San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

U.S. ambassador in Costa Rica wraps up term this week

U.S. Ambassador Anne S. Andrew leaves Costa Rica on Saturday after leading the embassy team since December 2009. Her last day on the job is Friday.

Andrew said she plans to return to the private sector in the United States after leaving the State Department. But she won’t leave Costa Rica behind entirely, she said, and has accepted a position on the board of directors at EARTH University, where she hopes to utilize her broad experience in sustainable development.

Andrew and her husband, Joe Andrew, a former national chairman of the Democratic National Committee, have two teenage children, who have spent the past four years studying, volunteering and enjoying Costa Rica’s beaches, jungles and wildlife.

U.S. President Barack Obama has not yet named her successor.

A 2012 internal inspection report by the State Department’s Inspector General noted that, “the embassy’s policy direction and advocacy, led by the Ambassador, is strong and effective.” It also said that, “The embassy’s law enforcement working group and many informal channels have ensured strong and effective collaboration among U.S. agencies and sections working to help improve Costa Rican public security institutions to counter criminal activity and narcotics trafficking.”

Andrew recently sat down with The Tico Times to discuss her accomplishments, challenges and Obama administration goals in the region.

Excerpts follow:

TT: You’re married (to Joe Andrew) with two teenage kids. How has the experience of living in Costa Rica been for you and your family? What did you do for fun?

ASA: Being here with my family and having two teenage children was a wonderful way for me to get to know the culture in a way that I think other people don’t get to know, to appreciate the schools and the way the school systems work, to get to know better the role of soccer and sports and young people, and how they relate to it. So it was a wonderful opportunity for me to get to know the country perhaps in a way that other ambassadors don’t get the chance to understand.

For my children, it was a great opportunity to really learn about a different culture and see the world from a really different perspective than they would have if they would have stayed in the U.S. for high school.

I understand you took up birding while you were here.

I have, much to my children’s dismay. I love to go birding, and my children like to go to the beach. But we did get a chance to travel quite a lot and, actually, my son had a chance to have an internship at Ad Astra Rocket Company (Tico astronaut Franklin Chang’s engineering company in the northwestern province of Guanacaste) and learn more about being an entrepreneur.

My daughter had a chance to spend several weeks down in the Osa Peninsula helping to track big cats with photo traps, and she volunteered at (educational NGO) Don Bosco. So, I think their experiences enriched my experience in learning about the country – both the natural world and the challenges and neighborhoods that struggle.

You are the first woman to serve as U.S. ambassador to Costa Rica during the administration of the first woman to serve as Costa Rica’s president. What, if anything, does that mean to you?

And the first woman head of the Supreme Court! On the one hand, I think it’s always important to celebrate these milestones in opportunities for women, and I think it’s important for more than any other reason to encourage younger women to pursue their dreams.

At the same time, I think that women are as capable as men and that when a woman is president or a woman is ambassador, it should be of no more remarkable feat than is our gender counterparts when men are elected president or serve as ambassadors.

Coming into the position, your goals were development, enhanced security, environmental protection and particularly clean energy. Do you feel you fulfilled those goals?

What I had hoped to do was to work within our embassy and with our great embassy team to develop strategies in partnership with Costa Rica that would have impact in the areas of prosperity, security and clean energy. Those are the areas of greatest concern to Costa Rica, those are the areas that President Obama first outlined in 2009 for the partnership across the Americas, and those have been the strategies of our embassy.

So, I think we have been very successful in aligning our work with Costa Rica and with President Obama’s vision, and have seen great success in a number of the program areas. Our goal was not to establish shared prosperity, or establish clean energy, our goal was to work in partnership to advance the opportunities, and I think in that regard we’ve been very successful.

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One of the things that Central America is asking for to reduce carbon emissions is the discounted importation of liquefied natural gas from the United States. Is that possible?

Whether or not natural gas from the U.S. will be exported to Central America, as President Obama said, is a matter that requires executive decision and other types of permits. But what I think the president committed to is that if there was an opportunity for export to Central America, he certainly was going to give that a high priority.

At the same time, I would offer that in order to be prepared for natural gas as a potential source of renewables for Central America, or any of the other types of renewables that are under research and consideration – even the newest generation of solar and wind power – Costa Ricans and Central Americans need to put in place a stronger investment environment to encourage the kinds of investments and financing that are necessary to bring those types of energy sources to these countries.

Costa Rica’s goal is to be carbon-neutral by 2021. What is your advice to achieve that goal?

