Francisco José Chacón Hernández, Costa Rica's first ambassador to the United Arab Emirates Photo Ahmed Kutty/Gulf News for Binsal's story Image Credit:

Abu Dhabi: The UAE and Central American nation Costa Rica established diplomatic relations in 2010 but people-to-people relations started several decades ago, a diplomat has said.

A Costa Rican resident who has stayed the longest in the UAE has been living in Sharjah for almost 40 years now. She married an Emirati and embraced Islam. She is happily living here with her daughters and will soon have granddaughters, a top Costa Rican diplomat told Gulf News in an interview.

Around 121 Costa Ricans are living in the UAE; 55 per cent of them are in Dubai, and the rest of them are in other emirates, said Francisco Chacon Hernandez, the Ambassador of Costa Rica.

“They are very happy. No one has come up with any problem or complaint,” he said.

Costa Ricans are working in various sectors such as aviation, IT, pharmaceuticals, education (teachers) and fitness (trainers).

He said Costa Ricans are trying to spread the message of happiness, an underlying value of their culture. “When we meet, we greet ‘Pura Vida’ [like ‘hello’], in Costa Rica, which literally means ‘pure life’, denoting the quality of life and happiness. The greeting reflects the happy state of mind and attitude towards oneself and others,” Hernandez said.

The envoy said he felt, “before we were very far away [from the UAE] but now we are very close” with the opening of the Costa Rican Embassy in Abu Dhabi in July 2017.

Within one year of the embassy opening, both countries signed 11 major deals, including agreements and Memoranda of Understandings (MoUs). Agreements on promotion and protection of investments, avoidance of double taxation, air transport, and an MoU on political consultation are some of the important deals. The MoU between National University of Costa Rica and University of Sharjah, Costa Rican export agency’s MoUs with Sharjah Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry are also significant, the envoy said.

The UAE is expected to open its embassy in Costa Rica soon, which will further enhance the bilateral relations, he said. The first resident Ambassador of the UAE to Costa Rica, Juma Al Rumaithi, presented credentials last week and is now living in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica still cherishes a surprise help received from the UAE in the aftermath of a hurricane that destroyed a city and left more than 40,000 people without drinking water, the ambassador said.

It was just before the official visit of Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis to the UAE in January, 2017 on the invitation of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, to address the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, he said.

During the bilateral meeting, Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed asked the president what the UAE could do for the hurricane-affected people, as he was aware of their sufferings, Hernandez said.

Although the president was preoccupied with the problem, he never meant to bring it to the meeting but when the UAE leader took it up very gently and beautifully, he explained the situation, the envoy said. “The president was very much impressed.”

The very same evening the president received a call from Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed and it was a generous help to solve drinking water problem in the hurricane-affected areas.

“Around 40,000 people got fresh water [with that help], which revived farms, irrigation and fresh water sources. It changed the lives of many people,” the ambassador said.

A career diplomat, Hernandez had earlier worked in Washington, Brussels, and Canada.

Costa Rican trade office to open in Dubai soon

A Costa Rican trade office is to be opened within the Dubai Chamber of Commerce Industry soon. This will further boost the bilateral trade, which has already increased by 15 per cent in 2017, with a total value of $12 million (Dh44.04 million), said Francisco Chacon Hernandez, the Ambassador of Costa Rica.

Costa Rica does not buy oil from the Middle East because of the distance. “We buy it from Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, etc.,”he said.

Aluminium is the major import from the UAE. “We have 15 companies exporting 30 products such as furniture, medical devices, dry fish, etc. to the UAE. Although exports are diversified, the volume is less. I am not satisfied [about trade] but I am not disappointed also,” he said.

The bilateral trade is quite balanced with 52 per cent exports to the UAE and 48 per cent imports to Costa Rica, the envoy said.

A Costa Rican private company is a partner of the Ras Al-Khaimah Tourism Authority to develop an eco-park with the tallest and longest zip line cable, which has created the Guinness World Records.