Twenty-one new ministers – in addition to two vice presidents – will step into office alongside President-elect Laura Chinchilla in May. Some are new faces; others are keeping the position they held under the current administration of President Oscar Arias; and others are returning to public service from a brief hiatus.
For the most part, political analysts call the appointments “more of the same” and a continuation of the current government. And, in truth, that’s what many believe voters asked for with their vote at the polls in February, as Chinchilla is often seen as Arias’ handpicked replacement.
“All of these people are good people. They are the stalwarts of the National Liberation Party,” Carlos Denton, co-founder of the San José-based polling firm CID-Gallup, told The Tico Times in March. “But I would expect four years of the same of what we have now” (TT, March 2010).
Fifty-one-year-old Laura Chinchilla introduced them as well-qualified, dedicated and equipped with “a clear identification of the challenges and initiatives that we would like to implement in the next four years.”
First Vice President
Prior position: General manager of Scotia Bank
Biography: Luis Liberman brings a business background to President-elect Laura Chinchilla’s cabinet. He served as director of the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) and the National Power and Light Company (CNFL), is a founder of Banco Interfin (now owned by Scotia Bank), and holds a doctorate in economics from the University of Illinois.
Second Vice President
Prior position: Executive director of the National Biodiversity Institute (INBio) and professor emeritus at the National University (UNA)
Biography: A scientist by background, Alfio Piva currently serves as the executive director of INBio in Heredia. He’s also a professor at the University of Costa Rica (UCR) and the UNA, is a founding member of the National Advisory Board of Rectors (Conare ) and served as two-time president of the National Advisory Board for Scientific and Technological Investigations (CONICIT). Chinchilla has said that Piva will be an important voice for the government on environmental issues.
Prior position: Coordination minister
Biography: Coordination and economy minister under President Oscar Arias, Marco Vargas has done a little bit of everything during his career in public service. He’s served twice as economy minister (1994-1996 and 2007-2009), and also as minister of science and technology (1995-1996), minister to the president (1996-1998), production minister (2007), member of the sugar industry advocacy group Laica, and advisor to the Central American Integration Bank. He received a degree in social and economic sciences from the UCR. As presidency minister, Vargas will serve as right hand to the president in dealings with her cabinet.
Prior position: General controller and chairman of the board of the Public Services Regulatory Authority (ARESEP)
Biography: It won’t be the first time that Fernando Herrero is stepping in to lead the Finance Ministry. He served as finance minister in 1994 under former President José María Figueres. He’s also served as vice minister of finance, vice minister of planning, ambassador to the Organization of American States and board member of the Central Bank. He holds an undergraduate degree in sociology from the UCR and two master’s degrees from New YorkUniversity. In his new post, Herrero will oversee tax collection and government spending.
Prior position: Communications minister
Biography: Serving in the soon-to be defunct communications minister position, Mayi Antillón will return to the business world, where she served previously as head of the Chamber of Industries. Antillón has also served as legislator, president of the Special Commission on the Development Banking System, and program coordinator for the Costa Rican Investment Board (CINDE). As economy minister in the new government, Antillón will work to develop and implement policies to facilitate sustainable economic growth.
Foreign Trade Minister
Prior position: Senior advisor for integration and trade at the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB)
Biography: A lead negotiator for the Central American Free Trade Agreement with the United States, Anabel González has worked for more than 20 years on different initiatives to improve Costa Rica’s commercial relations with other countries. The former director of CINDE, vice minister of foreign trade and director of the agriculture division at the World Trade Organization, González studied law at the UCR and received her master’s degree in law at GeorgetownUniversity in Washington, D.C.
Public Works and Transportation Minister (MOPT)
Prior position: President of the Atlantic Port Authority (JAPDEVA)
Biography: Serving as president of JAPDEVA during a controversial time of port privatization, Francisco Jiménez has been tapped to lead the MOPT, which has also seen some turmoil. In November, the collapse of a bridge slated for repair several years prior, resulted in the death of five people and the resignation of former MOPT Minister Karla González. Jiménez has also served as executive director of the Roadway Safety Council (COSEVI) and vice minister of public works and transportation.
María Luisa Ávila
Prior position: Health minister
Biography: After leading the effort to stem the spread of the H1N1 flu virus and launching a campaign against smoking as health minister during the Oscar Arias administration, María Luisa Ávila is back for another round. She has served as head of infectious disease services at the National Children’s Hospital, worked as a doctor in pediatric emergencies in Heredia, and practiced general medicine in Guanacaste.
Prior position: Education minister
Biography: Garnier steps into another four years at the helm of the education ministry. Under current President Oscar Arias, he worked on the widely praised Avancemos program, an initiative that pays qualifying students to stay in school, thus reducing the number of high school dropouts. Prior positions include vice minister and minister of planning under José María Figueres (1994-1998), consultant to UNICEF and the World Bank, and professor at the UCR. He received his undergraduate degree in economics from the UCR and went on to earn a master’s and a doctoral degree from the NewSchool for Social Research in New York City.
Teófilo de la Torre
Environment and Energy Minister
Prior position: Manager of the Electrical Interconnection System for Central American Countries (SIEPAC)
Biography: The former head of ICE, vice minister of natural resources, energy and mines, and president of the CNFL has been tapped for another four years in public administration, this time under President-elect Laura Chinchilla. De la Torre’s appointment represents a shift toward revamping energy policy in a country struggling with an energy shortage and that is aiming for carbon neutrality by 2021. A priority for de la Torre will be promoting a bill that would expand the role of the private sector in energy production.
