For India, Costa Rica is the gateway to Latin America
By Vivek Pattanayak*
Costa Rica, a beautiful country that has no military, abolished by the constitution for more than seven decades, zealously preserves its environment by not allowing any mining activity including the extraction of gold although endowed with this precious asset in abundance, diligently protects its biodiversity and admirably maintains its ecological balance receiving global adulation. It produces 95% of its electricity from renewable sources. Considered the Switzerland of Latin America. the country is politically neutral without a military alliance. The happiness index of this small country remains in the top ten in the world. Its former president Oscar Aries was awarded the Nobel Prize for peace efforts to end the civil war in Nicaragua.
As a tourist destination for Americans and Europeans, it promotes wellness tourism. Its former president Guillermo Solis had suggested to have a joint venture with India for the promotion of yoga and wellness tourism in the world. Her passion for the history and culture of India was born from her great godmother who was a Sanskrit scholar who studied the Vedas. President Solis was a fan of Ramachandran Guha, himself a former professor of history at the University of Costa Rica. During his conversation with me a few years ago, he expressed his admiration for the railway system of India and indicated the involvement of Indian Railways in the modernization and expansion of Costa Railways Ric.
In 2012 and 2013, the Vice Minister of Civil Aviation expressed interest in India’s satellite navigation system known as GAGAN to facilitate air navigation in Costa Rica. India does not yet have an embassy in this country, now with the Embassy of India in Panama.
Although a former Spanish colony, its influence faded after post-war American rule. Although other European countries such as Germany, France and the United Kingdom have shown interest in expanding business and trade, Japan too, their businesses are proving costly. On the contrary, China has made rapid progress in collaboration with this country. In 2007, Taiwan had its presence in Costa Rica, and there was no China. Over the past 14 years, China has not only established its embassy as a replacement for Taiwan, but has spread its wings by building a huge football stadium at its own expense, encouraging Chinese businessmen to invest in the country. Meanwhile, the Chinese president has visited the country twice, including the current president. During his last visit, he signed many business and commercial agreements. China has agreed to import beef, pork and milk from Costa Rica.
It is understood that China would upgrade the port of Lemon on the Atlantic side and establish an oil refinery there. They signed an air services agreement. Over the past ten years, the Chinese have made themselves present in every city with business or otherwise. You can see Chinese restaurants in every city including small towns. The rapid expansion of Chinese influence is such that Mandarin is taught in schools as a third language, with Spanish and English being the first and second.
In view of these developments, India is to establish an embassy in Costa Rica. Otherwise, the appointment of a dynamic and active honorary consul may serve the purpose for the time being. The Foreign Office needs to recognize how aggressively China is expanding its influence in a small Latin American country. Being strategically located with all its potentialities to become Singapore of the American continent, India should use Costa Rica as a gateway to Latin America.
Since 2007 as a visitor to this country, I see how India can have strong collaboration with this boon in tourism, civil aviation, environment and agriculture.
In the civil aviation sector, the country’s airports at Quepos, Golfito and San Vito need upgrading and expansion. The Airports Authority of India can extend its technical arm in the modernization of these airports by being joint venture partners. The extent of India’s involvement in airports in Liberia and San Jose during their expansion phase needs to be explored.
Few experienced aviation professionals create a low-cost airline by the name of Irazu with the acquisition of Air Bus 319 and Boeing 737-700 to conquer the Central American market with the active support of the government of Costa Rica. Their second phase of expansion will be to connect Colombia, the United States, Canada, etc. Eventually, they will enter Europe via Spain. Promoters are looking for investments. India has an air services agreement with Spain. It would be prudent for India to negotiate an air services agreement with Costa Rica with traffic rights to Madrid and Barcelona. Since there is a traffic affinity between Costa Rica and Spain, an Indian carrier can profitably operate on this route. They can serve as a bridge between Asia and Latin America via Spain. Indian carriers, including other companies, are expected to collaborate with this fledgling airline for future joint ventures. Just as many Chinese companies are interested in foreign airlines, the Indian government should actively encourage Indian carriers or other aviation-related companies like GVK, GVR, Adani and Tata Group to have financial collaboration with Irazu to this stage. The future belongs to those who get up early.
In maritime, Adani Group can explore to invest in small ports like Golfito and Punta Renas. There is an opportunity for the TATA Group to invest in the hospitality industry. Real estate is another attractive area for Indian investors.
In its efforts to become a global power, India’s expansion into South and Central America could be part of a long-term strategy. Air service is the prerequisite for this strategy.
* The author is a former bureaucrat and held senior positions in the aviation and energy regulator. He can be contacted by e-mail at [email protected]
DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author and in no way represent the views of Sambad English.