San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

World Leaders Laud Costa Rica Vote

The election of Costa Rica’s first female president has been cause for applause in the region, stirring some nations to wonder when they will be next.

Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom said his country is ready for the milestone.

“I think so, there could be a woman president (here),” he told newswire AFP this week, adding that “Guatemala has changed a lot since the signing of the peace accord (in 1996)” that ended a 36-year civil war.

Costa Rica’s neighbor to the north, Nicaragua, is among the Latin American nations that have already had a female president. It is one of a growing list of such countries, including Argentina, Chile, Panama, and, briefly, Bolivia and Ecuador.

Nicaragua’s vice president, Jaime Morales, expressed optimism that the win in Costa Rica by Laura Chinchilla, of the National Liberation Party (PLN), will help improve relations between the two countries, which have sometimes cooled during the administration of President Oscar Arias.

“Without a doubt, with the new president of Costa Rica, relations with Nicaragua will harmonize much more,” Morales said, according to the newswire EFE. He said friction between Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and Arias have not been “rows, but rather conceptual differences of criteria and personality.”

The vice president took the opportunity to compliment the Tica president-elect’s character and looks.

“Laura is a disciple of President Arias, although she has her own trajectory, Morales said. “She’s very competent, pleasant, frank, with a nice presence, and pretty at that,” Morales said.

Chinchilla pledged that Costa Rica-Nicaragua relations will receive “special attention” in her diplomatic agenda. She pointed out that Arias took on the prickly issue of the San Juan River, a natural border between the nations that culminated with a decision of the International Court of Justice in The Hague in the Netherlands last July (TT, July 17, 2009). “With that issue resolved, I’m confident we can move closer to one another as much as possible,” she said on Wednesday, according to the daily La Nación.

The United States, a close ally, touched base with the president-elect a few days after her victory. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs confirmed that United States President Barack Obama had called Chinchilla to congratulate her.

In a statement to the press, the U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica also sent congratulations and said the recently arrived Ambassador Anne S. Andrew “hopes to forge a strong relationship with the president-elect, her cabinet and new members of the Legislative Assembly, with the goal of confronting our common challenges and advancing toward our shared interests.”

A Colombian government communiqué extended Chinchilla “best wishes for a successful administration.”

Leonel Fernández, president of the Dominican Republic, applauded Costa Rica’s sound electoral process, according to news reports out of the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo.

Spain congratulated Costa Rica, too. Its governing Spanish Socialist Workers Party issued a statement saying it is confident Chinchilla will continue the “social democratic policies” that will enable the country “to continue leading one of the soundest progressive projects of Central America,” Europa Press reported.

Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero also saluted the soon to-be Tica president with “warm congratulations.”

Sunday’s elections process received good marks from international observers as well.

“Citizens made their choice at the polls, participating actively from the opening until the closing of the voting stations,” María Emma Mejía, head of the mission sent by the Organization of American States, said in a statement. “From the day I arrived, Costa Rica gave yet another piece of proof of civility and democratic responsibility.”

While she prepares to take office three months from now, Chinchilla already is poised to make a splash on the international stage at the Feb. 21 summit of Latin American and Caribbean leaders in Cancun, Mexico.

Said Arias, “Latin America will have the opportunity to see why we Costa Ricans elected Laura to lead our country for the next four years.”

–With Wire Reports

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