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Q & A: Laura Chinchilla, former president of Costa Rica

Laura Chinchilla is the former president of Costa Rica, and is visiting the University as a celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month and the 50th anniversary of Latin American studies at the University. The Daily Princetonian sat down to interview her before her talk, Latin America: A Pending Assignment.

The Daily Princetonian: Why did you choose the topic of your talk to be Latin America: A Pending Assignment?

Laura Chinchilla: This talk is part of the celebration that they have here of Latin heritage. They organize a series of events concerning the region of Latin America. So, today, what I want to do is give the students a chance to have an updated view of the situation in Latin America in economic, social, and political terms, as well as the challenges that the regions has ahead. From that point of view, I would emphasize the most critical issue in the region has to do with democratic governance, and corruption. Also, we have had problems with violence, and also, we are now in the middle of a period where economic and social performance is not as strong as it was, so that’s going to be my approach. Of course, I will mention something about women in Latin America because I understand that some of them are interested in knowing about my experience as a woman in politics. We have to realize that there are many pending tasks in the region, and this issue, the issue of women in politics, we can say that we have been able to improve the situation of women’s participation in politics.

DP: What do you think the biggest challenge is in Costa Rica today, and what do you think the government can do to address that?

LC: The most important problem we have is trying to overcome the desisting ability of the financing of the public sector. We have a huge problem of fiscal deficit, and it has not been easy for us to reach an agreement; it has been very difficult to build a consensus around the measures we have to implement. I must say, the most challenging issue in any nation in terms of building political consensus has to do with how much everyone is going to contribute to financing the public sector. In some ways, we also have a problem building that consensus. What should government do? Government should try to do two things: One, try to spend the money they already get from the people through taxes; try to spend in a more transparent and more efficient way. Two, government has to lead in the political negotiations.

DP: In the U.S. presidential elections, gender was an important part of the conversation. To what extent do you think gender played a part in our elections?

LC: According to the Latin American experience, there are some policies and some actions and issues that are very important in terms of promoting women’s rights. When it comes to women’s political participation, the quota system is very important. I have found no other way, at least in our region, to improve the participation of women in politics. In the end, you have to enforce that kind of decision in politics. It’s very hard to get that they by themselves will step aside to give women the possibility to participate. It doesn’t happen just like that. The quota system that we have, thanks to the laws we have approved, is very important. I think that here in the United States, where we have analyzed the number of women that you have in Congress as compared to the countries in Latin America, is very low. You have around 20 percent of women participating in Congress, most of them in the House of Representatives, while in many nations in Latin America now you have over 30 percent. Some countries like Argentina and Mexico have around 40 to 50 percent. How can the United States move ahead? I think it’s going to be very, very hard if you don’t discuss the convenience of implementing a kind of quota system. At the same time, you have the reelection system. So it is even harder, because it is very common that the Congressperson gets reelected, and since you have more men than women in Congress it continues the same problem. So I would say that, as compared with Latin America, the United States could do even more to increase the participation of women.