TÓMAS Dueñas, president of theCosta Rican Investment Board (CINDE),former minister and successful businessman,will become Costa Rica’s ambassadorto the United States in WashingtonD.C. on Nov. 1.“It’s a great honor for any Costa Ricanto be nominated, let alone named, CostaRican Ambassador in Washington D.C.,”Dueñas told The Tico Times during arecent interview. “The relationship thiscountry has with the United States is veryimportant. Not only is there an ideologicalalliance in terms of our culture and customs,both countries also have a veryimportant commercial relationship –which I aim to foster.”Dueñas, 55, served as Minister ofEconomy, Industry and Commerce (1998-2000) and later as Foreign Trade Minister(2000-2002) during the administration offormer president Miguel AngelRodríguez, who this week took the helmof the Organization of American States(OAS).WHEN he was trade minister, Dueñasserved as one of the vice-presidents of theWorld Trade Organization’s Doha, Qatar,ministerial meeting in 2001. It was duringthat meeting that the current round ofongoing multilateral trade negotiations –the Doha Development Round – waslaunched.He has also represented Costa Rica innegotiations for the proposed Free-TradeArea of the Americas (FTAA).Before he left the Foreign TradeMinistry (COMEX) in 2002, Dueñas laidthe groundwork that made it possible fornegotiations for the Central AmericanFree-Trade Agreement with the UnitedStates (CAFTA) to begin in early 2003.BEFORE and after he was minister,he served as president of CINDE, workingto attract new foreign investors toCosta Rica. He also served on the boardof directors of the Foreign TradePromotion Office (PROCOMER).Dueñas has a business degree from theUniversity of Miami in Florida and hastaken graduate courses at Columbia,Stanford and the Wharton School atUniversity of Pennsylvania.He is married to Diana Chavarría.They have no children.His main hobby is coin collecting – in1994 he published a book on old CostaRican coins, “Las Monedas Tipo deCosta Rica.”Dueñas will replace JaimeDaremblum, who stepped down onWednesday as Costa Rican ambassador tothe United States after more than six yearsat his post. Daremblum resigned to assistformer President Rodríguez in his newposition as Secretary General of the OAS(See separate article).Costa Rica’s new ambassador to theUnited States shared his ideas with TheTico Times. Excerpts:TT: What is your main goal asCosta Rican Ambassador to the UnitedStates?TD: The most important and relevantchallenge at this moment is a commercialone – the discussion and ratification of theCentral American Free-Trade Agreement(CAFTA) with the United States andDominican Republic. Its approval by theU.S. Congress is very important.I’m convinced CAFTA is a veryimportant instrument for the social, economicand political development ofCentral America as a region. It’s alsosomething that benefits the United Statesby granting its producers better access togrowing markets.Right now, CAFTA is the most importantissue for the development of CostaRica and the region. CAFTA has not beensent to the U.S. Congress because it hasbecome a campaign issue. Once the (presidential)campaign ends, we will be preparedto take the actions necessary tomake sure congressional representatives,senators and influential people inWashington D.C. understand whatCAFTA really means for Central Americaand the United States.What will be the Costa RicanEmbassy’s lobbying strategy forCAFTA?Our strategy for lobbying in favor ofCAFTA will depend on the outcome ofthe U.S. presidential elections. Once theresult is clear, it will be time to begin alobbying effort that is consistent with thecircumstances. The lobbying effort willalso depend on when the U.S. ExecutiveBranch submits CAFTA to Congress.I am fully aware that I will be themain Costa Rican lobbyist for CAFTA.Fortunately, I was Foreign Trade Ministerand know the subject quite well. I wasinvolved in the original proposal and discussionabout negotiating a free-tradeagreement with the United States duringthe Rodríguez administration. I was alsoinvolved in free-trade negotiations withCanada, Panama (which have not concluded)and the 14-member CaribbeanCommunity (CARICOM).The hiring of private firms to lobby infavor of the agreement would be decidedby the President or by the Foreign TradeMinistry (COMEX).How would a win by U.S.Democratic Party candidate Sen. JohnKerry affect CAFTA’s future?I think there are stated differences inthe positions of the candidates. TheRepublican Party has negotiated, promotedand is interested in approving theagreement, which is the result of morethan a year of negotiations with CentralAmerica and the Dominican Republic.The Democratic Party and Sen. Kerryhave some observations about the waylabor issues are handled under the agreement.I am confident that once he has timeto reach a clear understanding of the laboragreement, Sen. Kerry will consider thatwhat was negotiated is adequate and satisfieshis requirements.I am confident this agreement will beapproved once the elections are over,regardless of who wins.Will Foreign Trade MinisterAlberto Trejos’ resignation (TT, Sept.10) affect the next phase of CAFTA?I hope not. We all regret Alberto’sdeparture, but CAFTA will continue tomove forward. COMEX has an excellentteam, which is clear on its mission in thecountry and in the United States. The missionhas not changed. We’ll continue to collaborateon the issue.What are some other aspirations youhave as ambassador?I also aspire to help attract new foreigninvestors to Costa Rica. I believe my 10years of experience working with the CostaRican Investment Board (CINDE) will helpin that regard.There are other, more political, mattersto tend to. These include expropriations andcomplaints filed by some foreigners whohave invested in Costa Rica. We will alsobe discussing security issues, includingcombating terrorism and drug trafficking.I’m greatly interested in developingcooperation and cultural exchange programs.It’s important to give the UnitedStates a comprehensive idea of what CostaRica is and has to offer.Our relationship is not only commercial.We are a big tourism destination forU.S. citizens. We’re a country of peace andrule of law that treats its visitors well. It isimportant to present the country that way.What are the main strengths andweaknesses of U.S.-Costa Rican relations?We share a common cause in terms ofpolitical principles and respect for democracyand rule of law. We share many of thesame causes.I couldn’t point out any specific weaknessesin our relations. Fortunately, thereare no controversies between Costa Ricaand the United States.There are, however, areas that can beimproved and further strengthened, andthat’s where our emphasis should beplaced.As new ambassador, I am very enthusiasticabout helping and representing mycountry. When I return, I would like to beable to say I made a positive contribution torelations between both countries.Could the outcome of the NovemberU.S. Presidential elections affect relationsbetween both countries?I don’t think so. Costa Rica has alwayshad a very good relationship with both theDemocratic and Republican parties.Historically, this positive relationship hasalways been present. Costa Rica should feelproud that its relationship with both partieshas been friendly and cordial.How will the ruling by theConstitutional Chamber of theSupreme Court (Sala IV) declaringunconstitutional President AbelPacheco’s support of the U.S.-led warin Iraq (TT, Sept. 10) affect CostaRica’s relations with the United States?As the Foreign Minister (RobertoTovar) and the President (Abel Pacheco)have said, the Foreign Ministry must obeythe court’s ruling. The ruling does notindicate a weakening of Costa Rica’s relationswith the United States. We are confidentthe U.S. government will understandthe matter was taken before a courtand the final ruling is one we must obey.