By Dan Keeler
All smiles: Chinchilla celebrates with supporters
Laura Chinchilla, a former vice president and justice minister, is set to become Costa Rica’s first female president after winning the country’s early February election with a convincing 47% of the vote. As she acknowledged her victory, Chinchilla promised to further tighten ties between the Central American country and China and to maintain the business-friendly policies of her mentor, the current president, Oscar Arias.
By strengthening Costa Rica’s links with China, Chinchilla will be wading into some politically sensitive waters. Costa Rica’s relationship with China has already caused controversy after it was revealed that China’s 2008 purchase of some $300 million in Costa Rican bonds was contingent on the Central American country severing its longstanding ties with Taiwan. A Chinese-funded $80 million national soccer stadium under construction in the capital, San José, has also raised concerns among Costa Ricans, who are upset that it is being built by predominantly Chinese workers.
Chinchilla has also promised to crack down on crime, saying she would “fight delinquents and drug traffickers who are confiscating our way of life.” Some are concerned that a recent rise in violent crime, which has been attributed to drug traffickers, may be denting Costa Rica’s appeal as a tourism destination. With tourism representing one of Costa Rica’s most significant sources of foreign exchange, the government is anxious to maintain the country’s pristine image.
In common with many tourist destinations, Costa Rica saw visitor numbers slump in the aftermath of the financial crisis, but Hermes Navarro, the head of the country’s tourism investment promotion department, says he believes the industry will recover dramatically over the coming year. “By the end of 2010 we expect people to be ready to vacation, and 2011 should be a record year. Tourism will explode next year,” says Navarro.