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Costa Rica inaugurates first female president

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SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — Adios, peace prize winner. Hola, first female president.

Costa Rica inaugurated Laura Chinchilla as its first woman leader on Saturday, replacing Nobel laureate Oscar Arias with his former vice president and protégé.

Chinchilla promised to rule with "humility, honesty and firmness" and said she'll pursue the same economic policies that recently brought the country into a trade pact with the U.S. and opened commerce with China.

Elected in a landslide, Chinchilla has also pledged new protections for the pristine parks and reserves that make this Central American nation first in the world for land preservation.

"We're teaming up for a safer Costa Rica," she said, explaining that a safe country offers a good education, health care, decent housing, care for children and seniors, a prosperous and competitive economy and green, clean industry.

The fifth Latin American woman to be elected president, Chinchilla takes office in a decent economic climate despite the world economic crisis, thanks to policies enacted by Arias that helped insulate Costa Rica.

Chinchilla, a 51-year-old Georgetown University graduate, is a social conservative who opposes abortion and gay marriage. She appealed both to Costa Ricans seeking a fresh face and those reluctant to risk the unknown.

Her inauguration was attended by dignitaries including the presidents of Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador and Georgia. She hugged and kissed her husband, parents and 14-year-old son during the ceremony. Then she hugged Arias, a popular leader who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for his work to end civil wars in several Central American countries.

Arias served as president from 1986 to 1990, and again from 2006 to 2010, boosting tourism and eco-development. During his tenure, Costa Rica became the most visited country in Central America, with a $2.2 billion tourism industry, and Arias has pushed eco-tourism, environmentally friendly development and improved trade relations.

In 2007, he set a goal for his country to be the first carbon-neutral country in the world by 2021, a goal Chinchilla supports. And in recent months, he attempted to mediate between Honduran leaders during a coup. Chinchilla says she wants to help Honduran President Porfirio Lobo, elected in the fall, to repair international relations damaged during the coup.