A Woman President- Today marks a historical moment. Laura Chinchilla was elected president last night by carrying nearly 50% of the vote. Costa Rica has the highest concentration of women in office on the planet, currently at about 40%. The government is suggesting that the number should be 50/50 and are working to do so. Costa Rica also has term limits of 4 years for a President. They can run again but must sit out at least a four year term before being eligible to run again. This was Oscar Arias's second term in office.
Proud to Vote-In Costa Rica, voting is a big deal. Costa Rican's are required to vote, though there is no type of enforcement. In this election, just shy of 70% of all eligible voters turned out to vote. Anyone can form a political party and there were 7 party candidates represented in this years Presidential elections. A candidate must receive at least 40% of the vote to be declared the winner in the Presidential elections or the top two candidates will be in a run off election. Laura swept the elections when we consider that she received just shy of 50% of the vote and that there were 6 other candidates in the race. Costa Ricans are very proud of their parties. As an election approaches you will see various political flags placed on cars throughout the country. During elections, polling stations are set up in places like prisons, elderly housing centers and hospitals to help insure that everyone gets a chance to vote. Many of the political parties also provide rides to the polls as well as incentives like a gas card for a small amount of gas for your car.
About Laura Chinchilla- Laura Chinchilla, 50, is married and has a BA degree in Political Science from the University of Costa Rica, and a Masters in Public Policy from Georgetown University in Washington DC, USA. Laura was the Vice President serving with Oscar Arias until she resigned about 6 months ago to run for the presidency. She is part of the PLN (National Liberation Party) and had the support of Oscar Arias. She is considered to be a social conservative and opposes abortion and gay marriage. She is pro womans rights. She has a teenage son and has lived a modest lifestyle.
Oscar and Laura- accomplished a lot in the past four years. Oscar has spend his last few weeks attending ribbon cutting ceremonies on various projects he saw to completing during his term in office including updates to the Costanera Highway, the completion of the Caldera San Jose toll road, the construction of a new stadium in San Jose, updates and privatization of both international airports in Costa Rica. Oscar and Laura have also done a good job of keeping the Costa Rican economy on track while much of the world was suffering. The push for infrastructure development and the passing of CAFTA, the Central American Free Trade Agreement have helped Costa Rica weather the storm. Unemployment remains lower in Costa Rica than in much of the world though still higher than normal at about 8%.
Laura Chinchilla is Pro Development - Her number one campaign issue was to be tough on crime. Costa Rica's murder rate just reached 11 per 100,000 inhabitants. 10 per 100,000 is considered good and the rise to 11 has raised concern. Though still far less than it's neighbors (Panama is approaching 30 per 100k, Nicaragua has seen an increase in political violence with the 2007 murder rate per 100,000 of 12.5) There has also been an increase in street crime, robberies and break-ins. A major complain in Costa Rica is a lack of enforcement. Laura has been accused of favoring developers at the expense of conservation but the population within Costa Rica has overwhelmingly supported the trade off. Cosa Rica continues to enjoy the highest standard of living in central America.
Drug Traffic Increase- Costa Rica has always had the lowest incident of drug use in Central America, both cocaine and marijuana. Part of the problem has been that as more countries in Central America and Mexico have tried to tighten the flow the drugs through their countries, some of the drug trafficking cartels have set sights on Costa Rica since the low use of drugs makes it easier to sneak around. There were record numbers of drug seizures recently in the country, with evidence that Columbian drug lords and some Mexican drug cartels were attempting to route drug shipments through Costa Rica. A large shipment of cocaine was recently found in a shipment of frozen fish coming from the port of Limon, on Costa Rica's east coast. Much of the increase in violent crime in Costa Rica has been attributed to the illegal drug trade. Hopefully things won't go the way of Panama; Panama's national statistics for violent crime registered 194 murders and 1,075 gunfire victims during the first semester of 2007 (13% up from the same period of the last year). Laura has pledged to battle the drug cartels and enforce existing laws against criminals. She has pledged to significantly increase the size of the police force in Costa Rica.