San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

New U.S. Ambassador Learning the Ropes

At the same time a woman is taking the helm of the Costa Rican presidency for the first time in the country’s history, a woman also is assuming leadership of the United States Embassy in Costa Rica for the first time.

Anne Slaughter Andrew, a native of Indiana and an environmental consultant by trade, was appointed U.S. ambassador to Costa Rica on Christmas Eve, replacing Peter Cianchette, who was appointed to the post by former President George W. Bush. Andrew, who most recently served as a principal in the Washington, D.C.-based company New Energy Nexus, arrived in the country on Jan. 10 with her two teenaged children.

Her husband, Joe Andrew, who served as Democratic National Committee chairman between 1999 and 2001 and whose endorsement of current U.S. President Barack Obama was instrumental in his campaign, will join the family on weekends, as he maintains a law firm in Washington, D.C.

Andrew said she believes she’s a good fit for Costa Rica as her background in clean energy and conservation can complement the country’s priorities in environmental fields.

A graduate of GeorgetownUniversity and the Indiana School of Law in Indianapolis, Andrew has worked in an advisory capacity to environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club and The Nature Conservancy.

Her prior experience includes positions as co-chair of the environment/energy team at the Indianapolis-based law firm of Baker & Daniels, a partner at the Washington, D.C., law firm of Patton & Boggs and co-founder of a medical bio-tech consulting company, Anson Group LLC, where she was an owner and director from 2004 to 2007.

Nearly a month into her new job in Costa Rica, Andrew met with The Tico Times to talk about the transition, her first impressions of Costa Rica and what she hopes to accomplish during her tenure.

TT: How are you settling in?

AA: It’s been great. … My children have started school and we’ve gotten settled in at home and I’ve had a great opportunity to spend the first week really focused on meeting all the people here at the embassy, which was my priority … Since then, I have had the opportunity to begin to make some of the courtesy calls, both on members of the diplomatic corps and on the ministers of the current government.

What convinced you to accept this post?

Accepting it was a great honor. I had been very interested in entering public service for quite a long time so it was a terrific opportunity for me, particularly to serve in President Obama’s administration. Costa Rica, as a country, was of particular interest to me because of my background in clean energy and environmental matters. Knowing the commitment of this country to conservation and to clean energy, I thought there were great opportunities where I could serve the president (Obama) and his agenda.

Do you have a vision in that area, in terms of how you want to bring your environmental background into your work here and any initiatives that you would like to direct your attention to?

As you know, President Obama is very focused on clean energy and climate change matters. One of the reasons why those are of great interest to the president is that it is proven that a clean energy economy can also be an economy of job growth and sustained economic growth. In that regard, I hope we can work closely with Costa Rica as it looks at the (potential) of the clean energy economy – both in terms of the opportunities it presents for the U.S. economy, as well as the opportunities it presents for the Costa Rican economy.

Were you nervous about uprooting and moving your family to a new country?

We weren’t nervous at all. We have moved several times with our family in the U.S., and each time we have found it to be a very rewarding experience. We knew that this also would be a rewarding experience.

Were your kids okay with it?

I have two teenagers. They are very much enjoying the opportunity to learn a new language and a new culture. They are very impressed with the gracious hospitality of their Tico friends. I think that they will be better citizens of the world after this experience.

You say that you’ve always been interested in public service. Why?

Growing up, my father was very engaged in the political process, and he believed greatly in the value of democracy and the right to vote. I guess he instilled in me a great respect for what our government offers us. I had hoped someday to serve in an administration and, with my career and my children, this was the right time.

What were your impressions of Costa Rica before you arrived?

My family and I visited Costa Rica about six or eight years ago, and we had done a lot of reading about the country before we came. So we were very familiar with its commitment to environmental conservation and its biodiversity, but also the graciousness of the people. When we arrived, everything that we had expected and learned about Costa Rica from afar has proved to be true.

Now that you are living here, have your impressions changed?

It is different. To live somewhere is very different than to visit. I think one of the benefits of living here is you have a chance to get to know people who are here in Costa Rica on a much more personal level and that is a great benefit. People here are engaged in their country and in the issues of their country. They are very kind people and very gracious. After coming from Washington, D.C., with its rather chaotic lifestyle, the pura vida lifestyle is a wonderful experience.

Have you been able to enjoy that pura vida lifestyle at all or have you been going a mile a minute?

We’ve been doing both. I have been taking advantage of the opportunity to get to know everyone here at the embassy and to begin to know the ministry and the people of Costa Rica.

We have also had the chance to sightsee and get to know people outside of San José. We have been to the beach (Esterillos, on the central Pacific) and we’ve been to Poás (Volcano, northwest of San José). We look forward to making a number of visits around the country.

I think one of the great opportunities – and obligations – of an ambassador is to engage in people-to-people diplomacy. So I am very much looking forward to spending a lot of time getting to know the people and places of the country in a first-hand way.

What’s your personal goal here?

My personal goal in accepting this job is to serve President Obama and the American people. It is a great honor and one that I am humbled by and one that I am committed to.

How is the Spanish coming?

Bién. I am continuing to study Spanish and hope that I can be proficient. I studied Spanish in high school and college so I came with some background in the Spanish language. In many of my discussions here, I don’t want to miss any nuance or interesting information.

Do you have a tutor or classes?

I try to take advantage of learning Spanish at every opportunity.

What do you miss about being in the United States?

I think in this day in age, when you have Internet and you have CNN, I honestly don’t think I miss anything. If you want to talk to your friends, you use Skype. If you wish to read the New York Times, you get online and read the New York Times. I think that Costa Rica is a wonderful country, and we are just enjoying living here. We are not finding anything in particular that we are missing.

You’re the first female to be servingin your post, right? What do you think about Costa Rica electing its first female president and the opportunity to serve alongside her?

I had the opportunity earlier today to congratulate (President-elect) Laura Chinchilla on her election … I think it is a tribute to the Costa Rican people that they have elected someone for her abilities, for her experience, for her credentials, and they did so being gender-blind. However, the fact that Costa Rica now has a woman president is a wonderful symbolic event, particularly for all the young girls, who now know that they can grow up someday to be president of their country.

Is there a message you want to get across to U.S. citizens living in Costa Rica?

One thing that I do hope that we can convey is that one of the primary responsibilities of the embassy and the ambassador is the security of U.S. citizens, whether they are U.S. citizens who are here visiting or are living here in Costa Rica. The security of U.S. citizens here is important to us, and it is something to which we pay attention.

I am very proud of the consular services that the embassy offers to U.S. citizens. I have been heartened by a number of stories – in the brief period of time that I have been here – of the services they have provided. They are very professional and very caring, and I think the experiences that U.S. citizens have had with our consular services bear that out.

How about yourself personally? Is there anything that you want U.S. citizens living here to know about who you are?

I think people would suppose, based upon the paths I have taken, that I am an adventurous sort who is willing to take risks. At the same time, I think there is a great value in what you find in your own backyard, so I am delighted to explore this country and the opportunities that are before me. But, I am also very much looking forward to getting to know those people who are our neighbors and our fellow citizens in this country.

Is it true that there is a secret passageway from the U.S. Embassy to Casa Presidencial in Zapote?

If there is, it’s a secret from all of us.

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