Another woman took center stage in world politics when Costa Ricans elected their first female president on February 7. President Elect Laura Chinchilla, the incumbent VP, is the third Latin American in the last four years to join the small but growing club of female executives. But it’s still unclear whether this newcomer is really looking out for the ladies.
Chinchilla won the election in a landslide, quickly defeating her two macho opponents with 47 percent of the vote. She ran on a platform of continued free-market policies and gained widespread support in a nation understandably reluctant to stray from a comfortable status quo. Costa Rica enjoys high salaries, the longest life expectancy in Latin America, near universal literacy, and booming tourism and export industries. Not to mention that Costa Rica is spared from the classic combination of drugs, coups, and civil strife that plagues many of its neighbors. And voters wanted to keep it that way. The protégée of current president Oscar Arias, whose policies brought Costa Rica into free-trade with the US, the EU, and China, Chinchilla plans to follow in her predecessor’s neoliberal footprints and further open Costa Rica to the world market.
Pro-business? No question. Pro-women? Debatable.
Despite her left-of-center welfare policies, Chinchilla is decidedly conservative in her social agenda, publicly denouncing gay marriage, abortion, and the legalization of the morning-after pill. Feminists the world over are in a frenzy. Angry blogger Samhita at feministing.com wrote: “We are proven once again that having a vagina does not ensure you will protect others that have them.” R. Dave (a man “feministing”?) bounced right back: “Having a vagina shouldn’t prove anything about you other than the fact that you have a vagina.”
Chinchilla’s paradox, however, accounts for much of her appeal: in with the new and out with the old, Costa Ricans wanted and won a fresh face who could rock the vote without rocking the boat.