Saturday, 8th May 2010 saw the transfer of power from President Oscar Arias to Laura Chinchilla. The new president has a hard act to follow. Eighty percent of Costa Ricans polled by Cid-Gallup consider the country to be in a better state now that when the outgoing president took power four years ago (La Republica). And if that wasn’t enough, Arias is internationally well-known and well-regarded after being awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 in recognition of his diplomatic efforts to bring agreement between Central American countries.
Who is Laura Chinchilla?
Laura Chinchilla was born into a middle-class, political, Costa Rican family on the 3rd of March 1959. (Her father was a comptroller of Costa Rica from 1972 to 1987.) After graduating from the University of Costa Rica, she went on to earn her MA in Public Policy at Georgetown University in the USA. She is married with a teenage son and is comfortable combining her role as traditional wife and mother with being the 54th President of Costa Rica.
Chinchilla was a known face in Costa Rican politics before beginning her Presidential campaign. She was one of two of Arias’ Vice-Presidents, only resigning her post to concentrate on her presidential run. She received the backing of Arias as the PLN (Partido Liberacion Nacional) electoral candidate and was successfully voted in as the official candidate for the party. Chinchilla went on to win just under 50% of the final election votes to confirm her as president of the country. Many in opposition suggest that she is simply a PLN puppet; continuing the work of Arias who cannot serve another office himself under the country’s constitution. She will surely be keen to prove herself her own woman. One of her first decisions in power was to stop open-pit mining, which had been reintroduced under the Arias regime, suggesting her independence from her famous predecessor from the word ‘go’.
Chinchilla’s election motto was ‘Firm and Honest’; presumably appealing to the Costa Rican’s increasing dissatisfaction with rising crime rates and disappointment in the revelations of presidential corruption in previous governments. Her speech at the inauguration stated her commitment to the environment, fighting organized crime and improving Costa Rica’s economy through encouraging investment in biotechnology, organic agriculture and aerospace technology.
Costa Rica is proud to have elected their first female President and many view this as a positive step towards confronting the long-standing machismo or sexism in the country. Those who hope that a female president will be sympathetic towards female issues could be disappointed, however. The Presidenta is conservative in her views, in accordance with her Catholic beliefs; she supports the continuation of Costa Rica’s legal ban of abortion and includes the Morning After Pill as part of this. She has also publicly opposed the proposition that homosexuals should be given equal marriage rights as heterosexuals.
Optimism is a Costa Rican trait and the mood is a positive one, as Laura Chinchilla begins her term of office. She has four years to make her mark!