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Public Diplomacy and Costa Rica’s Foreign Policy


By H.E. Mr Mauricio Ortiz, Ambassador of Costa Rica in Canada

Costa Rica carries out constant, clear, and coherent actions on issues related to the axes of foreign policy and public diplomacy through our Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Worship and its Foreign Service.

What do we mean by public diplomacy? According to Claramunt and Sáenz (2020), public diplomacy today is something very different from the traditional concept of diplomacy, which  involved almost exclusively the relations between subjects of international law, particularly States, under the sign of power (political, military, economic, strategic…), within a classical conception of the State, and through communication and relationship channels that in good part passed almost exclusively under the key of secrecy of political and military elites.

While traditional diplomacy aims at a relationship between peers, governments and their official interlocutors, public diplomacy bets on broader networks of individuals or collectives, and tends to be more transparent and widely known. This vision of diplomacy is relational, bidirectional or multidirectional, democratizing, associative, symmetrical and promotes dialogue among equals.

In this sense, Joseph Nye distinguished between the concept of hard power based on the possession of economic, material and military resources and the concept of soft power based on skills or qualities that allow a change in the behavior of others, without inescapable pressures, to achieve certain results. In this way, soft power can always be an ally or complement to public diplomacy and is a fundamental instrument for countries that do not have a preeminence in other areas or do not wish to resort to a coercive policy, as is the case of Costa Rica.

Along these lines, Bátora (2005) argues that, in intelligent public diplomacy, small and medium-sized countries could reduce asymmetries and reexamine their accents from a dynamic of growing involvement of non-traditional sectors in diplomacy, such as civil society, academia, science, culture and the private sector. This approach has been progressively incorporated into the foreign policy of many countries.

Costa Rica positions through various types of Public Diplomacy actions, the Pillars of Foreign Policy, and therefore the great positioning of Costa Rica on issues such as sustainable development, peace, democracy, disarmament, human rights, and respect for international law. Likewise, with an integrated effort between diplomatic offices and our Ministry, we developed objectives, actions, indicators and goals in the areas of economic and cultural diplomatic activities. With the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the headquarters developed activities within the strategic axes outlined each year and the priorities of the governing bodies, in the areas of tourism, culture, trade, science, among others.  

Moreover, the efforts in the pillar of Cultural Diplomacy are part of Public Diplomacy, promoting mutual comprehension and understanding, promoting the various expressions, such as film, music, literature, visual and performing arts. Dr Eugene Matos (2016), Dominican Republic diplomat states when talking about culture, “arts reach what diplomats, politicians and governments usually cannot”, and we fully identify with his words.

In Costa Rica there are some relevant experiences of state support for the internalization of cultural projects. One example has been the work with the Costa Rican Film Production Center, part of the Ministry of Culture and Youth, which has accompanied our embassies abroad in their cultural promotion functions, and has used this platform to internationalize the work of our country’s audiovisual creators. On the other hand, the efforts of our country brand (Essential), as a transversal strategy, position Costa Rica in the world for the benefit of trade and investment attraction, culture, and tourism, under the strategic axes of sustainability, excellence, innovation, social progress and Costa Rican linkage.

As Claramunt and Sáenz (2020) point out, in a fragmented world, public diplomacy tends to bring individuals and people closer together when politics, in some of its manifestations, can divide them. When hard politics tends to separate and alienate the parties, culture, science, sustainable development manage to offer the conditions for greater closeness and for the constitution of knowledge networks that often respond to their own ethics and needs.

Costa Rica promotes a public diplomacy aimed at dialogue between people, through different manifestations, which allows other levels of understanding, mutual recognition, and appreciation of the differences between societies and states. In the work of its embassies and consulates, Costa Rica and its institutionalism, in its public and private expression, can find the natural platform to strengthen those elements of soft power that our country has, which in 1949 decided to abolish the army and invest in education, health, infrastructure and in the protection of the environment.

Essay assigned  to distinguished students. Dr. Eugenio Matos G., senior diplomat and lecturer of public diplomacy at the University of Ottawa, Canada. Mastering Public Diplomacy Certificate, May 2021 session. 

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