Nov. 5, 2002

From Costa Rica to Foggy Bottom

Former President Rodriguez Reflects on Accomplishments, Relishes New Role at GW

By Melissa Nachatelo

Every morning, former President of Costa Rica Miguel Angel Rodriguez puts on his running shoes and heads out the door of his on-campus townhouse to explore a new area of DC, such as Rock Creek Park or the Latino quarters near 18th Street. “I’m learning the city in a very special way — on foot,” Rodriguez says.

Rodriguez, who ended his term as president in May, recently moved to Washington with his wife to become a J.B. and Maurice C. Shapiro Professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs. After a prominent and successful career as a political leader, economist, and businessman, he now returns to the classroom, where his career first began in the 1960s.

In 1966, Rodriguez was on an academic track, working toward his PhD in economics from the University of California, Berkeley, and intending to continue his dissertation in Chicago. A phone call from a colleague in Costa Rica changed that. He offered Rodriguez a position on the Planning Board at the Presidential House and participating in cabinet meeting. At 26, Rodriguez moved back to his country with his wife and son and soon became the minister of planning and later minister of the presidency. Once the four-year term of the government ended, however, he again returned to his academic passions as a visiting professor of economics at the Institute for International Studies, University of California, Berkeley, and a professor of economics at the University of Costa Rica and at the Autonomous University of Central America.

Simultaneously, Rodriguez says he began an agricultural export business and worked with think tanks, as well as his party’s economic platform in order to open up Costa Rica’s economy. In 1988, he made a run to become the presidential candidate of the United Social Christian Party.

After losing this bid, he was elected as a member of congress, where he later became president of congress. After six years, he received his party’s nomination as a presidential candidate and lost the election by the slimmest of margins — 1.5 percent. Then, in 1998, he ran for the presidency again, was elected, and took his position as Costa Rica’s chief executive.

While in office, Rodriguez says his main concerns were opening the economy, building the country’s human capital, rebuilding the infrastructure, which had been tattered since the 1980s, and opening better access to foreign markets. When Rodriguez talks of how his government tried to open state monopolies, he notes, “there we failed.”

Although his administration worked relentlessly for two years, Rodriguez says, they didn’t have the majority in congress. However, Rodriguez counts rebuilding the country’s infrastructure, from highways to airports, including communications and electricity, and improving the education, health, and social security systems in the country as part of his successes.

“It’s these social changes that made me very proud,” he says. “We increased substantially the amount of resources devoted to education,” he says, noting that high school enrollment rates increased from 59 percent to 74 percent. He also remarks on how social security and pension systems were enhanced, life expectancy increased, and mortality rates were reduced during his term. Under his leadership the country also adopted the Law of Responsible Fatherhood, which gave women the legal right to name and receive support from fathers who did not recognize their children when born out of wedlock. Costa Rica also achieved free trade agreements with Canada, Chile, Dominican Republic, Trinidad, and Tobago.

Upon stepping down from his position as president, Rodriguez, a father of three and grandfather of three, now turns to educating others about his economic and political experiences. According to Rodriguez, his main interest is to help GW students improve their skills to critically rationalize situations and delve into the real consequences and meanings of human actions.

“It’s very important to have a warm heart, but it is also important to have a cool mind,” he says.

As the new Shapiro professor, Rodriguez, who enjoys the new neighborhood, will share his knowledge with graduate and undergraduate students during his two-year appointment through courses like “Trade and Economic Development in Latin America,” next spring’s course on human rights, and various special lectures.


Send feedback to:

GW News Center


ByGeorge! Online