In her annual State of the Nation speech before members of the Legislative Assembly Wednesday night, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla pushed forward the message that despite overwhelming public disapproval of her administration, her government has had achieved several major accomplishments. Yet in a tone that has become common for the unpopular president of the dominating National Liberation Party – which earlier in the day secured the presidency of the Assembly in an annual May Day vote by lawmakers – Chinchilla acknowledged that “there is still a lot of work to do and challenges that we have not been able not overcome.”
Speaking to lawmakers, Cabinet members and invited dignitaries for 75 minutes, Chinchilla admitted her administration still faces high rates of unemployment and poverty, and officials have been unsuccessful at reducing a social-economic gap among citizens.
Chinchilla, who took office in 2010 as Costa Rica’s first woman to hold the presidency, also cited progress, including 5 percent growth in the national economy, “the highest in the last 15 years,” as well as a drop in interest rates and the blockage of short-term investments that threatened the country’s economic balance.
She highlighted an earlier and successful issuance of Eurobonds that helped reduce the country’s staggering fiscal deficit, which last year topped $2 billion, or 4.4 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.
The speech also addressed foreign trade by highlighting an increase of 10 percent in exports and positive performance by companies, which helped Costa Rica surpass by $200 million a $2 billion annual export goal. That positive news came mostly because of high-technology and free-zone companies.
On social development, Chinchilla said the most notable accomplishments include poverty rates that leveled off for the first time in five years and actually began decreasing (by 1 percent). She also highlighted the success of one of her flag projects: a national daycare program that increased coverage by 75 percent, with 79,000 new children added.
Public security was another of the president’s main focuses. The president, who campaigned on the issue in 2010, reported a decrease of nearly 50 percent in homicides in 2012, of 15 percent for car theft, and 10.6 percent for home invasions. She said “local police forces were able to disrupt some 350 criminal organizations.”
As for what is missing, Chinchilla said three factors are preventing her administration from moving forward: “First, our democratic system is not responding to the timing and quality demanded by our citizens,” she said.
She cited limited management and technical skills in most public institutions, as well as a complicated system of rules that encourage paralysis in public administration.
A second problem is caused by an incapacity for dialogue and the polarization of public debate, the president said. “The prevalence of antagonistic interests and the radicalization of positions hinders the necessary negotiation process for democracy to move forward,” she stated.
Finally, the president refered to “despicable acts of corruption in public administration that have been generating a deep distrust of politics” referring probably to scandals such as the construcion of a road along the border with Nicaragua, that ended with the dismissal of several officials.
Chinchilla ended her speech by asking lawmakers to increase dialogue in order to expedite bills in the Assembly, proposed government programs and public works projects. Those stalled bills include reform on in vitro fertilization – which Costa Rica must implement following a recent Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling – and granting same-sex couples equal rights under the law.
The president asked opposition parties to exercise “the unavoidable task of political control, which is essential yet taxing, and something with which the government is obliged to comply.”
“My government does not ask for less, and expects no less,” Chinchilla said.