IN his last public speech as U.S. Ambassador to Costa Rica, John J. Danilovich this week bid a fond farewell to the country, discussed the future of the proposed Central America Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA) and expressed concern about the way the Costa Rican government has handled concessions awarded to U.S. companies.The speech was given Wednesday at the monthly luncheon of the Costa Rican- American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) at the Costa Rica Marriott Hotel in Belén, northwest of San José.Danilovich has served as ambassador to Costa Rica since October 2001. In February, U.S. President George W. Bush nominated Danilovich as U.S. ambassador to Brazil. The U.S. Senate still must approve his nomination.Although it is not known when the Senate will vote on the nomination, Danilovich will step down as ambassador to Costa Rica later this month, according to the U.S. Embassy in San José.A replacement ambassador has not yet been nominated. In the meantime, Chief of Mission Douglas M. Barnes will be the top diplomatic representative of the United States in Costa Rica, according to the embassy.DURING his farewell speech, Danilovich paid homage to the longstanding ties between Costa Rica and the United States.“Here in Costa Rica we are fortunate because we all do speak a common philosophical language, and the shared values of democracy and freedom have long made the United States and Costa Rica strong and stable allies,” he said. “…Our common values have a significant impact on our bilateral relations and have made possible the achievements we’ve attained in the last few years.”The ambassador spoke candidly about CAFTA, calling it one of the “greatest accomplishments” in relations between Costa Rica and Central America, one that will serve as an “engine for future economic growth in the region.”DANILOVICH said he doubts the U.S. Congress will begin debating CAFTA before the November presidential and congressional elections. The U.S. Congress will end its current session in July, and will not reconvene until after the elections.“It is a very difficult time for the U.S. Congress as a result of the situation in Iraq,” he said. “Most of the time they have left will be concentrated on that issue. I think that treaty won’t be discussed until the next session of Congress.”Danilovich said CAFTA would be debated, at the earliest, during the “lameduck” period of Congress – the time between the election and when newly elected leaders take office – if not later.He said he is confident CAFTA will be ratified by all seven participating countries in 2005.THE ambassador also took the opportunity to discuss the need for Costa Rica to resolve its disputes with U.S. companies to which it has awarded public works concessions.“One area that continues to raise grave concern is public sector concessions,” he said.“Quite frankly, and without attributing any specific blame, it is clear that public sector concessions need to be closely monitored. It must be understood that any responsible, potential investors will take serious note of this situation,” he added.“THIS is a problem for the country and the North American companies that come to work here,” he explained. “For many years they have had problems with the government. I think it is important for the government to solve these problems, especially once it begins the fight to get CAFTA approved.”Danilovich specifically mentioned conflicts between the Costa Rican government and Alterra Partners, the consortium that holds a 20-year contract to remodel and operate Juan Santamaría International Airport (see separate story), and Harken, whose contract to conduct oil explorations off the country’s Caribbean coast is in dispute.The Ambassador recommended Costa Rica’s government and the private sector team up to find “common-sense remedies” to these disputes.DANILOVICH concluded by thanking Costa Rica for being a friend and partner of the United States in the fight against drug trafficking, exploitation of children, human trafficking and terrorism. He congratulated Costa Rica on its human rights track record and particularly on its tough stance against Cuba’s human rights record (TT, May 7).“We value Costa Rica’s leadership in so many issues facing the hemisphere, especially on issues of human rights, including championing the rights of the people of Cuba,” he said.As Danilovich bid farewell to the country, he promised to maintain his commitment to improving relations between the countries.“I want you to know that, after I leave Costa Rica, whether in Brazil or elsewhere, you will always have a friend in me – just as I have always felt that I have a friend in you,” he concluded.