THE TIES THAT BIND

Costa Rica 2018 | DIPLOMACY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Manuel Antonio González Sanz, Minister of Foreign Affairs, on new embassies abroad, multilateralism, and the challenges and benefits of not having an army.

 Manuel Antonio González Sanz
BIOGRAPHY
Manuel Antonio González Sanz was appointed as Minister of Foreign Affairs in May 2014. He was previously Minister of Foreign Trade (2004-2006), Ambassador to the UN and its specialized organizations in Geneva, and Special Advisor to the Vice President of Costa Rica. He graduated from the University of Costa Rica and has an LL.M Stone Scholar (Honours) from Columbia University. He taught corporate law and securities at both the law and business schools of the University of Costa Rica and is a partner at one of the largest and oldest law firms in Central America, as well as having published numerous articles on financial, trade, and legal issues.

What is your interpretation of the country's foreign policy and its key challenges and priorities?

Since Costa Rica does not have an army, our main foreign policy focus is multilateralism; we rely on international law and organizations to defend ourselves and promote our interests. As such, we have strategic bilateral relations with traditional partners like the US and the EU, and non-traditional destinations with whom we have tried to focus on three areas. One is Southeast Asia, particularly countries such as Brunei and Malaysia, who were never on the radar of previous administrations. Of course, China is another important player; until recently we were the only country in Central America that had diplomatic relations with it. There are other important areas such as Central Asia, particularly Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. The other region we have paid special attention is in the Middle East Arab countries, in particular the UAE, where we are opening a new embassy. Before the end of this administration, we will have at least four new embassies in Azerbaijan, Indonesia, Abu Dhabi, and Australia.

How is the government fostering multilateralism?

Since we do not have diplomatic presence in every ASEAN country, we will participate actively in the FEALAC meeting in Seoul at the end of August. We hosted the meeting, which is still the only forum for dialog between Latin America and East Asia, in 2015; hence, the level of participation between the two regions must really be improved. Currently, one of our most important pillars is disarmament in all its forms, especially nuclear, which is why Costa Rica held the Presidency of the United Nations Conference to draft a treat to ban nuclear weapons, which approved a final text on July 7, 2017. The principles of democracy, freedom and human rights, and the environment are key. We have been critical of the Central America integration system and have pointed out the need for more transparency, accountability, and results. We had the presidency during the first semester of 2017 and worked hard on institutional reform, pragmatism, and closer relationships with observers. Security policies are also important for us, and drug trafficking in particular is something that is hitting the region hard. Costa Rica has been used for transit purposes, and we need to patrol more efficiently in the Pacific. In Costa Rica, 65% of murders are drug-related. Therefore, we are working closely with Colombia and Panama to tackle this problem and be more efficient in the fight against drug trafficking. We have also established a closer relationship with the US, and President Solís has visited the White House twice within a period of eight months.

In what way has the country benefited from abolishing the army, and what are the strategies to ensure security in the country?

If we put this in the context of 1948—the pattern of Latin American dictatorships, the civil war in Costa Rica in 1948, and invasion attempt of 1955—then it was a bold decision. We did it coming out of a civil war that only lasted one month but killed many people. This made it even more difficult to imagine such a decision. That it was in the constitution merely a year later makes it even more difficult to imagine. However, this liberated many resources that used to go to the military and could now be invested in human development, which differentiates Costa Rica from many other countries in the world. We defend ourselves by relying on international law; an example is our relationship with Nicaragua, with whom we have fought several cases in the International Court of Justice. We also need strong relationships with our traditional partners while always adding new ones. We are currently working hard to achieve the sustainable development goals.