A Discussion with Arnoldo André Tinoco on Costa Rican Foreign Policy

Photo of Arnoldo André Tinoco with Rebecca Bill Chavez and Manuel Orozco

On July 12, 2022, the Inter-American Dialogue hosted a private conversation with Foreign Minister of Costa Rica Arnoldo André Tinoco. Tinoco was sworn in as foreign minister in April of 2022 and had previously served as the president of the Chamber of Commerce of Costa Rica, a legal advisor for the embassies of Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Norway, and was one of the primary negotiators behind Chile and Costa Rica's free trade agreement.

Following introductions, Tinoco was asked several questions about Costa Rica’s international affairs and his experience during his first few months in office. The conversation began with a discussion on the Alliance for Democracy and Development, an initiative put forth in 2021 by Costa Rica, Panama, and the Dominican Republic to consolidate democracy and boost economic growth in these countries. Tinoco extolled the virtues of this initiative, stating that even in spite of the recent change in leadership in Costa Rica, the partnership has remained strong, which he attributed to the countries’ shared values. He also explained that the partnership has progressed through each country bringing its strengths to the initiative, with Costa Rica leading on diplomacy and Panama on finance and investment.

The conversation came to focus on how Costa Rica has reacted to an increase in migration to, and especially through, the country in recent years. According to Tinoco, there are roughly one million migrants in Costa Rica, accounting for roughly 20 percent of the country’s population, and the country continues to receive 15,000 new migration applications each day. To respond to this influx, Costa Rica has dedicated significant funds to settlement and management, which Tinoco shared that the current administration hopes to quantify and present to the international community. The majority of migrants coming to Costa Rica have entered through the southern border, via Panama, with the intention of heading northwards through Nicaragua, though Costa Rica is hosting a number of Nicaraguan immigrants as well.

As Nicaragua’s democracy has deteriorated, so has its relationship with Costa Rica. Tinoco brought up a recent flash point over leadership in the Central American Integration System (SICA), in which democracy advocates and eight ex-presidents of Central American countries all declared that it would be inadmissible for a Nicaraguan representative to lead the organization. However, this resistance to Nicaraguan leadership paralyzed SICA and created a dilemma over whether or not to accept a Nicaraguan representative at the head of the organization in order to revive its functionality. Furthermore, Tinoco expressed his concerns about Nicaragua’s agreement to admit Russian troops, both on the grounds that it would be an opportunity for Russia to engage in greater espionage and that it poses a risk to Costa Rica given that it does not have a military itself.

Tinoco also touched on a couple of other aspects of Costa Rica’s foreign policy, including El Salvador and how its instability affects the whole region. He decried both Bukele’s extension of the country’s state of emergency and his propensity for jailing suspected gang members without a fair and proper trial. Finally, on an optimistic note, Tinoco mentioned that he expects Costa Rica and Panama to see an increase in private investment as the majority of South America swings to the left.

The conversation concluded by reiterating the challenges that Costa Rica faces, especially with respect to its relationship with Nicaragua, as well as its commitment to and hopes for the Alliance for Democracy and Development.

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˙Manuel Orozco