Costa Rica President-Elect Laura Chinchilla

The election of Laura Chinchilla of the National Liberation Party on February 7 to the presidency of Costa Rica is an important milestone for Central America. President-elect Chinchilla has become Costa Rica’s first female president and the fifth woman elected president of a Latin America state since 1990. Her election represents a further blunting of the populist Left’s mythical invincibility in the region, and offers a pleasing counterpoise to the likes of anti-American machismo of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. In Panama, Honduras, Chile, and now Costa Rica, leaders of the center or center-right are winning elections, helping curb the march toward the radical Left.

President-elect Chinchilla, a former vice president, considers herself a staunch democrat and will likely continue Costa Rica’s leadership in advancing democracy, respect for human rights, a free press, and economic opportunity in the region.

In this way, she would continue the legacy of two-time Costa Rican president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Oscar Arias, who will now assume a place in history alongside the legendary founder of modern Costa Rican democracy, “Pepe” Figueres. Arias helped to end the Central American wars of the 1980s; he challenged the Latin American tendency to blame the U.S. for the region’s economic and social shortcomings; and he helped negotiate a peaceful settlement of the Honduran presidential and constitutional crisis.

It’s a record that will take courage and conviction to follow, but Chinchilla appears ready. She has promised to pursue free market strategies, to fight crime and drug trafficking in Central America, and to work cooperatively with the United States. And that deserves a welcome response from Washington, indeed.