Friday, May 03, 2013

In Costa Rica, President Obama Attends Working Dinner Hosted By President Laura Chinchilla

With SICA leaders, President discusses the hemispheric economy, climate change and drug trafficking over a menu of "New Costarican fusion cuisine"...
Costa Rica declared a national holiday for President Obama's visit to the country on Friday; he is the first US president to visit the Central American nation since 1997.  Cheering, flag-waving crowds filled the streets of San José as President Obama arrived from Mexico, and after a bilateral meeting and joint news conference with Costa Rica's President Laura Chinchilla, the two ended the day with a working dinner with the Central American Integration System (SICA) leaders. (Above, Obama and Chinchilla at the dinner)

Seated at host Chinchilla's right at a round table in the center of an ornate, baroque room at the National Theater, the President, clad in a dark suit, wore a translation earpiece as he enjoyed "New Costarican fusion cuisine" with the leaders of Belize, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama for more than two hours. 

Noting that the US is "technically" on "observer status" for SICA activities, President Obama made remarks that lasted about seven minutes, thanking the Costa Rican people for their "hospitality" and saying he wanted to hear the "concerns" of the countries represented at the dinner, because the region "has more than 40 million people."

"I know that you’re all indulging me by allowing to say a few words," President Obama said.  "But I am here more than anything to listen and hear the concerns that all of you have not only individually but collectively as a region." 

Priorities for the group should include hemispheric economic opportunities, including youth employment and training; clean energy and climate change; and citizen security and the drug trade, President Obama said.

"During this trip I've tried to make the point that we're interested in cooperating with every country around issues of citizen security, we know what a major toll it's taken, we are obviously deeply concerned about narcotrafficking and the drug trade," President Obama said.

"We can't just have a law enforcement only approach, we have to have a prevention approach, we have to have an education approach, we have to think creatively," President Obama said, repeating remarks he'd made on Thursday during his address to the citizens of Mexico.

*The full transcript of the President's remarks.

The "New Costarican Fusion" menu and guests...
The leaders at the center table included SICA Secretary General Juan Aleman; Pres. Ricardo Martinelli (Panama); Pres. Porfirio Lobo (Honduras); Pres. Mauricio Funes (El Salvador); Prime Minister Dean Barrow (Belize); Pres. Otto Perez (Guatemala); Pres. Daniel Ortega (Nicaragua) and Pres. Danilo Medina (Dominican Republic), according to the White House.

The "New Costarican fusion cuisine" menu featured a first course of green tomatoes and avocado tartar, with red tomato jelly and shrimp with truffles in olive oil; a second course of cream of pejibaye (local palm fruit) with samplings of lobster and confetti of sweet chile; and an entree of salmon medallions with green sauce, sweet corn terrine and vegetables.

Pool reported that guests were offered three French Chardonnays from the Burgundy region:  "An AOC Chablis Réserve de Vaudon by Joseph Drouin, vintage 2010, an AOC Meursault 2007 and a AOC Puligny Montrachet 1er cru."

Members of each country's delegation sat at smaller tables circling the main table; National Security Advisor Tom Donilon and Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett sat behind President Obama.  

The working dinner was the second of President Obama's trip:  On Thursday, he attended a closed-press working dinner in Mexico, hosted by President Enrique Peña Nieto at his official residence in Mexico City, Los Pinos. (Above, with Chinchilla before the dinner)

President Obama arrived by motorcade at the National Theater at 6:11 PM, and took a "family photo" on the stage of the theater ahead of the dinner.  It "was over in less than 30 seconds," pool reported, and included no remarks.  The President also signed the guest book.  He departed the theater at 8:46 PM and arrived by motorcade at his hotel at 9:04 PM.

On Saturday, President Obama will address "business leaders" during an event at the Old Customs House in San José before flying back to Washington, DC, where he is scheduled to arrive in the late afternoon.    
Also joining President Obama on his trip to Mexico and Costa Rica, the second foreign trip of his second term, are Cecilia Munoz, chair of the Domestic Policy Council; Press Secretary Jay Carney, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes; Deputy Chief of Staff Alyssa Mastromonaco; and Principal Deputy Press Secretar Josh Earnest(Above, the President signs the guestbook as Chinchilla looks on)

On Sunday, the President hits the road again, traveling to Ohio State University to deliver the commencement address to the Class of 2013.

*Top photo by Reuters/pool; others by the Government of Costa Rica