U.S. First Lady Laura Bush, during a whirlwind visit to San José as the head of her country’s official delegation to President Oscar Arias’ inauguration, discussed education and literacy at a school in San Joaquín de Flores, northwest of the capital; passed on her best wishes to Arias; and defended U.S. actions in Iraq.
Bush, who arrived late Sunday night and left Monday afternoon, applauded Arias’ campaign pledge to devote increased attention to education when she participated in an education roundtable at the Escuela de los Estados Unidos before the inauguration. In a brief and tightly choreographed appearance, the First Lady listened to students perform the school song and a flute medley including The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine,” then participated in the 25-minute roundtable discussion.
Moderated by Wolfgang Reuther, director of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for Central America, the roundtable also included U.S. Ambassador Mark Langdale; Ann Veneman, executive director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); Arias’ new Education Minister, Leonardo Garnier; and other Costa Rican educational leaders.
Garnier told Bush teacher training and inequality are among the most serious challenges facing Costa Rican education.
“Sometimes Costa Rica has this prestige of being a highly educated country,” he said, but upon closer examination “there are huge differences between… schools.”
Bush emphasized the importance of local control over education and ensuring teachers learn about the latest educational research.
Following the conversation, she donated books to the Mayor Thomas Lynch Public Library in the Caribbean port city of Limón as part of the U.S. government’s “American Corner” program to make information about the United States available abroad.
She told the press she was “thrilled” to head the U.S. delegation and added that there is “a strong link between our countries.”
After attending the inauguration, the First Lady met briefly with Arias and fellow delegation heads at the National Culture Center (CENAC) – where Arias has proposed moving his presidential office – before heading to Juan Santamaría International Airport, where she delivered some parting remarks.
“As a teacher and librarian myself, I love to visit schools around the world and I know that you have quite a treasure in your children,” Bush told reporters and Costa Rican officials minutes before boarding her return flight. “I want to wish President Arias, the Education Minister and all the teachers and children in Costa Rica the very best as everyone focuses on education to make sure every single child in Costa Rica gets a great education.”
In an interview with the daily La Nación early Monday morning, she responded to a question about the war in Iraq by saying the United States “doesn’t want war; the United States wants peace… but the situation required a government response.” She told the daily she is optimistic that her husband’s popularity, at its all-time low, will increase.
Tico Times reporter Leland Baxter-Neal contributed to this article.