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Chinchilla’s Cabinet Appointments Demonstrate Costa Rica’s Continuity

Laura Chinchilla has selected a few good men and women to fill out her cabinet ahead of her May 8 inauguration as Costa Rica's president, choosing from within the ranks of outgoing President Oscar Arias' government as well as borrowing officials from past administrations.

On Tuesday, the president-elect said women will be in charge of “80 percent of national production:” Mayi Antillón, Arias' communications minister, will be the economy minister; Anabel González, who served as vice minister of foreign trade from 1998-2001, will now be the foreign trade minister; and Gloria Abraham, currently an adviser to the agriculture minister, will replace her boss.

Last week, Chinchilla named José Marino Tijerino to be public security minister, a post that in recent years has had to bear an increasing load as the country finds its peaceful image being tarnished by a crime problem. Tijerino is seen as a veteran in Costa Rica's crime fight, having served as chief prosecutor in the early 1990s, at the same time that Chinchilla was public security vice minister under then-President José María Figueres Olsen.

Mario Zamora, President Arias' immigration chief, will be moved to the seat of Tijerino's number two.

Other picks include Marco Vargas, who recently took over as public works and transport minister after Karla González stepped down. He will be "minister to the presidency"— a position similar to a chief of staff—the same post he enjoyed under former President Figueres Olsen.

Earlier this month, Chinchilla had announced her first cabinet appointment. René Castro, a professor at INCAE Business School who masterminded Chinchilla's enormously successful presidential campaign—she won in all of the country's seven provinces—will be her canciller, or foreign minister. Castro was former President Figueres Olsen's environment minister.

Another key move announced last week was to create the new post of drug czar. That position will be filled by a respected narcotics expert, Mauricio Boraschi, the current director of the Costa Rican Drugs Institute. The creation of this post, which AQ Online reported was a likely step in February after Chinchilla's election, comes as Costa Rica faces a heightened presence of drug traffickers, as the narcotics trade shifts south from Mexico.

She has also tapped Fernando Herrero to be the new finance minister, a position he filled under (you guessed it) Figueres. Current Atlantic Port Authority chief Francisco Jiménez will take over the Public Works and Transport Ministry. Carlos Ricardo Benavides, who stepped down from head of the Tourism Ministry to help Chinchilla campaign, can step right back up again to the same spot in May.

Unlike the mostly seasoned crew of cabinet appointments, environmentalist Alfio Piva and banker Luis Liberman, long known to be Chinchilla's picks for vice presidents, will offer two fresh faces at Casa Presidencial.

The rest reinforces political analyst Constantino Urcuyo's theory of "change within continuity" of the outgoing Arias administration, in which Chinchilla played a big role as vice president until she resigned to run for president. Media such as The Tico Times, Nuestro País and other outlets agree with his assertion of continuismo. In stable Costa Rica, more of the same will reign.

*Alex Leff is a contributing blogger to americasquarterly.org based in San José, Costa Rica, and is the online editor for The Tico Times, Central America's leading English-language newspaper.

Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
Tags: Oscar Arias, Laura Chinchilla, Mayi Antillón, Gloria Abraham, José Marino Tijerino

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