San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Swiss Ambassador: Costa Rica and Switzerland Share Common Ground

A typical working day in the life of Swiss Ambassador to Costa Rica Gabriela Nützi Sulpizio begins at 7:30 a.m. in her quiet corner office 10 floors above downtown San José.

Because of the eight-hour time difference between Costa Rica and Central Europe, the ambassador first checks her e-mail and phone messages from the homeland. The first of two daily meetings with her deputy Doris Wälchli Giraud and the embassy’s nine staff members is scheduled for 9:30 a.m.

Next on the agenda is the exchange of information with the Swiss consulates in Nicaragua and Panama, both subordinate to the embassy in Costa Rica. Before she has lunch with business partners and government officials, Nützi receives guests or makes visits.

The afternoon is designated for desk work and arrangements for upcoming events, such as the celebration of the Swiss national holiday Aug. 1.At 6 p.m., the ambassador attends one of the numerous cultural or social events organized by the embassy. After hosting a dinner for members of the diplomatic corps, Nützi ends her day later in the evening.

Asked why she became a diplomat, Nützi answers easily: “I wanted to do something for my country and people. And the chance to live and work abroad in terms of four years is an enriching and rewarding experience.”

Known for her open management style and sense of humor, Nützi has served as Swiss ambassador to Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama since January 2004. The aim of the mission is to represent the Swiss government and people in their relations with these Central American countries. She and her team provide commercial, consular and information services, as well as international judicial assistance. The embassy also plays an active role in caring for the region’s 2,200 registered Swiss citizens, 1,445 of whom live in Costa Rica.

Switzerland and Costa Rica share common ground in being small, neutral countries that play an important role on the political parquet, Nützi says. Both countries are committed to promotion of human rights, peaceful settlement of disputes and protection of the environment.

“During my travels across the country, I noticed another commonality with Switzerland: decentralization. Even in the smallest town, there is a public school, telephone and health clinic,” stresses the ambassador, who says she appreciates the cordiality and helpfulness of Costa Ricans, but would like to see the country’s road infrastructure improved.

In line with foreign-policy objectives defined in the Swiss Constitution, the embassy administers funds to help finance an array of projects, ranging from promotion of democracy and peaceful coexistence among peoples, respect for human rights and relieving poverty to preservation of the natural environment.

Among the organizations assisted by the Swiss Embassy in Costa Rica are the UnitedNations-mandatedUniversity for Peace (UPEACE) in Ciudad Colón, southwest of San José, and the Tropical Agronomy Research Center (CATIE) in the Caribbean slope town of Turrialba.

Collaborating with local authorities and institutions, the embassy helps protect women from human trafficking and promotes consumer protection and competitiveness of small businesses.

“We recently launched an education campaign for schoolchildren, introducing them to their own rights, and also started a successful aid program for women who manufacture handbags from recycled materials at home,” Nützi says.

Projects in the neighboring countries include the installation of a hydroelectric power plant in Bilampi, Nicaragua, and the restoration of an ancient chapel in Natá, Panama.

In all three countries, the Swiss Embassy organizes exhibitions, music, dance, film and theater performances to foster understanding among cultures. The border-crossing art project Flying Carpet, shown in March in Costa Rica’s northwestern province of Guanacaste (TT, Feb. 23), will be exhibited in Nicaragua and Panama in the fall. Another cultural highlight is Switzerland’s participation in the annual Francophone Festival, coordinated by representatives of Frenchspeaking countries in Costa Rica and its neighbors to the north and south.

The daughter of a physician, Nützi grew up in Switzerland’s northeastern canton of St. Gallen. As a child, she was eager to learn about the world and its people. She studied political science in Berne and Paris and received a master’s degree in liberal arts.

In 1981 she began her career in the diplomatic service, bringing to the job 26 years of experience in Canada, Argentina and Spain, as well as at the permanent mission of Switzerland to the United Nations office in Geneva.At present, Nützi is the only woman ambassador representing Switzerland in all of the Americas.

“It is a great satisfaction to represent the new, progressive Switzerland, where women weren’t granted voting rights until 1971,” she says.

The ambassador’s private life takes place on weekends and during holidays. Nützi, her husband and their two teenage daughters like to ski in Switzerland, hike and picnic in Costa Rica’s mountains and visit the beaches.

When the ambassadorial residence’s employees have time off, the family prepares their meals themselves. One of their favorite recipes is salmon baked in a sea-salt crust.

Asked about her future plans, Nützi replies: “For my next term of office, I would like to serve my country on another continent.”

The Swiss in Costa Rica

Switzerland, officially the Swiss Confederation, is a landlocked, alpine country in Western Europe, bordered by Germany, France, Italy, Austria and Liechtenstein. The country measures 41,288 square kilometers and has a population of more than 7 million. Its capital is Berne. Switzerland’s culture is influenced by its geography and multilingualism, having four national languages: German, French, Italian and Romansh.

The Swiss Confederation was founded on Aug. 1, 1291, more than 700 years ago. The direct democracy became a federal state in 1848. The country maintains a tradition of political and military neutrality. Its recent history is characterized by political stability, economic progress, increased social security and a new openness and tolerance.

With one of the highest per-capita incomes in the world, Switzerland has a strong economy in finance and banking. Its political stability and neutral background allow it to host various international organizations, such as the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG), the organization’s biggest duty station outside the New York-based headquarters. Serving more than 8,000 meetings every year, UNOG is one of the busiest intergovernmental conference centers in the world and a focal point for multilateral diplomacy.

More than 600,000 Swiss nationals live abroad, two-thirds of them in Europe. In reference to the country’s four linguistic areas, the Swiss abroad are known as the “Fifth Switzerland.”

The country’s constitution charges the federal government with promoting cohesion among expatriates and maintaining their relations with the homeland. The Swiss abroad were granted voting rights in 1992. Institutions such as embassies, clubs, cultural centers and Swiss schools help them remain in touch with their country.

The first Swiss immigrants came to Costa Rica in 1850. They helped to improve the economy, education and health care of the country. From 1890 to 1914, cattle was imported to develop dairy farming.

With the arrival of Swiss educator, botanist and naturalist Henri Pittier (1857-1950), the origins of modern science in Coast Rica began. Pittier was the first to create a map of the country, and also promoted and founded several important institutions, such as the National Observatory, National Herbarium, Agricultural Society and the Geographical and Meteorological Institutes. Costa Rica’s 2,869-meter-high MountPittier, close to the Panamanian border, was named in honor of the indefatigable scientist.

The Swiss Confederation has had a consulate in Costa Rica since 1912, and appointed its first ambassador, Dr. Johann Bucher, in 1986.

According to the Swiss Embassy, Switzerland is among the leading countries in the world when it comes to direct investment in foreign markets. The cement producer Holcím, food concern Nestlé and drug manufacturer Novartis are some of the firms present in Costa Rica, and many Swiss citizens have invested in the hotel and tourism industry here.

The Swiss Embassy is located on the 10th floor of the Colón building on Paseo Colón in San José, open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to noon. For information, call 221-4829, 222-3229 or 233-0052, or visit

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