His Excellency Dr Enrique Castillo is the Ambassador to Costa Rica in the United Kingdom, though this is but the most recent in a long list of prestigious positions held by this charismatic and driven man.
Having arrived in London in January 2015 with his wife, Dr Castillo insists, “I am not a career diplomat… my background is [in the fields of] law and sociology.” Indeed, it is hard to imagine how he has had the time to qualify in – and pre-eminent within – so many professional roles.
Dr Castillo has always worked hard and sought to excel in whatever he has set out to achieve, from helping out in his family’s business as a young man, to pursuing effectively two full careers and working on published works in the fields of law and sociology.
Describing himself as “hyperactive”, Dr Castillo spoke at length to Kreol Magazine about his extensive professional history, his current role and his future goals, particularly those relating to his passion – writing.
Careers in law and sociology
During his considerable legal career, he has worked as a barrister (and a partner in Facio & Cañas), a judge and the Founder and Director General of the postgraduate law programme at the University of Costa Rica. His interest and talents in the field of sociology combined naturally with his legal background and qualified him to be appointed as Professor of Law, Sociology and Criminal Sociology for more than 33 years at the University of Costa Rica.
These careers began as soon as Dr Castillo graduated – he was hired immediately as a part-time Professor at the University, and at the same time was appointed as a judge at the Supreme Court. These roles lasted for a little less than two years, at the end of which the university offered him a scholarship to work in France as an academic, to obtain a doctorate in law. That achieved, he returned to Costa Rica, where he worked as a Professor at the university, full-time for four years.
Professor Enrique Castillo
As a Professor, Dr Castillo was highly respected, teaching the most able and promising students. He enjoyed the academic life, working together with his students and watching them develop and forge their own careers.
“God allowed me the time to see them grow up and to see that my teachings have transformed them and, through them, transformed the way in which criminal justice is applied in Costa Rica.”
But while he still studies every day – he is always learning – Dr Castillo has no desire to return to teaching: “it’s a closed book,” he says.
After four years of working for the university, (which he was obliged to work full-time in exchange for the doctorate funding), he continued to be active in the university but on a part-time basis – for nearly 30 years. Some of the rest of his time during those years he continued to practice law, but it was also during this period that his political career germinated and grew.
From natural leadership to a career in politics
Dr Castillo’s interest in the political world stemmed from early childhood, from when he recalls that he was always a leader: “I used to be the class leader; the leader of the group when I was in fifth/sixth grade of the school; I was the captain of the soccer team and then in high school I was the President of my class twice in five years. And when I went to the university, besides studying sociology and law I was also the students’ leader and I presided over the students’ Sociology and Anthropology Association.”
This natural predisposition for leadership naturally led him towards work in the field of politics, though initially he resisted this path as he found it frustrating.
“I became the Foreign First Secretary for the National Students’ Union and I had that, but when I finished studying… I was really a bit frustrated about politics and I didn’t want to get involved in it, but you know sometimes things happen when you don’t expect them.”
Ten years after returning from studying for his doctorate in France he was offered the chance – this time as Ambassador – to go back to France, and he accepted. After working as Ambassador in France from 1986 to 1990, his political career continued unabated when he became the Minister of Justice from 1994 to 1995 and then in 2007 he was appointed Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Costa Rica to the Organisation of American States (OAS), in Washington D.C.
He stayed in the United States for four years in that role, but was called back by the President of Costa Rica to return to San Jose in 2011 to take care of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. His position as Ambassador in London is therefore his third overseas diplomatic posting. He admits, though, that of those roles his favourite was his first, since he fell in love with Paris.
“I will always love it and the whole thing was a magnificent experience, of course there are always bad moments, ups and downs, that’s life, but really it was a great experience living in Paris and being Ambassador in Paris.”
That said, he and his wife were also very happy in Washington and it opened up a wider range of political experiences for him.
“It allowed me to take part in important discussions concerning the whole continent and I had the chance to meet very respectable colleagues and very interesting people and it was a very fulfilling experience.”
The Nicaraguan issue
There were times, though, when working in America proved challenging. Naturally, the invasion of Costa Rica by Nicaragua just over five years ago in November 2010 was unexpected and without apparent reason. Suddenly, Dr Castillo found himself at the centre of a political storm.
