On Wednesday, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla stopped by Washington, DC to participate in a forum hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, her second visit to the U.S. in the past year.
Chinchilla – vice-president under her Nobel Prize-winning predecessor, Oscar Arias – became Costa Rica’s first female president last May after soundly defeating two opponents. She has generally continued Arias’ centrist, pro-market policies and is viewed as one of the United States’ most reliable allies in the region. Part of her trip focused on tapping new foreign investment in Costa Rica, especially in the burgeoning technology sector – one of her priorities since promising in her inaugural address to “work for a more innovative, more intelligent, more enterprising Costa Rica with a new economy encouraged by biotechnology, organic agriculture, the audiovisual industry and the aerospace and aviation industries.”
Her speech at the Chamber focused on the close relationship between Costa Rica and the United States, citing CAFTA-DR as an example of deepening integration between the two countries. She also acknowledged the challenges facing Costa Rica. Chief among them is growing crime, some of it organized and much of it drug-related. Mexico’s escalating drug war has rippled across Central America, with spillover effects felt most profoundly in Guatemala and other small, unstable states. The Economist reports that the murder rate has doubled in Guatemala over the past decade, with only one out of every 20 murders being resolved by the justice system. But even Costa Rica, long an island of stability in the region, has seen the effects as well.
A U.S. diplomatic cable, drafted in late 2009 and recently published by Wikileaks and the national daily La Nacion, exposed growing American worries about rising crime in Costa Rica. The cable stated that Costa Rica was “no longer safe” and warned that security could deteriorate to level on par with El Salvador within a decade or less. Statistics have shown worrying trends for homicides and arrests related to drug crime.
Yet, Costa Rica, which registered a 3.6 percent economic growth rate in 2010, still remains a pillar of regional stability and prosperity. One of the world’s oldest democracies, it largely escaped the wrenching Cold War struggles that paralyzed neighboring Central American nations. It continues to enjoy the highest standard of living among its neighbors, a European-style welfare state and a life expectancy close to that of the United States.
Following her visit to the Chamber, Chinchilla was also scheduled to deliver a commencement address at Georgetown, her alma mater, on Saturday. Previous stops on her visit to the U.S. include Stanford, the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute.