Being on guard to be sure that fraccion deputies are
treated with equality, e.g., in the naming of members
to special committees


Studying bills carefully so he can keep fracci6n
deputies appraised of their implications.
Coordinating and assigning work of and to fracci6n
Coordinating the debate of the fraccion deputies on
the floor

The role attribution responses listed in the previous

tables suggest that the PLN deputies had a more detailed per-

ception of the various roles of their jefe than did those of

the PR and PUN. The responses also seem to reflect a higher

degree of reliance upon the jefe and a higher degree of

independence of this leader within the PLN caucus. The PUN

jefe seemed to be attributed the least independence; in fact,

one PUN deputy indicated that he felt that the position of the

jefe should be done away with. The jefe himself seemed to

view his role in symbolic terms and emphasized only his respon-

sibility of seeing to it that the caucus deputies not be

discriminated against.

In practice,it was found that the PLN jefe tended to

act in coordination with other key deputies in the fracci6n;

whereas there was no such apparent collaboration and cohesion

in the case of the PR. The PLN jefe worked in conjunction

with hand-picked committee coordinators and with the committee

chairmen of his party in keeping tabs upon bills of interest

and in setting committee and floor strategies for these bills.

The jefe frequently worked in close collaboration with the

presiding officer of the Assembly in planning and executing

floor strategies. Control by the jefe over politically contro-

versial bills was enhanced by the fact that all bills of this

type were supposed to be, and in most cases were, submitted to

him by the deputies of his party for his clearance. It ap-

peared, however, that few bills were blocked by the jefe and

that the main purpose of this procedure was that of keeping

him informed.29 In general, the PLN deputies were not of the

opinion that the jefe acted arbitrarily. The same was not

true of the PR. The degree of coordination with other party

deputies maintained by the PR jefe was quite limited; he did

not work with committee or other coordinators. His exercise

of discretionary tactical decision-making was, perhaps as a

consequence of this, viewed by some as being somewhat arbi-

trary and, in fact, seems to have contributed to the generation

of a dissident group within the fraccidn.

The presence of this dissident goup was made particularly

apparent in the dynamics of negotiation between the PR and

PLN fracciones. In the case of the PLN, the jefe was the only

person empowered to negotiate with the representatives of the

other party groupings, though he could delegate this authority

to others. He tended to represent the congressional party not

only in negotiations with other congressional party groupings

but also with the executive branch as well. The PR jefe,in

theory, enjoyed equal power, but the PLN exploited and sought

to accentuate the schism in the PR caucus by negotiating with

other competing leaders of the caucus in certain cases. The

magnitude of the schism and the lack of cohesion in the PR

caucus was nowhere better evidenced than in the fact that most

budgetary negotiations involved in the passage of the 1969

annual budget were channeled through one of the dissident

leaders who sat on the budgetary committee. This strategy led

to a unanimous favorable committee report on the budget. This

report was viewed as being politically inconvenient by the

executive branch and the jefe de fraccion, given the fact that

it condoned the modifications which the PLN-controlled committee

had introduced into the budget bill submitted by the executive.

It is most significant to note that in all three caucus

groups there was a marked tendency to leave effective decision-

making on important national legislation or politically loaded

legislation in the hands of the jefes and a handful of respec-
ted caucus members. There were clear indications that dis-

cussions within the PLN and PR fracciones tended to be limited

largely to the participation of a reduced number of deputies.

Within the PLN caucus a group of seven or eight deputies not

only raised most of the questions which were discussed but also

were the most frequent and recurrent discussants. Decisions

tended to be taken on the basis of the arguments presented by

these deputies. The same group also appeared to be that which

the jefe worked with most closely in coordinating and estab-

lishing party strategies outside of the formal fracci6n meet-

ings. Conversations with the PR deputies indicated that the

same held true in their caucus but that the group of influen-

tials consisted of no more than three or four deputies. In

order to avoid suggesting a misleading conclusion, it should

be stated that in the vast proportion of cases cohesion in

caucus behavior was usually the product of the normal influence

of the well-versed over the relatively inexperienced and

untrained rather than the product of impositions from some

external party structure or an autocratic internal leadership.

The national and fracci6n leaders did have the means of

applying sanctions against recalcil-rant deputies if they had

wished to. The national leaders could make credible threats

of cutting the individual in question off from any future

appointive or elective positions. The fraccidn leader could

deny collaboration in the pursuit of matters of interest to

the individuals. In the PLN, available sanctions were more

varied, given its control of dte presidency of the Assembly.

Deputies from this party could also be denied assignment to

desirable committees and appointment to groups traveling abroad

in representation of the Assembly. PLN control of all but

one of the committees also allowed for conscious sabotage of

bills of interest to a party maverick. But such sanction

mechanisms were seldom invoked. The failure to do so was due,

at least in part, to the fact that a majority of the deputies

viewed national decision-making, that most likely to draw

party attention, as a field best left to the direction of

others. Interestingly enough, it would appear that the self-

image of independence held by most Costa Rican deputies may

well be sustainable given the fact that they do not choose

to or do not have occasion to challenge the party. If they

did, this self-image would probably have been far less marked

than it was found to be.

Local party structures or leaders played a limited part

in providing inputs into the legislative party sub-system.

Few of the respondents gave any indication that there was a

local party organization with which they could deal. And

there is good reason to believe that the deputies who responded

in the affirmative were referring either to (1) contacts with

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