Females First

Anne Slaughter Andrew was a 16-year-old student at Reitz Memorial High School when she boarded a plane to Central America with her uncle, John Slaughter. She spent three weeks delivering medicine and food supplies for a nonprofit organization. She returned and told her parents, Marge and the late Owen Slaughter, her new life plan: to attend Georgetown University, join foreign service, and someday return to Central America.

In December 2009, Slaughter Andrew — then an environmental attorney for a Florida firm — moved to Central America to become the first woman to serve as the U.S. ambassador to Costa Rica. The view from her office at the U.S. Embassy San Jose offers palm trees and afternoon arrivals of parrots. Working in a tropical locale has its benefits: The country the size of West Virginia has more biodiversity than the United States.

Yet, nearly two years after her appointment by President Barack Obama, Slaughter Andrew faces challenges in Costa Rica similar to the plights of the United States: a health system in critical condition. Here, she talks to Evansville Living about veterans, drug trafficking, and women in power.

During your childhood, what was your biggest influence to pursue this career?
Each Fourth of July at sunset, my father and veterans of the Korean War would conduct a ceremony of taking down and folding the American flag; they did it with such great pride from when they were in the service. This made such an impact on me about how proud they were to have served, and it inspired in me a great desire to someday serve my country.

A few leading issues in the 2010 Costa Rican election were violence, crime, and drug trafficking. As ambassador, how do these issues affect you?
Citizen security here is an issue that is one of the top priorities for our mission. The U.S. government has seen the threat in the narcotrafficking increase in Central America over the last few years, and our response has been to increase our cooperation and assistance. The last three years, we have focused almost $30 million of security-related assistance in Costa Rica to help them build the capacity within their police force and within their judiciary to combat these traffickers.

You are the first woman to serve as U.S. ambassador to Costa Rica. Last year, Costa Rica elected their first woman president. How quickly will the “first woman” moniker fade for prominent positions?
It has been a very exciting year for women in Costa Rica. In addition to President (Laura) Chinchilla, I’ve had the opportunity to visit many women legislators, business owners, community leaders, and students all over the country who I think are all setting a positive example. Our embassy is working with the Costa Rican Chamber of Exporters and Coca Cola on a program to develop a leadership and mentoring program. With such support and keen interest that women have to participate, I believe we may see women take their seats in all of those “firsts” by the time my daughter is grown.

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