Being the highest authority in the canton of Abangares does not scare Anabelle Matarrita Ulloa, the first woman to be elected to hold this office. On the contrary, every time she thinks about it, her eyes light up with enthusiasm.
Matarrita has a degree in business administration, and for more than 20 years she has had to give a sense of direction to the family business, Miscelaneas del Golfo S.A., which provided building maintenance services, generating jobs for several women who are heads of their households. She has also been a private accountant and an independent insurance agent for the National Insurance Institute (INA) for 16 years.
We actually met for the interview in her insurance office, located in the center of Abangares. When we arrived, she welcomed us warmly and as she finished going over some papers with her secretary, we decided to go somewhere that is less of a work environment, away from policies, telephone calls, papers and figures.
Later at her house, Matarrita turned it down a notch from the daily grind and relaxed. Her way of speaking is measured, but at the same time has a touch of a certain enthusiasm. With a serene look and kind smile, she combines the style of a modern female executive with the conciliatory character of a mother.
We turned to the rancho (a thatched pavilion), located outside the house, on a kind of summit where you can make out the Abangares mountain range, and it is surrounded by a large number of trees, where the howler monkeys hang out in the afternoons and the birds sing.
The rancho is a family meeting place that she shares with her three daughters, Ana Victoria, 29, who is a lawyer; Diana, 24, an architect; and Maria Jose, 19, who is currently studying law.
She spends the weekends washing— a task that she says she loves— and also straightening up the house. Her hobbies are dancing salsa and exploring the La Sierra district, where she grew up as a child, and going horseback riding, a sport Matarrita is passionate about.
Diplomatic but with Personality
You could say that Anabelle Matarrita has always been surrounded by the political environment. Her father, Franklin Matarrita Montoya, was a community leader and municipal council member of Abangares in the 70s, and she has actively participated in the National Liberation Party (PLN- Partido Liberacion Nacional) for 37 years.
Since 2000, she has participated in the party’s district elections as treasurer and president of the party in the canton, although she is currently the national delegate.
In addition, her husband, Adolfo Ledezma Vargas, with whom she has been married for 30 years, was president of the municipal council of Abangares during the 2002-2006 period. All of these prior experiences unavoidably drew her to the polls.
However, she does not like to be compared with what her family members have done, so she affirms that she will leave her own mark on the mayor’s office.
“I have high hopes to do things differently, to make my mark in the canton and to contribute something. I can’t wait for May 2nd to get here. I cannot lose my sense of direction,” she commented.
In addition, she anticipates aligning with council members since she believes that, for the most part, they will be fighting common battles.
“I think we are going to get along well in the council because we are all fighting for similar issues, access to water, employment and roads. We are only going to [be able to] develop the canton together. The day of the first session, I am not going to see political colors but rather work for the community.”
Matarrita is convinced that her experience and professional training are components in her favor for future responsibilities in the administration of the municipality, where she will also have to deal with two deeply rooted prejudices: sexism and the poor image that citizens have of politicians on duty.
“My profession (as an accountant) is a plus for managing the mayor’s office. I want to give citizens quality service. The municipality is a challenge due to the context. I must fight and prove that I have the ability as a woman and a professional in politics,” she said.
I ask her how she is going to react to the inevitable attacks from her opponents, being one of three female mayors in the province along with Maria Rosa Lopez in Santa Cruz and María Wilman Acosta in Colorado de Abangares, as well as to the pressures inherent to public office.
“Don’t get me wrong… I have my personality,” she smiles, “but I am diplomatic. I do not like conflict. I think that I am a positive leader. If someone doesn’t do their job, I take it on and I do it. I like working in teams but if not, I do it alone.”