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Video by Mark THOMPSON


Latest update : 2010-05-09

Laura Chinchilla, the first woman to hold Costa Rica's top office, was sworn in Saturday. Among her first actions was to suspend open-pit mining projects in the country.

AFP - Laura Chinchilla became Costa Rica's first female president Saturday, promising a more inclusive, transparent and green government, which she immediately put to work by suspending all open-pit mining projects in the country.

"My government will be for all women and men," Chichilla said after her open-air swearing in ceremony at a central square with thousands of supporters cheering her on.

Guests from 56 nations attended the event.

Chinchilla accepted the presidential sash that moments before had been worn by Oscar Arias, the twice elected president who won the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize for helping end civil wars in Central America.

The 51-year-old Arias protegee became president after winning the February 7 presidential election representing the center-left National Liberation Party (PLN).

She is the third female president in Central America, after Violeta Chamorro of Nicaragua and Mireya Moscoso of Panama.

The socially conservative president is expected to continue Arias's pro-free trade policies and international business ties, but could face tough deal-making in Congress, where her party lacks an absolute majority.

Police on horseback and in riot gear held back scores of protesters who showed up at the inauguration ceremony, expressing anger at Arias's economic policies they say Chinchilla will likely to continue.

Chinchilla said her government would take up the banner of ethics, transparency, the family, personal effort and "moral leadership."

Without missing a beat, the new president after her inaugural speech swore in her cabinet and sat down to sign three decrees, including a moratorium on open-pit mining, which directly affects Canada's Industria Infinito.

The mining company has a controversial gold mining project near the Nicaraguan border that calls for clearing 200 hectares (500 acres) of rain forest to extract an estimated 700,000 ounces of gold.

The project was put on hold after environmentalists took their objections to the Constitutional Court, the country's highest, which last month ruled against them. A lower, administrative court, however, has kept the project frozen.

Chinchilla has always come down against open-pit mining, deeming it too harmful to the environment.

In a surprise move, the new president also backed her promise of a more inclusive government by inviting all her rivals in the election to join her on the podium.

"We'll work for a more prosperous and competitive Costa Rica," said the mother of a teenage son.

Chinchilla also spoke of making the country safer, amid growing concern over drug-related violence, as Costa Rica follows down the path of other neighbors as a transshipment point for illegal drugs from South to North America.

However, she avoided talking about her campaign mantra of tax reform, a painful step economists said is needed to reduce the country's public debt, which currently stands at five percent of the gross domestic product.

On international issues, Chinchilla put regional integration at the top of her agenda and vowed to work to return Honduras to the international fold after it was  ostracized following the June 2009 coup that deposed President Manuel Zelaya.

Among the estimated 6,000 people attending the swearing in ceremony were all the presidents of Central America and those of Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico and Georgia.

Spain sent Prince Felipe, heir to the throne, the United States was represented by its Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, and China, with whom Costa Rica established diplomatic relations in 2007, sent its Minister of Population and Family Planning, Li Bin.

Date created : 2010-05-09


    Laura Chinchilla becomes nation's first female president

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