Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla discussed international trade, foreign investment, economic development and other issues at the Graduate School of Business (GSB) yesterday.
Chinchilla, who grew up in a politically involved family, is the first female president of Costa Rica. She earned a master’s in public policy from Georgetown in 1989.
Her talk on Tuesday evening was part of the GSB’s “Global Speakers Series.” Chinchilla opened her speech by stating that her country has developed in a relatively peaceful and environmentally friendly way.
“We Costa Ricans have always believed in achieving prosperity through peace, freedom and the rule of law,” Chinchilla said. “That is a major national understanding and through history we have taken the decision to follow our beliefs.”
The country has not had a standing army since 1949. According to the CIA World Factbook, Costa Rica spends 0.6 percent of its GDP on defense.
Chinchilla toured the Bay Area in search of companies wishing to invest in her country. Costa Rica’s exports include bananas, coffee and beef, but it also has a growing high-tech sector. Chinchilla said she plans for her country to be competitive in this industry.
She hopes that Costa Rica will be Latin America’s first developed country and is a strong proponent of free trade.
“We are very well-integrated into the international economy,” she said. “Our products compete very well in the most important markets in the world. That is why instead of being afraid of continuing this path, we want to look for more opportunities.”
She stressed the importance of education, particularly English-language education. To ensure that Costa Rica becomes an internationally competitive player, Chinchilla wants all high school graduates to be fluent in English by 2017.
She also addressed China’s growing influence in Latin America.
“For Costa Rica, China means a very important opportunity,” she said. “We are in certain ways complimentary economies. We do not compete with them.”
Anabel Gonzalez, the country’s minister of foreign trade, amended this by adding “the United States is the most important trade and investment partner and has been so for a long time.”
“I believe it will remain so for a long time,” Gonzalez added.
Chinchilla also talked about her keys to personal success, noting the importance that having a strong moral compass bears in life.
“If you don’t believe in what you are doing it’s very hard to be successful,” she said. “If you have strong convictions and if you never leave that set of basic values, I think you are going to do very great.”
Business school students who attended the lecture were generally satisfied with what they heard.
“I think she has a very good grasp of what countries in Latin America need in order to be competitive and create jobs and solve some of the problems,” said Eduardo Hurtado MBA ’12.
Jon Elist MBA ’12 noted that emerging economies, such as China, will play a role in Latin America.
“Going forward we’re going to be seeing more and more Chinese influence in an area that traditionally has had strong relations with the U.S.,” Elist said.
Naama Stauber MBA ’12, was curious to know about how Costa Rica is working to solve problems related to the achievement gap between men and women.
“I would like to hear more about what exactly do they do to address this problem, specifically what do they do to support females,” she said.
Chinchilla’s advice to maintain one’s values whenever pursuing a goal impressed Stauber.
“I’m sure she wouldn’t be able to be at the place she’s at if she wasn’t a strong woman with strong opinions,” Stauber said.
“It’s amazing that the GSB is able to attract these high government figures from around the world,” Hurtado said. “I’m so happy to be here.”