President Oscar Arias speech
Event: 2010 Latin American/Caribbean Conference in Costa Rica Date Presented: 3 March 2010 at the opening reception
Published on: Mar 4, 2016
Transcripts - President Oscar Arias speech
A Country that Takes the Lead
Óscar Arias Sánchez
President of Costa Rica
Entrepreneurs’ Organization Regional Conference
3 March 2010
My dear friends,
Niccolò Machiavelli wrote in “The Prince” that “There is nothing more difficult to handle,
more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its outcome, than to take the lead in introducing a
new order of things.” His words could certainly apply to my line of work. They also apply to
yours. When you think about it, all of us are lucky to have made it here today in one piece. I
know I am lucky to share this room with a group of leaders who have navigated their own
difficult, perilous, uncertain journeys, with such finesse. It’s astonishing to read about what you
have accomplished at such a young age. I promise not to hold it against you.
The word “entrepreneur” means many things to many people. I have no doubt that it is
a concept you have dissected and discussed time and time again. You are pioneers; you are
innovators; you are managers. But to me, the most important part of what you do is taking risks,
and accepting the consequences. I know that one of the core values of your association is
“Boldly Go!” Costa Rica shares that same spirit. Though we may be famous for our natural
beauty and “pura vida,” I can assure you that this little country knows a few things about taking
risks and being a pioneer.
The most obvious risk we have taken is one you may already know about. In 1948, we
became the first country in history to abolish its army voluntarily. We have stayed the course
ever since, but that doesn’t mean it has been easy. In the early days, we were told we were
dreamers. In the 1980s, when violence broke out in the rest of Central America, we were told it
was dangerous not to arm ourselves once more. In this new century, as we push for reduced
military spending worldwide, we face tremendous opposition. But we have followed the advice
of another ground-breaker, Thomas J. Watson: “On issues that seem important to you, stand up
and be counted at any cost.”For us, that cost is nothing compared to the rewards of peace.
Those rewards have been tremendous, for all Costa Ricans. Instead of investing in an
army, we invested in our people. We built schools and hospitals instead of barracks; we bought
textbooks and medicines instead of weapons. The rest is history. We have free, universal health
care. We have one of the most educated and highly skilled workforces on the planet. And
thanks to this solid base, we have achieved tremendous growth.
Of course, Costa Rica’s economy is a small one. I have read that the members of your
organization reported total sales of more than one-hundred-eleven billion dollars in 2009; our
GDP, in the same period, was less than one-third that amount. Your members employ more
than 1.2 million workers; that’s a quarter of our total population. But as anyone who has ever
done business in Costa Rica can tell you, our size has never held us back. In a matter of
decades, we have transformed ourselves from an agricultural economy, reliant on coffee and
banana exports, to a global competitor that exports diverse products to hundreds of countries.
Our leading export these days is the microchip. Intel builds components here that can be used
in iMacs and MacBook laptops – so I like to say that Costa Rica has become an “Apple
As you learn more about us, you will find some of the same qualities that have led
companies like Merck, Sharp & Dohme, Hospira, Boston Scientific, Hewlett-Packard, Pfizer,
Abbot Labs, and Procter and Gamble, to choose Costa Rica as a base. You will find the political
President Speech page 1
stability of Latin America’s oldest democracy. You will find the human resources and
infrastructure that helped us attract 1.3 billion dollars in Foreign Direct Investment last year.
Thanks to the global economic downturn, that figure decreased from nearly two billion dollars in
2008, but it was the smallest reduction in Latin America; and in per capita terms, we received
more than Brazil, China and Mexico.
Those are our achievements, but we are always reaching higher. Despite being one of
Latin America’s most open economies, we continue to pursue new markets. Our Free-Trade
Agreement with the United States, Central America and the Dominican Republic took effect last
year, and we are now negotiating agreements with the European Union and China. We are
simplifying bureaucratic processes for investors. We are increasing our spending on education,
with special emphasis on language skills and information technologies. We continue to pursue
our goals aggressively, without rest.
That is your way, as entrepreneurs. It is Costa Rica’s way. And it is the only way for the
future. Our world today has both opportunities and problems unlike any in human history.
Humans face environmental destruction, educational shortcomings, and extreme poverty, but
we also have all the tools we need to solve these problems – if we can think outside the box. If
governments can see in private business, not just a source of capital, but also a source of
inspiration and new ways of thinking. If we can take risks and assume responsibility. This
attitude has been sorely lacking in many countries when it comes to our most critical problems,
especially climate change.
That’s why my administration launched an ambitious environmental plan called Peace
with Nature, which seeks to make our country carbon-neutral by our bicentennial in 2021. And
that’s why we have sought out public-private partnerships, knowing that we cannot achieve
such an ambitious goal without the help of our business leaders. I applaud the Entrepreneurs’
Organization for making this event carbon-neutral, and for planting trees in our country. Your
actions have benefited the young people of the Escuela República de Argentina, who planted
those trees alongside you – and all the children of Costa Rica, who will breathe easier because
of you. Your leadership sets a standard I hope other business leaders will follow.
I understand that some of you are making your first visit to Costa Rica. And I assume
that because of your demanding schedules, your visit will probably be a short one. But I invite
you, today or someday soon, to get to know another side of my country. I invite you to walk on
our white-sand beaches, marvel at the centennial trees of our pristine rainforests, and dive into
the spectacular underwater beauty of our oceans. Most of all, I invite you to do something you
probably don’t get the chance to do too often: relax. You may know that my presidential term is
drawing to a close, so who knows? Maybe I will pull up a hammock beside you for a while.
But we won’t rest for too long – because Costa Rica’s incredible journey, like your own,
shows no sign of slowing down. This country will continue to break new ground: in business, in
education, in conservation, and in the pursuit of peace. It will continue to take the lead as a
place where new ideas are welcome, where excellence is valued, and where opportunities are
plentiful. Its adventure will continue. I hope you will be a part of it.
Thank you very much.
President Speech page 2