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20 years

Meet Costa Rica’s future First Lady, Mercedes Peñas Domingo

Costa Rica's future First Lady, Mercedes Peñas Domingo (Photo courtesy CCNEIVA)

Costa Rica’s future First Lady, Mercedes Peñas Domingo (Photo courtesy CCNEIVA)

April 15th, 2014 ( Mercedes Peñas Domingo will become Costa Rica’s First Lady when her long-term partner, Luis Guillermo Solis is inaugurated on May 8th, but her identity – even her face – is a mystery to most in the country.


Peñas, a political scientist and naturalized Costa Rican citizen originally from Spain, has done her best to avoid the media, and did not make her first public appearance until a March 5th press conference, when Johnny Araya dropped out of the presidential race.  She has given only a couple of interviews since, but here’s what we know.


Peñas, 45 was born on November 17, 1968 in Madrid, Spain, and 21 years later in August 1991 set foot in Costa Rica for the first time, where she would attend the University for Peace (UPEACE) and spent two years in the country.


When they first met, Luis Guillermo Solís, ten years her senior was one of her professors while she was studying for a Masters in International Relations, Peace, and Development Cooperation at UPEACE.


Two years after her time at UPEACE, Peñas got a job as an assistant in the Department of External Relations of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA).


Peñas later did consulting work for the United Nations and the European Union, as well as a foundation called the Rainforest Alliance.


Since 1997, she has worked for DEMUCA, a technical and financial arm of the Spanish Agency for International Development and Cooperation (AECID), which “promotes the strengthening of local governments in Central America and the Caribbean.”


Peñas and Solis have been together for nine years, together caring for their 7-year-old daughter Inés.


The couple says they routinely see and visit Solis’ five other children of previous marriage (Monica, Cristina, Beatriz, Diego and Ignacio); as well as Peñas’ family in Spain.


Editor’s note: This story was edited on April 15th at 3:26pm to reflect Peñas and Solis’ relationship as long-term partners, in addition to some minor syntax changes.

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  • mhogan

    Just call me old-fashioned, but I think leaders should present as role models. Not saying that this is not the case but the article states Solis has family in Spain (are he and the mother of his 5 other children still married?); is Solis and to-be First Lady married or in a Civil-Union? Professor/student relationship? University for Peace … not that I’m against peace … but. Lastly, I’m always reminded of the silly Caribbean Island song that has the words: “Your mother’s not your mother, but your mother don’t know.” Sign of the times, like I say now.

    • Ken Morris

      I would have to check, but if memory serves not many (if any) of this year’s presidential candidates were married in the sense of having had a ceremony. I don’t believe any of the top four finishers were, although each (like Solís) seemed to be in legally binding civil unions. In CR, this is common and old-fashioned–clearly it wasn’t a campaign liability for any of them–so I wouldn’t worry about it. Actually, I prefer it to the US norms. It seems healthier.

    • expatin paradise

      OK – you’re old-fashioned. Seriously, though, the article leaves many unanswered questions and draws some puzzling conclusions (1991 is 21 years after 1968). Frankly, the relationship issues don’t bother me, as it appears that this couple has been in a stable relationship for many years. At least this First Lady is well educated and has a professional background in international relations. She should be an asset to the new president.

      • roberto

        I doubt if she and the President will be flying on any private jets owned by suspicious characters from Colombia or fat-cat ‘business as usual’ types from CR.

      • Ben

        Good point seem smart better than Laura´s Husband.

    • Karen Mata

      Possibly leaders are honest about their amorality, and we can all enjoy the wonderful state of affairs.

      • mhogan

        Ah, shades of “It’s a Wonderful Life” .. a country sunk in sex and sin, and on the brink of ruin. And who’s the Guardian Angel — I guess that might be China, or Russia, or ? American money is obviously too dirty for Costaricense.

        • Ben

          I am getting very sick of your Radical rightwing points of view. It is very sick and distructive how you think of Latin America. You have no good advice then say nothing at all. Your way of thinking is from Cold war era 1955. It is sad and out dated. I honestly hope you go back to US asap. Costa Rica is nice and peaceful you go anywhere else in Latin America might be a eye opening experience for you how they really think of you. Wake up your comments are sad and distructive. I don´t care how much you invest in Costa Rica or anywhere just change your out dated views. I know most US citizen don´t think like you. Thank Goodness.

    • Ben

      Your Old fashioned. Open your mind a little. Comments like this don´t help EX Pats at all. Be Nice.

      • mhogan

        Oh, well then, I apologize. It certainly was never my intent to make life here more difficult for the expat population. I guess when you turn 80, you assume you have a right to speak your opinion even if it’s against what others may think. My bad.

        • Ben

          Well you have earned the right to say how you feel if you are 80 years of age. I respect the most important people in the world. Drink a beer smoke a cigar and have fun you deserve it.

  • disgusted

    When I hear or see the word CONSULTANT I think of bribery, family connection, but that just me .. Here it is who you know that gets you ahead. I am sure she was pulling in major consultant fee’s all on the backs of the Costarricences here. Nice EH!… Why was she hiding during this campaign anyway?? Hummm !

    • Ben

      Just be nice. She did not hide she was all over the place during the Campaign check La Nacion. There are good consultant and bad Consultants in every context. Inside Costa Rica said she was never around she was around lots during the Campaign. I hope she does well at helping CR.

    • Karen Mata

      May we see a transcript of her grades under this professor?

      • El Torito

        UNDER, you say?????

        • Karen Mata

          Never on a domingo

      • Andrew

        how do you know she wasn’t on top?

  • Ben

    Seems to be a nice person. I hope that she can help guide Costa Rica in a good way. I lhand a chance to meet her and everyone i spoke with say she is great and nice.

  • expatin paradise

    Free Unions are commonplace here. Second marriages are uncommon since the Catholic church doesn’t recognize divorce. It may be that Sra Peñas has stayed out of the spotlight because she wasn’t the one running for office. I am impressed that she has worked for the international organizations named and hope that her experience with the Rainforest Alliance has given her a pro-environmental viewpoint that her partner shares.

  • roberto

    May 8th transfer of power.
    The ceremony will kick off at 10am at the National Stadium with the traditional cultural presentations. It won’t be until noon Solís will appear on center state, where he will recieve the “presidential sash” from the president of the Legislative Assembly.
    Organizing the event is Costa Rica’s new first lady, Mercedes Peñas Domingo, confirming that the ceremony will be simple and at a cost ¢150 million colones. (US$280.000 dollars). Why don’t they just have brunch at Soda Tapia?

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