San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Chinchilla: New Challenges for 2010 Presidency

Often called President Oscar Arias’ hand picked replacement, Laura Chinchilla has enjoyed a wide base of support since she first stepped onto the campaign trail in October of 2008.

Yet, even more than the verbal backing of the standing president, it’s been the people she’s met in the streets of San José or in the dirt plazas of rural villages who have pumped her campaign with energy, she said.

The former vice president, who also served as the first female Public Security Minister (1996-1998), said she has had to invest additional effort to prove her experience and leadership capability as a woman. But, people have been quick to join her campaign as soon as they meet her, learn of her experience and witness her strength of character, she said.

A graduate of the University of Costa Rica with a master’s degree in public policy from GeorgetownUniversity, Chinchilla served as a consultant for various firms until 1990, specializing in judicial and public security reform.

She followed her father, Rafael Angel Chinchilla, a longtime Comptroller General of the nation, into public service, serving first as Public Security Vice Minister (1994-1996) and then as head of the ministry (1996-1998). As Public Security Minister, she worked to modernize the police force, end political patronage in the police force and counter drug trafficking.

She also served in the Legislative Assembly for a term and as president of the Anti-Drug Intelligence Bureau (CICAD), President of the National Council of Migration, and member of the National Drug Council, the National Council of Security and the Academic Council of the NationalPoliceAcademy.

Chinchilla, who turned 50 while on the campaign trail in March, told The Tico Times that her priorities for the country include making Costa Rica safer through stricter laws and judicial measures, combating poverty, pursuing equality for women and preserving the country’s natural resources.

She sat down with The Tico Times last week to reflect on the campaign, describe the risks to Costa Rica’s national well-being and expound upon her vision for the country.

TT: How is the campaign going for you?

LCh: In these last weeks as we approach the convention, the rhythm of the campaign is going well. We… sense it in the streets where we are spending the most amount of time, and also in meetings with the leadership of the National Liberation Party (PLN) and meetings with the base of the party. As the day of the election approaches, more people understand the importance of this decision. They are thinking very carefully, and … the conclusion that they are drawing … is that the best leader for the country right now is Laura Chinchilla.

How does the support of Oscar Arias affect your campaign?

The president cannot get involved in the campaign because there are prohibitions against it. The constitution impedes (an endorsement). Yet, he has talked about my character and the leadership I can offer to Costa Rica, and that moral support is very important for me.

Because you worked with Oscar Arias, would your presidency be similar?

Each president uses a different stamp, a different style of governing… You can’t pretend that every government is the same because it depends a lot on the form, on the personality, on the style of leadership that each person brings to the position.

But we share a lot in common. We agree on a lot of the same policies. We believe that Costa Rica must continue pursuing an open and globalized economy. We believe that Costa Rica can achieve more economic success and continue to build on its social policies. And we believe that Costa Rica needs to be competitive in our production and invest in our infrastructure. In these areas, the government is working very well. Not only because we are … opening the commercial sector, but because of (his work) in social policies – the flagship of his government – and in education…

And how would your government be different?

It is true that I will carry on a lot of the work that Oscar Arias initiated. But we are faced with additional challenges. We are going to need to work on an economic plan because our country is in the middle of one of the biggest recessions in world history… To plan for that is going to require a lot of attention. Another of the challenges before us is fighting organized crime and drugs. The next government will be tasked with these two challenges. (Therefore), there will be a new emphasis.

What is it like to be a woman on the campaign trail?

Being a woman, I feel you have to work harder at demonstrating you are capable. A result of many women having entered the professional world is that they have made it easier for women to hold positions like this. What many people are seeing, when they compare me to the other presidential candidates, is that I have more government experience. I am more aware of the problems of the country and I am in the best position to address them.

How do the people from the towns and cities respond to you?

…I’ve had a very good response from the people: The interaction with the people charges me with energy. It fills me with excitement and hope. I am enjoying meeting with people because it brings me closer to the afflictions and problems of the people in the country, especially the poorest people…. It’s a relationship that generates love and confidence which, for me, is the most important thing, to inspire confidence in the people of Costa Rica.

If you could change something about Costa Rica right now, what would it be?

At this moment, I would like Costa Rica to be a country in which we all feel safe walking in the streets, gathering outside ….enjoying the parks … this is the Costa Rica we all dream about and this is why we propose, over anything else … that safety concerns need to be addressed … to change the future of this country for the better.

What is your vision for Costa Rica?

I feel deeply privileged to be Costa Rican. I believe that Costa Rica has many accomplishments, especially for a country our size. And for our geographic location, Costa Rica has accomplished a lot in terms of democracy … of freedom of expression, of protection and human rights, in the area of human development, sustainable development, in the area of economic development and technology …. So it gives

me great pride to be Costa Rican.

The key to our success has been our capacity to understand that the end, the purpose, of all the policies and decisions we make is for the people. And we can and we will continue to concern ourselves with developing and improving our people so that the country you see will be a country where the people are the axis.

What is your greatest achievement for Costa Rica?

There’s not just one because all are very important to me. One would be our work to professionalize the police force in 1996 …

Another one is our fight for women, such as protection against sexual abuse in the workplace and women’s rights. And finally, the national center for combating drug addictions … drugs are a national pandemic … we were able to build the first center to combat drug addictions in the country.


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