Americas / Global
Costa Rica's first female president gets the once over in our Style Leader. Plus our Washington correspondent reports on how big business and political campaigns in the US don't always make good bedfellows.
Costa Rica — LAURA CHINCHILLA
Laura Chinchilla took power in February as Costa Rica’s first female president after a landslide victory. She has some tough tasks ahead of her. As well as combating rising crime rates and drug trafficking and reducing the country’s carbon emissions in a bid to make Costa Rica carbon neutral by 2021, she apparently also needs to stay looking good.
“Chinchilla has a special challenge – to continue to look as great as she has until now,” commented one local television channel following her decisive election win.
Indeed, Chinchilla, who is president of Central America’s most stable democracy, is earning a reputation for being one of Latin America’s best-dressed leading ladies.
“Without doubt this is a woman with good taste; she keeps it simple but is elegant and takes care of her appearance,” says Thaís Aguilar, an editor at Perfil, Costa Rica’s leading women’s magazine.
A graduate from Washington’s Georgetown University, Chinchilla wouldn’t look out of place at a Republican fundraiser. Her pearls and carefully coordinated two-piece skirt suits reaching just below the knee reflect her conservative beliefs and middle-class roots. The 51-year-old opposes gay marriage and abortion. Known for being a devout Catholic, she is often seen wearing a rosary.
Chinchilla isn’t taking fashion pointers from her only female Latin American presidential counterpart, Argentine Cristina Kirchner, who favours thick make-up and garish attire. In contrast, the Costa Rican prefers an understated look, reflecting the efficient, independent working mother she aims to portray.
Chinchilla, though, is not afraid to flirt with a feminine and youthful look. She has met dignitaries sporting a slim-fitting polka dot dress and is known to wear discreet animal print shirts under her tailored jackets.
She isn’t bending an inch to male pressure, however, when it comes to her dress sense. “It’s not about passing from the yoke of patriarchy to the yoke of matriarchy as some would like to see it,” she said, when she was asked about being a female leader in a man’s world. “Simply, it’s not having any type of oppression that tells a woman how to act, dress or talk.”
The demure look:
Chinchilla is rarely seen without her favourite pearl earrings and matching bracelet and/or necklace.
Her make-up artist keeps cosmetics to a minimum, using subdued shades. “I like to highlight my eyes but tone down my mouth a bit, which is quite big,” Chinchilla told the local press. It is said the president has used Botox to hide the lines between her eyebrows.
Skirt suits and satin shirts in bright Caribbean tones such as fuchsia and turquoise are Chinchilla’s wardrobe staples. “With legs as good as hers for a woman of her age, she can get away with wearing skirts all the time,” says Aguilar of Perfil. During her presidential inauguration, she wore a fetching white silk suit by German fashion house Escada, which was bought for her by her parents. Preferring to not appear ostentatious, Chinchilla leans towards US mid-range fashion brands rather than celebrity designer labels.
Chinchilla opts for medium-sized heels that match the outfit, as well as open-toe shoes.
USA — AID
US Peace Corps officials are anticipating an invitation to return to Haiti. The programme first sent its young do-gooders to the country in 1982 but Washington suspended visits in 2005 because of governmental disarray there.
Still in need of post-earthquake help, Port-au-Prince is now expected to ask the Americans back.
Climate change is bringing a cosy financial glow to Baffin Island. The warmer weather makes it possible to mine iron ore near the Steensby Inlet. A new seaport, railroad and major road are being built to help get it to market. By 2013 some three million tonnes of ore will be extracted each year.
View from Washington
How big business’s newfound freedom to campaign for its favoured politicians backfired
By Sasha Issenberg
A January ruling by the Supreme Court to undo a century of federal limits on corporate meddling in politics looked like good news for big business, which was suddenly free to spend directly on its favoured candidates. Like most Democrats who feared they would become victims of a boardroom assault, Barack Obama attacked the so-called Citizens United decision as “a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies”.
But the first firms to try to exploit their victory have not felt so lucky. This summer, a handful of Midwestern CEOs gathered to create the Minnesota Forward fund with a goal of raising $5m (€3.9m) to back business-friendly candidates in the November elections. Companies quietly wrote cheques, and in July the group released its first ad, which cheered Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer (pictured) for opposing “job-killing taxes”. But when Minnesota Forward disclosed its contributors – including retailer Target for $150,000; electronics store Best Buy for $100,000; and Red Wing Shoes for $50,000 – media attention turned from Emmer to the companies themselves.
Liberal activists, already targeting Emmer for his opposition to gay marriage, began forcing his corporate sponsors to defend his views on social issues. The Human Rights Campaign, a leading gay-advocacy group aligned with Democrats, bought a full-page ad in Minnesota newspapers calling for a boycott of Target and Best Buy. “Two of our most trusted brands have contributed shareholder money that could help elect a candidate that wants nothing but the worst for us,” the group’s president, Joe Solmonese, wrote. Target had the roughest ride. The company’s CEO sent a letter to staff apologising for the way it had handled its political foray. That still didn’t stop Minneapolis media from reporting on the Bible college the CEO’s daughter had attended. Over a few weeks, Target went from good corporate citizen to institutional bigot.
Therefore, the real political strategy in the US corporate suite this autumn may not be about picking winners, but weighing the value of playing politics against the possibility of alienating consumers and clients. Local companies Pentair and Graco also made their own significant gifts to the cause but went unscathed – probably because few Minnesotans know their names let alone where to buy the products they make (water pumps and fluid handling systems, respectively).
Obama may have had it more right than he knew when he suggested that the energy, financial and insurance sectors would be the real winners from Citizens United. Those companies are already unpopular, yet consumers have few good options for punishing them at the point of sale. (In a few months, will anyone drive the extra mile to avoid buying their petrol from BP?) The only companies left to speak for the business agenda might be the ones already too unlikeable to care.
Issues that will push companies to spend money on campaigns this year:
Wall Street feels betrayed by Obama’s aggressive financial reforms.
Low-skilled industries, such as agriculture and meat-processing, fear that anti-immigration Republicans would cut off their labour flow.
Exporters are disappointed that a Democratic Congress has failed to approve free-trade agreements with Colombia and South Korea.
Energy producers and emissions-rich factories hope Republican wins could eradicate a climate bill that puts a price on carbon.
Count the Cost
Canada — CENSUS
How many Canadians are there? In the future, perhaps you’ll never know. Calling it coercive and an intrusion on privacy, the Canadian government has announced the compulsory long-form census that was sent to about 20 per cent of households will now be voluntary. The decision has been criticised by some, who argue that it will compromise the quality of data that the census collects.
USA — POLITICS
Held every four years, the national political-party conventions are the most prestigious business meetings in the US, and top-tier cities once fought for them: NY, Dallas, Chicago, LA, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Houston and San Francisco all hosted conventions between 1984 and 2000.
Yet only two of the country’s 25 largest cities – Phoenix and Charlotte – entered the process to win the 2012 sessions. Larger cities have decided the competition to woo party leaders is too costly and the profits unpredictable. So foreign correspondents covering Barack Obama’s renomination will be forgiven for never having visited the town in which it is held. For its 2012 convention, the Democratic National Committee is in the process of choosing between Charlotte, St Louis, Cleveland and Minneapolis.
The Republicans have already selected Tampa over bids from Phoenix and Salt Lake City.
Peru’s gold-mining outpost of Madre de Dios had cause to celebrate as prices for the precious metal reached an all-time high this summer. An estimated 40,000 people make their living from nugget hunting and Peru has become the world’s sixth largest gold producer. One hitch for central government: “informal” mining accounts for 20 per cent of production.