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Costa Rica’s president wraps up U.S. visit

May 19, 2011

Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla slipped a red Stanford University baseball cap on her head Tuesday to show her support for the university’s esteemed business school. It was a symbolic gesture by the U.S.-educated Central American president, who was halfway through a weeklong tour to drum up business that would help create needed jobs back home.

Chinchilla returns home Saturday after her second official U.S. visit in seven months. Accompanied by Foreign Trade Minister Anabel González, Science and Technology Minister Alejandro Cruz, Health Minister María Luisa Ávila, other officials and members of the Costa Rican media, Chinchilla met with executives from several businesses hoping to secure commitments for investment. She also met with former U.S. officials and visited several universities.

During her first year in office, Chinchilla, the Foreign Trade Ministry (COMEX) and the Costa Rican Investment Board (CINDE) raked in $1.45 billion in foreign investment, which accounted for more than  4.5 percent of the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP). According to CINDE, 29 foreign companies established new operations in Costa Rica or expanded already existing operations in 2010, which will create an estimated 7,500 new jobs.

“I want to put into the mind of investors and the international community that Costa Rica is a better destination for its operations,” Chinchilla said before departing on her trip last weekend. “I am looking to promote that we have a series of competitive advantages and that we are currently the top exporter of high technology, and the second largest exporter of software in Latin America.”

On Monday, Chinchilla met with Silicon Valley executives, including Intel CEO Paul Otellini. Intel’s Costa Rican operations, based in San Antonio de Belén north of San José, generate $2 billion in export revenue, representing 3 to 4 percent of Costa Rica’s gross domestic product three out of the last four years.

“We are committed to improving [Costa Rica’s] competiveness so that we [can] continue to develop into a destination for businesses of high technology,” Chinchilla said. “[High-tech businesses] generate high-caliber employment and put us in a position to be considered on the world level as one of the most innovative countries in the region.”  

Chinchilla also met this week in San Francisco with a group of 30 businesses from the biotech industry. During the day, she gave interviews to the Los Angeles Times and Spanish-language television network Univisión.

On Tuesday, Chinchilla headed to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory at the University of California at Berkeley. There she emphasized Costa Rica’s commitment to developing renewable energies.

“One of the key strategies of my administration is to continue to promote sustainable development and environmental security,” she said. “Due to that commitment, the objective of this visit is to get a more detailed understanding of the research projects in the clean-energies sector and to explore the possibilities of cooperation in that area.”

Next she met with former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rica, who served under George W. Bush. The meeting was private, but focused also on foreign investment strategies, according to a press release. Chinchilla stressed Costa Rica’s educated workforce, among other assets.

At a graduation ceremony at Stanford University Business School in Palo Alto, California, Chinchilla met with students, where she talked about Costa Rica’s democratic past and its role in the international economy. She also talked about China, which prompted a clarification by González, her trade minister, who said, “the United States is the most important trade and investment partner,” the Stanford Daily reported.

On Wednesday, Chinchilla made her way east to Washington, D.C., where she participated in a forum at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, as well as events at the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institute, where she was a keynote speaker. She also secured a $132 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank to help provide additional resources to Costa Rica’s public security system. In the U.S. capital, Chinchilla also met with U.S. Energy Secretary Stephen Chu.

In her final public appearance, Chinchilla will give a commencement speech at Georgetown University, her alma mater, on Saturday.

Chinchilla received her master’s degree in public policy from the university in 1989. During her speech, Georgetown will award Chinchilla an honorary degree.

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