With climate change, the goal of carbon neutrality by 2021 may be more aspirational than obtainable. However, the aspiration is still an important goal for Costa Ricans and for our global community. Costa Rica needs to be very focused on what sources of energy can replace hydropower, which is going to be significantly impacted by climate change.

I know that Costa Rica is looking at alternative sources, and the Costa Rican government and people need to be focused on what those opportunities are. Because using bunker fuel as an alternative from an environmental perspective is certainly not helping Costa Rica attain a carbon-neutral goal.

Given the recent energy crisis in Panama, the debate about big hydro projects is increasingly urgent. What other technologies should Costa Rica look at?

Two of the things that I would put on the table that don’t get enough attention or discussion are: One is what you mentioned – there is a lot of research going on in regard to smaller micro-generation, micro-grid projects that fall under the rubric of distributed energy or distributed electricity. That is certainly an area that could be very fruitful in a country like Costa Rica.

And the other is energy efficiency. Often people talk about the fact that in Costa Rica and Central America the demand for electricity grows by 5-8 percent per year. At the same time, a lot of experts who have looked at it believe these countries could save 5-8 percent in energy through energy efficiency measures for several years, because there has not been the needed investment in energy efficiency.

What are your top three accomplishments since you’ve been here?

One of our goals and accomplishments in the area of security has been to build a very collaborative partnership between our embassy and Costa Ricans to build the capacity for more effective borders.

One of the things we’ve worked to accomplish is to secure modern borders, with the idea that secure modern borders provide Costa Rica with the opportunity to pass legal goods quickly in the stream of commerce and stop illicit goods. It also embodies a concept of accountability and transparency, which are critical for a developed country that wants to be part of the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development).

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So, our effort to work with Costa Rica on building more secure modern borders, both in the north and the south, I think is an accomplishment that will continue to pay dividends in many different ways over the next few years.

I think a second area for success has been in the area of our work with youth and innovation. I think that we are very proud of our efforts to partner with organizations in Costa Rica that are focused on innovation and entrepreneurialism – organizations like Yo Emprendedor and Omar Dengo, which are really trying to foster the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurial leaders – as well as our work with science and tech high schools to help young people in high school who already have big dreams, help them make those dreams come true.

It’s an investment in the future, which I know Costa Rica is making. Partnering with Costa Rica to make that investment in the future in the areas of innovation, youth, science and technology is critical.

The U.S. relationship with Costa Rica isn’t one of direct financial aid, correct?

It’s interesting, when I arrived one of the things that was quite the talk was the great gift that Costa Rica received from China, with regard to the (National) Stadium.

One of the things we wanted to do was look at what have we done as the U.S. government in partnering with the Costa Rican government and the Costa Rican people. We did wonderful research and came up with a great informative piece that looks at what we have done over the last 70 years. It’s really impressive, and thanks to The Tico Times in English and La República in Spanish, I think when you read that and look at the history, you’ll see the investments and the partnerships we’ve made with Costa Rica. …

I love the idea that we worked with Costa Rica to help fund the extension of the runway at the Juan Santamaría International Airport. Now, as you know, the airport is a major transit point for all of the tourists who come to Costa Rica and have helped put Costa Rica on the map as the eco-tourism capital of the world. And that would not have happened but for a very unsexy investment that we made in trying to help Costa Rica extend the runway at the airport.

You know, the U.S. worked with Costa Rica with their rural co-ops for electricity. One of the reasons Costa Rica has the highest access to electricity among Central American countries is because of the vibrancy of their rural co-ops, and that was a partnership with the U.S. And again, it’s not perhaps the most visual of aid and development, but it’s critical, and it makes a difference in people’s lives.

And our investments with organizations like CRUSA, EARTH University, INCAE and Omar Dengo. Actually CINDE was a partnership between the U.S. and Costa Rican governments. Those organizations that we basically provided seed capital and networking beginnings are organizations that have given back so much to the country. And those are the kinds of investments that are really worthwhile and define our relationship.

We’ve continued that great history and tradition by, again, investing in organizations like the science and tech high schools in sending forth their students to the U.S. to study, and by working with (the entrepreneurial program) Yo Emprendedor. With some of the modest funding and support from us, Yo Emprendedor went to the Global Entrepreneurship Congress for the second time in 2012, and they were the runner-up as the best clean-technology host of all of the more than 180 organizations and countries represented there.

Plus, two of their clean-tech projects were chosen at the Clean-Tech Open among hundreds that actually got funding. So those are the kinds of investments that we have made that we hope continue this great tradition of partnership and sustainability.

