Note: Listen to the full interview on the Global Atlanta SoundCloud profile here.
Luis Guillermo Solis is a rare breed: a politician content with one term presiding over the most powerful office in his land.
That’s because, as he told Global Atlanta in a recent recorded interview, the Costa Rican president believes that his country’s democracy has matured to the point where leaders can work hard while in office but leave without fear of things falling apart.
“Even presidents who claim to come back (or threaten to come back) never have a chance to do everything their heart desires,” he said. “I see the presidency as part of a process, a moment in time, a very brief one, a very fragile one. Presidents contribute with whatever they can in the time they have to serve and in a democracy they move on.”
Costa Rica’s stability is largely a dividend of long-ago decisions that allowed for the development of social welfare systems alongside economic development, he said.
“You cannot have democracy with extreme poverty, or you cannot have political stability without jobs and without people feeling comfortable with the country in which they live. One of the reasons why Costa Rica has not seen huge emigration patterns like the ones in other countries is because we have been fortunate not to suffer from internal strife, which has been the case in the northern countries of Central America,” he said.
That said, 20 percent of Costa Rica’s population, about a million people, still live in poverty, and the president is working on a plan to elevate up to 57,000 families from extreme poverty by the time he leaves office.
That will require growth that will focus on boosting efficiency of existing industry, especially agriculture, while drawing both investment and tourists from the U.S. and beyond.
Technology is one area of cooperation being explored through university and corporate partnerships as Costa Rica moves up the value chain, he said.
“We have moved very fast in the last 30 years from an agricultural exporting country into a country which last year most of its exports were related to life sciences, medical devices,” he said. Atlanta-based Equifax Inc., which has been operating in Costa Rica since 1995, was among the corporations visited by Mr. Solis, who sought U.S. partnership in the development of his country’s advanced technology clusters.
Costa Rica’s well-prepared workforce is a dividend from the 1949 decision to abolish the military, which freed up resources for education and health care, he said, noting that a consensus still exists on that issue.
“Quite frankly, the experience in Latin America with the armed forces has not been happy. They have become part of the problem — not part of the solutions, of our peoples — and therefore I don’t see that there is any possibility whatsoever, even at times of great tensions with Nicaragua, to go back to the creation of an armed force, which I find completely alien to the notion of Costa Rica’s political culture,” he said.
Costa Rica is also embarking on a plan to become carbon neutral by 2020.