“I had to undertake the defence of Costa Rica in the areas because Costa Rica took the claim to the OAS [the Organisation of American States] and we had very strong discussions in Washington, at the end I was successful and I managed to get three resolutions favourable to Costa Rica.
“For the previous 13 years, member states of the OAS didn’t vote, every decision was taken by consensus. And I put the organisation in the situation in which they had to vote and they did it. Some of the members absented or abstained from voting but the majority voted and the result was in favour of Costa Rica. But Nicaragua, though a member of the OAS, didn’t acknowledge the result and refused to comply with the resolutions, so we had to take the case to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. That’s where it is now, and we are approaching the time for the court to produce its verdict in the next month – it will be the end of the year or beginning of next year.”
Highly satisfied with the results of his considerable efforts, Dr Castillo was nevertheless ignorant of the extent to which his speeches and endeavours had been received at home in Costa Rica. It was only when he returned to San Jose that he realised that his speech at the OAS had been transmitted across many nations and in Costa Rica he had been the hot topic of conversation in all the bars and restaurants. By defending his nation so admirably he had become a national hero.
The battle for Costa Rica would, he knew, take considerable time.
“We knew from the beginning that it would take time… it took us almost three years to make the court understand that Nicaragua was fooling around with the court, that they were not respecting their decisions and they were not only keeping their personnel in the area but were doing damage to the environment. Finally, in 2013, the court reacted with real anger and ordered Nicaragua immediately to cease those activities and Nicaragua finally did it. So it’s been tense, it’s been stressful, but now I’m confident that the result will be positive.”
On London, diplomacy and writing
Dr Castillo relishes his current role in London.
“I am loving London, I enjoy it very much, I find that this is a great country; it’s complex, it’s big, and I don’t think that I should stay only in London, I want to know the whole country and go round and get acquainted with other cities and so on to get the most joy out of my time here.”
His real dream, though, has long been to write.
“As an author I have written professional books on law and sociology and I was a sociology researcher, so I wrote articles with the outcomes of my research. But from the age of 17 or so, I always had as my vocation a desire to write literature. I wrote some short stories, and I would write for journals, as a collaborator, not being paid.”
This undoubtedly gave him valuable experience but he felt that the kind writing he yearned to do would have to wait until he gained sufficient maturity to do it justice.
“So I postponed my writing activity in the field of literature until, I would say some 20 years ago, maybe less, [I felt able to enjoy] writing short stories or novels and now I have decided that I won’t write any more on legal or sociology matters, but only on fiction.”
Dr Castillo is the published author of five academic books, and in the field of fiction, so far, he has published two books in Spanish (one of which has also been translated into French). One was a collection of short stories, published in 2003 when he won a national prize in the field of short stories – he doesn’t do things by halves. Dr Castillo has written more books that he did not seek to publish as he felt that they were “only a practice, an exercise, a test,” though he is currently working on a new novel and he has high hopes for this one.
“I think [this novel] will be better, I am more mature now, I have developed or improved my writing skills, so I think this will deserve at least to be published, but not yet, I still have in front of me some months more of working to finish it.”
Growing up in Costa Rica, where writers could not easily survive on words alone, Dr Castillo spent much of his time honing his professional skills and pursing a viable trade. He always felt, though, that he was forced to choose how to spend his time: on the ‘serious’ careers or on literature:
“When I write literature it’s sort of stealing time from more serious things. So I write in the evenings, I write on the weekends, writing a book takes me two or three years, so I am patient. The novel that I am writing now was started 13 years ago: it is not a huge novel, but it is the only way I could do it when also working as an Ambassador in Washington or as a Minister in Costa Rica. Sometimes, I didn’t have at all any time for writing, so I had to suspend that book for about eight years. Now I’ve started again and I am hopeful that it will be completed”.
With such an active mind and lifestyle, you could be forgiven for thinking that Dr Castillo has no time for hobbies or any form of relaxation. Somehow, though, he does manage to find time for himself every day. As a child he was a keen soccer player – it proved an excellent way to burn off some of his excess energy that he later learned to pour into his career. At university he had less time (and the facilities were not optimal) for playing soccer but he was introduced by a fellow student to weightlifting, initially as a way to bulk up his then-thin frame. Now he lifts weights whenever he has opportunity – perhaps this hobby is apt for someone who has excelled in several weighty careers during one lifetime.