Central Standard Time) UTC/GMT -6 hours
Capital City San José
Currency Costa Rican colón CRC
National Day 15 Sep
COSTA RICA’S AMBASSADOR Rafael Ortiz Fábrega arrived in London on 29 October, with his wife Laura. Thrilled to be here, he notes, “London is one of the greatest cities in the world and living here has been quite a learning experience.” While searching for a residence, the Ambassador’s 35 years in law immediately came into its own when negotiating the rental agreement.
After graduating from law school, the bulk of his career (over 20 years), was spent as General Counsel of the Central America and Caribbean Division of Coca Cola, with a secondment to Harvard Law School in 1989. He then set up his own practice specialising in business and commercial law (2006-13). Despite his decades of work in the private sector, the Ambassador continued to have a deep interest in the national issues that mark Costa Rican society.
Mr Ortiz Fábrega credits this interest to his close relationship to his grandfather, Rafael Ortiz Céspedes, who in the 1940s was part of the government and political movement that founded the Social Christian Unity Party. “He was a great source of inspiration,” he explains. “The party was important in initiating great social change in Costa Rica, creating stability at a time where the wasn’t much stability in Latin America.”
Accordingly, the Ambassador’s political career began, first as a member of the Board of Directors Foreign Trade in the Foreign Trade Ministry, which tied in nicely with his private practice work. But one of the most memorable days of Mr Ortiz Fábrega’s career came when he was appointed Congressman of the Parliamentary Group of that same Social Christian Unity Party in 2014, a position he held for four years. Initially he was appointed Whip of his party’s Congressional group and elected President of the Costa Rican Legislative Assembly (2015-16). “We worked beyond party lines reaching across the aisle and creating consensus for the purpose of enacting important legislation, like modernising the Labour Code with expedited procedural regulations. Continuing the legacy of my grandfather made this role all the more special.”
He worked closely with civil society organisations to create the First Open Congress Programme to increase transparency in all Congress’s internal practices. Accordingly, the Costa Rican Legislative Assembly was awarded the Open Congress Award of the Americas by the Organisation of the American States and recognition from ParlAmericas, the group of Parliaments of the Americas.
His great-uncle was Head of Costa Rica’s Mission in the UK (1907-19), enabling various family members to attend Oxford University and create a bond with the UK for years to come. When appointed Ambassador in the UK, he felt it was particularly “special” to continue “the family tradition.” He credits his legal and business background as “essential for promoting and negotiating trade deals,” and believes that there is a great potential for increasing trade and investment opportunities in both countries.
“We are excited for the possibilities to further our longstanding ties based on mutual shared values. The UK is already an important market for our agricultural products like coffee, bananas, sugar and pineapples, but we are also looking at expanding the spectrum. Costa Rica is one of the foremost manufacturers of sophisticated medical devices in the world and a hub in Latin America for financial services, so we want to expand our links with the UK for emerging sectors like fintech.
“Our positive diplomatic relations mean that we are able to exchange expertise and best practice with the UK in terms of government planning for transport links and healthcare. The goal is to tie British know-how into planning our large infrastructure projects. Likewise, on healthcare, the Costa Rican system is very similar to the NHS and we have a lot to learn from each other.”
The Ambassador is keen to highlight ecotourism in Costa Rica as one of the country’s fastest growing sectors, especially now there are direct flights between London and Costa Rica. “Our main advantage is the well-established system of national parks and protected areas that cover almost 25 per cent of the country’s land area, the largest in the world as a percentage of the country’s territory, which is sure to attract visitors for decades to come.”
“Costa Rica has a longstanding constitutional commitment to democracy, disarmament and social well-being and we continue to project those values on the world stage. There is always a need to defend human rights around the world. But the main challenge at multilateral level is working together to mitigate the effects of climate change and to decarbonise our economies. Our government aims for total decarbonisation by 2050. We are pleased to see the UK government shares this target.”
In addition to politics and advocacy, football has always been a great passion of the Ambassador’s. As a child, he trained with Alajuelense Sports League, and was proud to become President of the team (2002-06). “We were one of the most important football clubs in the region,” he declares. “And of my time as President, the red and black team were champions for three years!”