President Obama’s visit to Costa Rica in early May was pretty significant in that many Central Americans felt they were being ignored by his administration. Does his visit indicate a renewed commitment to or interest in the region?

I am aware that there are those who have questioned whether President Obama was committed to Latin America. What I think is evident from the president’s visit here is it gave us a chance to really look more carefully at the president’s commitment to Latin America, and what I found is that President Obama in 2009, on one of his first trips outside the U.S., went to the Summit of the Americas. At that summit, he outlined his vision for a new partnership with Latin America and a commitment to partner for the benefit of all the people of the Americas.

What we’ve seen between the time that Obama went to the first Summit of the Americas to his visit here in Costa Rica is that the president has visited the Latin American region six times in five years, and that early in his second administration, one of the first trips he’s taken is to come back to the region and reiterate his continued support. The investments we have been making in Latin America and Central America in the areas of security, trade and education are really significant.

I think often times we don’t have time to gather the facts and, therefore, we make conclusions based on less than the full information. But I think that if you look at the president’s early commitment, his vision, and the investments we have been making, I think it makes his visit to Costa Rica, rather than coming back to or renewing, it’s really a continuation and a highlighting of the president’s commitment to this region.

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The main focus of that visit was trade and expanding the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership). Leading up to that, how successful do you think CAFTA-DR (the U.S.-Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement) was in terms of trade and the environment?

I think on the environment the training and the focus that we provided through CAFTA-DR has had an impact, particularly with regard to value-chain training in different industries to help make those businesses within the value chain environmentally aware.

But I think the real value of CAFTA-DR is in the great success that it has provided. Statistics show that in the countries under CAFTA-DR their trading has increased significantly among each other and with the U.S. since the signing of CAFTA-DR – much more so, perhaps, (in the region) than with the U.S. …

I think people like to come off with sound bytes about CAFTA-DR and whether it means anything, but when you see the statistics, it’s amazingly impressive that CAFTA-DR has genuinely benefited the countries of Central America from a perspective of increased trade.

What are your future plans?

I am in the process of going back to the U.S. I’ll be going back to the private sector. I am talking to a number of companies, including perhaps doing some consulting. But one thing I’m very pleased with is I will not be leaving Costa Rica behind, because EARTH University has asked me to join their board once I leave the State Department.

So, I will have a great opportunity to continue to work in the areas of sustainability with such a wonderful organization here in Costa Rica. It becomes effective once I leave the State Department.

Let’s switch to drug policy and security. In early May, presidents Obama and Chinchilla stood next to each other and maintained their commitment to working together to fight organized crime and drug trafficking. Two weeks later, we have this massive public scandal, where President Chinchilla flies on a plane with suspected links to drug traffickers. Does the U.S. share responsibility for that scandal?

Absolutely not. The situation with regard to the president’s use of a private plane is a domestic matter. So, whether it was appropriate or not is a matter that is wholly within her government’s determination, their rules, requirements and regulations, and the U.S. would have no role to play or involvement at all. …

Have you spoken to President Chinchilla about this issue?

I have not spoken to [Chinchilla] about this, and if you flip it around, if it happened in the U.S., it would be a domestic matter, it would not be something that would engage others.

Obama’s drug policy focuses on reducing demand in the U.S. and combatting organized crime networks in the region. What is your reaction to the recent OAS report (that calls for alternative strategies)? It seems that in Latin America there are more former and current leaders calling for alternative strategies (to the drug war). What is your reaction to that report, and will Obama be open to discussions on legalization?

One of the things that people need to do is look at the report as a whole, not just the legalization question, and when you do that, what’s interesting is how many of the steps that are identified in that report – such as addressing drugs as a public health issue and being sure that we are looking at ways to invest in use or demand reduction – are things that not only the U.S. agrees with, but they are absolutely a part of our policy and are matters that we have been addressing under the Obama administration.

Under President Obama we’ve invested $30 billion in demand reduction, and we’ve actually seen an impact from that investment. We are very much treating drugs as a public health issue, and one that needs to be raised not just in the U.S., but also across Latin America as a public health issue. So there are a lot of aspects of that report that are very much supported by or consistent with the recent reports that have come out from our drug policy organization in the U.S.

With regard to the issue of legalization, what the president has said is that having a discussion about legalizing marijuana, which is what I would say people are talking about – they’re not talking about legalizing all drugs – is a discussion that we are willing to engage in and share with the Americas.