Carlos Ricardo Benavides
Prior position: Tourism minister
Biography: Former legislator and president of the National Liberation Party (PLN), Benavides is in his second term as tourism minister. During his tenure, he has tripled the marketing resources of the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT), developed rural tourism, and regionalized ICT initiatives. He has also served as president of the executive advisory board of the World Tourism Organization.
Associate professor at HarvardUniversity
Biography: With both a master’s and doctoral degree in economics from the University of California in Los Angeles, Alfaro has traveled the world as a consultant and visiting professor. In 2008, she was recognized by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader for her potential in bringing about future change. Her current academic research pertains to foreign direct investment in developing countries.
Agriculture and Livestock Minister
Advisor to the agriculture and livestock ministry
Biography: A newcomer to the political scene, Gloria Abraham will become the first female agriculture and livestock minister. She’s served in a number of advisory positions to government leaders, including as a consultant to the agriculture and livestock ministry, and led agricultural negotiations in the development of free-trade agreements with Singapore and China.
Decentralization and Local Governments Minister
Prior position: Mayor of Hojancha
Biography: Two-time mayor of the canton of Hojancha in Guanacaste, former legislative aide, and active member of the cooperative movement, Marín fills a new cabinet position, which was created to encourage greater municipal and regional development. The new minister of decentralization and local governments will focus on how to empower local leadership and growth.
Prior position: Technical director for the Costa Rican Triathlon Federation
Biography: Giselle Goyenaga raised some eyebrows when she was tapped to head the sports ministry, as many suspected the position would go to the vice minister of the Costa Rican Institute of Sports and Recreation (ICODER), Osvaldo Pandolfo. But President-elect Laura Chinchilla said she couldn’t think of a better appointment than someone “who has dedicated her heart and life to sports.” The technical director for the Costa Rican Triathlon Federation and the longtime sports teacher received a master’s degree in education sciences and a bachelor’s degree in physical education. She’ll be the second to head the ministry as the position of sports minister was created during the current Arias administration.
Minister of Social Welfare
Consultant to health organizations
Biography: One of three new positions in the Chinchilla administration, the minister of social welfare will be responsible for coordinating assistance programs to ensure effectiveness in reducing the poverty rate. Fernando Marín, a medical doctor by background, has served as vice minister of health, member of the National Advisory Board on Occupational Health and the National Advisory Board on Drug Addiction, and professor at the Central American Institute of Public Administration (ICAP) and the UCR. His new role has him serving as first social welfare minister as well as executive president of Mixed Institute for Social Aid (IMAS).
Prior position: General director of the Costa Rican Cement and Concrete Institute
Biography: A graduate of the UCR with a degree in civil engineering, Irene Campos has served in high-level positions with ICE, the association of civil engineers, the Federation of Engineering Organizations in Central America and Panama, and as International Secretary of the Pan-American Association of Engineers. She also serves as an engineering professor at the UCR and at the StateUniversity at a Distance (UNED).
Science and Technology Minister
Executive director of the Omar Dengo Foundation
Biography: Clotilde Fonseca has served as president of IMAS, member of the advisory board to the minister of science and technology, and advisor to the State of the Nation program. Her work over the last two decades has focused on technology in education and the role of technology in social and economic development. She received a master’s degree in public administration from the Kennedy School of Government at HarvardUniversity.
Prior position: Pianist and musical composer
Biography: Collaborating and soloing on more than 20 musical discs, musical composer and pianist Manuel Obregón has received recognition from the Costa Rican Association of Composers and Musical Authors (ACAM), the Best Original Music Festival in Italy, and from musicians in New Orleans, where he was named an honored international citizen. He worked closely with Chinchilla over the last year, helping to bring entertainment and culture to the campaign trail. Chinchilla said she’d like to use cultural activities to complement the administration’s work in other areas, including poverty relief and education.
Prior position: Secretary general of the PLN
Biography: Campaign manager for Laura Chinchilla throughout the summer and fall, René Castro steps in as foreign minister in May, replacing Bruno Stagno, who will be Costa Rica’s next ambassador to the United Nations. A graduate of the UCR, Castro earned a master’s degree and a doctorate from HarvardUniversity. He’s a frequent lecturer and visiting professor at Costa Rica’s INCAEBusinessSchool and at HarvardUniversity and has served as a consultant for the United Nations Development Program. He has served in a variety of public positions including as environment minister and as transportation and public works minister
José María Tijerino
Public Security Minister
Prior position: Chief prosecutor
Biography: An academic and law professor by background, José María Tijerino has served as chief prosecutor, judicial coordinator for the Penal Branch of the Supreme Court (Sala III), and vice minister to the prosecutor’s office. He has been a criminal justice consultant throughout Central America and is an author and professor. He assumes the helm at the public security ministry at a time of scrutiny due to high crime rates.
Prior position: Justice minister
Biography: President-elect Laura Chinchilla has appointed Hernando París to serve another term as justice minister. París has worked to increase security and capacity at the country’s prisons since replacing Chinchilla as justice minister when she left to launch her campaign. His past experience includes directing the Alternative Resolution Program, representing the current administration before the Supreme Court, and working as a consultant in judicial reform for the IADB and the World Bank.
Prior position: Political analyst
Biography: The newly appointed labor minister, Sandra Piszk, has served as legislator, vice minister of economics, vice minister of planning, ombudswoman and presidential advisor. She has also worked as a consultant to ICAP and the World Bank, among others.