Laura Chinchilla has won the presidency in Costa Rica, adding to the trend in Latin America of electing women presidents in a traditionally male-dominated culture. She won with about 47 percent of the vote, well above the 40 percent required to win without a runoff in Costa Rica. Another big winner in the election was a new party, the Libertarian Movement, which came from nowhere and took 22 percent of the vote and likely will be a new power in the Congress. It's unlikely that Chinchilla's National Liberation Party, the old mainline party of Jose Maria Figueres, known to all as "Don Pepe," will be able to govern without forging a coalition with one of the lesser parties.
Most people think of Costa Rica as an ecological paradise and point to it as an example of how a nation and a people can overcome dictatorship and militarism. In 1948, Costa Ricans, led by Figueres, overthrew the military in a civil war that cost an estimated 2,000 dead. The new civilian regime abolished the military, dedicated funds to education and gave full political rights to women and blacks. Since a new constitution was enacted in 1953, Costa Rica has had more than a dozen presidential elections, including Sunday's.
Chinchilla was vice-president under outgoing leader Oscar Arias, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who helped negotiate an end to the U.S.-back bloody wars in Central America of the 1980s.
She says her primary goal is to battle the drug trafficking gangs that have made her country a transshipment point for drugs moving through Central America. Other significant and growing problems are the nation's economy and crime, although Costa Rica is still in better shape than its Central American neighbors.