However, the president has said that from a federal government perspective, as we have looked at that issue from a public health perspective, and of managing that from a legal perspective and from a court perspective, we think we’ve got it right. We don’t see a benefit to public health or to our government systems or to our judiciary in changing that.

In the Northern Triangle countries, violence is pushing south (from Mexico). What can U.S. foreign policy do to help bring relief to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, which have some of the highest murder rates in the world, and to prevent that violence related to drug trafficking from spreading south to countries like Costa Rica?

Our U.S. government is addressing the security issues of Central America under CARSI (the Central America Regional Security Initiative), and the reason why I reference that is because we appreciate the approach needs to be a regional approach.

Our embassy focuses on ways in which we can implement CARSI here in Costa Rica. And one of the things I think is important to recognize is that helping Costa Rica build its judicial capacity to investigate, prosecute and convict on narco-trafficking and organized crime not only makes Costa Rica a safer country, but it also helps the region. Because when Mexico and Colombia got tired of narco-traffickers in their countries and started squeezing them out, the argument goes, (drug traffickers) went to the northern tier. As the northern tier gets tired of it, they will go somewhere else.

The goal is to make sure that we work with Central American countries to build capacity so that the countries of Central America are not a haven for organized crime and narco-trafficking.

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A Guatemalan court recently convicted ex-dictator Efraín Ríos Montt of genocide. Later, a higher court annulled that historic verdict. What is the U.S. reaction to that annulment, given that we’re talking about strengthening judicial institutions in Central America?

I would not be in a position as the U.S. ambassador to Costa Rica to comment on that situation, but one of the things we can emphasize, and one of the things that we in Costa Rica have certainly invested in while I’ve been ambassador, is to build judicial capacity here in Costa Rica. You know, democracy and rule of law depend upon a transparent judiciary and an effective judiciary. And working with the government of Costa Rica, working with the Supreme Court here in Costa Rica to advance that kind of capacity-building is one of the great successes that we have achieved in our partnership here in Costa Rica.

The interview with Ambassador Andrew took place the day before U.S., Costa Rican and Spanish law enforcement agencies shut down the biggest money laundering operation in history, Liberty Reserve, which was based in Costa Rica. At a CARSI press conference a few days later, The Tico Times followed up with Ambassador Andrew.

Now that the U.S. government has handed down indictments in the Liberty Reserve case, which was based in Costa Rica, what are your reactions?

The Liberty Reserve case as reported in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal (and The Tico Times) is really a case of first impression of grand scale with regard to the digitalized opportunity to move money globally. And the effort that was undertaken internationally, including the effort between the U.S. and Costa Rica to investigate and bring charges against this company are exemplary.

The activities of the company here in Costa Rica I think certainly raise some questions for Costa Rica that need real consideration: Why did Liberty Reserve decide to come to Costa Rica to open their business? And why did Mr. Budovsky (Liberty’s owner, arrested in Spain and indicted in the U.S. on federal charges of money laundering) decide that he would become a Costa Rican citizen and reject his U.S. citizenship?

Those are questions that I think need consideration, because there’s no question that regardless of the outcome of that case, Costa Rica certainly does not want to be a place that is open for business for those types of operations.

You mentioned that the U.S. is focused on working with Costa Rica on the issues of strengthening borders, building a law enforcement intelligence database and adopting legislative reform to allow the extradition to the U.S. of Costa Rican citizens. What are your comments on that?

Let me speak about extradition, in regards to organized crime and narco-trafficking, the Central American countries or Mesoamerican countries that have allowed for extradition find it to be one of the most effective tools they have against organized crime. So, I think it is something that needs to be on the table and under serious discussion.

With regard to modern, secure borders, that has a been a theme that we have worked on since I arrived, and I certainly appreciate the leadership of (Deputy Chief of Mission) Eric Nelson in working with our team, working with the Costa Ricans and working regionally with U.S. support to build more modern, secure borders. Trade here in Central America moves at approximately 10 miles an hour, and that is untenable in a global economy. The goal has to be that the legal goods move quickly and expeditiously through the borders, and that the borders can stop all of the illegal trafficking.

The (Costa Rican law enforcement) database is important because in today’s technology-driven, globalized economy, the only way that a country can be effective in law enforcement is with intelligence. It has to be able to gather and disseminate intelligence. And so that’s one of the reasons we have focused our assistance in helping Costa Rica build its capacity to gather intelligence and then use the intelligence in both their law enforcement and their judicial efforts.

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