Costa Rica profile
President: Laura Chinchilla
Laura Chinchilla won a landslide victory in February 2010 to become the country's first woman to be elected president. She took up office in May 2010.
Ms Chinchilla is a career politician who was born into a political family and served as public safety minister, congressional deputy and most recently as vice president and justice minister in the cabinet of her predecessor, Nobel peace laureate President Oscar Arias.
She promised to continue Arias's moderate free-market policies and expand Costa Rica's web of free trade agreements. She has also backed liberalization of Costa Rica's state-controlled electricity and telecommunications sectors.
Married with a teenage son, Ms Chinchilla is a social conservative, opposing gay marriage, abortion and any change to Roman Catholicism's position as the state religion. Supporters regaled her with rosaries during her campaign, including one she wears constantly for good luck.
During her election campaign she promised to boost education spending as well as increase funding for law enforcement and create an anti-drug czar to oversee the growing struggle against drug smugglers who are using Costa Rica as a transit route.
The election of Ms Chinchilla follows an increasingly common trend in many Latin American countries: Nicaragua, Panama, Chile and Argentina have all elected women as presidents.
In the simultaneous parliamentary polls, Ms Chinchilla's centrist National Liberation Party failed to win a majority in the 57-member Congress, making the forging of alliances a necessity.
"Dialogue has to become a permanent instrument for the exercise of power," Ms Chinchilla commented after her victory.