With Solis, Costa Ricans Signal Readiness for Change

With Solis, Costa Ricans Signal Readiness for Change

On May 9, 2014, Guillermo Solis became Costa Rica’s 47th president. His ascension to the office marked the end to one of the country’s most unusual election cycles in recent memory. Solis succeeds Laura Chinchilla, who departed office with the lowest presidential approval rating in the hemisphere, at one point as low as 9 percent. During Chinchilla’s four years in office (2010-2014), her administration was dogged by corruption scandals, tensions with Nicaragua and a growing deficit. How Solis will manage Costa Rica’s mounting difficulties remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: Costa Ricans are ready for change.

Chinchilla, Costa Rica’s first female president, entered office with considerable popular support. Having served for two years as vice president under Oscar Arias, whose own term lasted from 2006 to 2010, Chinchilla seemed a promising successor for the historic National Liberation Party (PLN). Her ambitious agenda targeted public security, tax reform, education and the environment. But her honeymoon was short-lived; polls revealed skepticism about her leadership after her first 100 days in office.

Her successes were overshadowed by her failures to effectively manage some of Costa Rica’s most pressing problems. Chinchilla’s efforts in public security resulted in a reduction in violent crime. Costa Rica’s homicide rate is the lowest it has been in a decade, and other types of crime are on the decline as well. There were also significant increases in drug interdiction over the course of her term, though this also suggests an increase in drug trafficking in the country. During Chinchilla’s tenure, Costa Rica benefitted from economic growth averaging 4.5 percent as well as increased foreign investment. She signed numerous free trade agreements, recently initiating membership with the Pacific Alliance. But she failed to effectively tackle the growing deficit, rising inequality or the cost of living. In September 2013, Moody’s lowered Costa Rica’s outlook to “negative.” The rating agency recently threatened to further downgrade Costa Rica’s credit rating if the country doesn’t address its crisis in public debt, which reached 40 percent of GDP in 2013.

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