Epsy Campbell Barr made history as the first Black woman to ever be elected vice-president in Latin America when she and Carlos Alvarado scored a victory against Fabricio Alvarado in Costa Rica’s presidential election earlier this month.
Campbell Barr, an economist and the co-founder of Costa Rica’s Citizen’s Action Party, has a lengthy and inspiring record of advocacy and research about sexism, racism and the economic situations of people of African descent. She has worked with the Center for Women of African Descent, the Alliance of Leaders of African descent in Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Black Parliament of the Americas organizations, and she founded the Women’s Forum on Central American Integration.
As Costa Rica’s vice president-elect’s passions and focuses demonstrate, representation makes a difference. Campbell Barr’s work as an economist intersected with her feminist activism on the campaign trail; she promised voters she would fight to close the wage gap and end other forms of inequality once elected in stark contrast to her opponent, who was vocally anti-LGBTQ.
Electing people with more diverse experiences and more people hailing from diverse backgrounds tends to yield more comprehensive policies, which benefit and acknowledge the vast range of needs of all members of society. Statistics in the United States alone show that female legislators are more likely to focus on key issues that disproportionately affect women’s livelihoods—such as health care, civil rights and domestic programs. Campbell Barr’s victory shows that all countries can and must do better in improving the representation of women and people of color in the halls of power in order to truly serve the whole of their populations.
The policy decisions Campbell Barr makes as Costa Rica’s next vice president will inevitably be shaped by her research and first-hand experiences as a Black woman. Since being elected, Campbell Barr has told multiple reporters about how she will “represent people of African descent.. and all women and men in the country,” and her responsibility to govern “a country that gives us all the same opportunities.” Campbell Barr’s life has largely been dedicated to acknowledging structural racism and misogyny, and the impacts of these ingrained cultural norms on the experiences and living standards of women and people of African descent; those passions will likely become her greatest assets.
Although Campbell Barr is Costa Rica’s first Black female vice president, she follows in the footsteps of other important firsts for women and women of African descent in the country. Thelma Curling became the country’s first Afro-Costa Rican legislator in 1982. Victoria Garrón was elected Costa Rica’s vice president in 1986. Laura Chinchilla became the first female president in Costa Rica in 2010.
That isn’t to say, however, that this moment doesn’t have gravity. “It would not be the first only in Costa Rica, but in Latin America. And eventually, if the president leaves the country, [I would be] the first woman of African descent to assume the presidency of the entire American continent,” Campbell Barr reminded reporters. “It’s a big responsibility.”