President Laura Chinchilla, business leaders and the Spanish-language press stressed the idea that Costa Rica may obtain liquid petroleum gas from the United States at a reduced cost under the Central American Free Trade Treaty. Yet Ms. Chinchilla is preventing a U.S. firm from doing exploratory drilling in the northern zone where there may be large quantities of gas in addition to petroleum.
The other goals sought by Costa Rica were similarly cloudy. The foreign ministry said later that the visit of Obama put Costa Rica in a better position to convert itself into a nation that is modernized and on the road to progress. Then the statement by Enrique Castillo, the foreign minister, said that gave a long list of what Costa Rica sought to do, including stimulating innovations.
The minister of Relaciones Exteriores y Culto said Obama’s visit provided a list of what the country must do over the long run. But all of this was known previously.
Ms. Chinchilla in her Friday press conference noted that Costa Rica sought to join the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Obama stopped short of saying the United States would back the bid. According to the official White House transcript, what he said was less than a specific endorsement: “Costa Rica has shown itself to be a world leader and model around free trade, freedom of the press, democracy, respect for human rights, and that makes it an outstanding candidate for membership in the OECD, for example. And so we will expect that we’ll continue to support Costa Rica in expanding its influence.”
Costa Rica hoped that the visit by Obama would put the country on the world stage. Developments in the Middle East overshadowed the events here, and even the White House Web site emphasizes Obama’s Thursday visit to México and not the Friday and Saturday visit to Costa Rica. There is one photo from Costa Rica available of Obama surrounded by school children waving flags.
That photo seems to summarize the visit. The meeting with Central American presidents gave Obama a needed boost in trying to promote his version of an immigration bill in the U.S. Congress. Ms. Chinchilla gets a boost in her sagging ratings by being the hostess for one of the most powerful men in the world and other regional presidents and suggesting that the visit may bring benefits to Costa Rica.
Costa Ricans were again reminded of U.S. precision and power with Blackhawk helicopters overhead and an impressive motorcade on an empty highway to and from the Juan Santamaría airport. And local police officials congratulated themselves on an effort that put 1,000 officers in the field and handled eight reports of suspicious persons. The principal unhappiness came from merchants who took a big hit with the closing of downtown streets and a Friday holiday for public employees in the region.
In his weekly radio address, which aired Saturday morning, Obama, in the words of the White House, describes the incredible opportunities to create middle-class jobs in America by deepening economic ties and expanding trade in Latin America and discusses a recent Senate bill that takes common sense steps to fix the broken immigration system.
The address was for internal consumption and probably was taped before Obama arrived here.
President Chinchilla praised the free trade treaty thusly: “Thanks to CAFTA, the countries in our region have increased by 70 percent the international trade. And what we basically seek is to be able to promote initiatives in the area of facilitation of trade.”
A quick check of the statistics provided by the U.S. Commerce Department show that there has been a great increase in trade from 2001 to 2012 when the last yearly figures are available. In 1999 Costa Rica exported $2.4 billion in products to the United States and imported nearly $4 billion. That left a $1.6 billion deficit. In 2012 the trade deficit for Costa Rica was $4.8 billion with exports of $7.2 billion and imports from the United States of $12 billion. This country’s exports are mainly computer chips and agricultural products.
Said Obama during the Friday press conference: “Costa Rica shows the benefits of trade that is free and fair. Over the last few years, under the Central America Free Trade Agreement, our trade with Costa Rica has doubled, creating more jobs for people in both of our countries. Our partnerships are creating more opportunities for small businesses and entrepreneurs, including young people and women. As I told President Chinchilla, the United States will continue to be your partner as Costa Rica modernizes its economy so that you’re attracting more investment and creating even more trade and more jobs.”
Although both presidents tried to emphasize economic development over the war on drugs, that issue cropped up several times in the public comments. Both presidents promoted an approach that attacked the roots of drug use. Obama summarized that when he met with business leaders Saturday morning:
“But what I also believe is that we can’t just have a law-enforcement-only approach. We also have to have a prevention approach. We have to have an education approach. We have to think creatively because obviously some of the things that we’re doing have worked, but some things haven’t worked. We’ve got to think about institution building and capacity in our law enforcement and our judicial systems. Those are all going to be very important, and I know that the work that we’ve done together has made some progress, but I’m interested in learning more about other things that we can do.”
The cost of the visit to the United States Treasury and to Costa Rican governmental budgets has yet to be computed.