As President Abel Pacheco and his counterpartsfrom the rest of Central America and theDominican Republic descended on Washington,D.C. this week to discuss the Central AmericanFree-Trade Agreement with the United States(CAFTA), both U.S. and Costa Rican supportersof the agreement began increasingly vocal andcostly lobbying efforts for its ratification.Pacheco’s visit included a few events not on hisofficial agenda, distributed before the trip: an on the-run evacuation of the Capitol Building becauseof an unauthorized plane in protected airspace, anda visit to the Pentagon to discuss what U.S. officialscall the treaty’s potential to improve securityin the Western Hemisphere.Overall, Pacheco stuck to the CAFTA message hehad promised to deliver, telling U.S. leaders he will sendCAFTA to the Legislative Assembly only if he’s sure itwill benefit all Costa Ricans.While U.S. media described the six presidents’ trip –in all, the leaders visited 10 cities for events sponsoredby the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and member companies including Microsoft and Coca-Cola – as a pro-CAFTA push of unprecedentedproportions, Pacheco’s stance continuesto make him the object, not the source,of the free-trade lobby in Costa Rica.Private-sector leaders here have uppedthe intensity and visibility of their lobbyingefforts in recent weeks. Business chambersand a new pro-CAFTA group are takingtheir message to libraries, factories, radioand television, and even to the streets inprotests ripped straight from their opponents’playbook.DURING Pacheco’s visit to Washington– and Cincinnati, Ohio, where hebreakfasted with business leaders in anattempt to drum up investment in CostaRica – he met with members of Congressand President George W. Bush, along withleaders at the Pentagon, the United States’military command center.U.S. Defense Secretary DonaldRumsfeld arranged a 21-gun salute andmilitary honors for the visiting leadersWednesday before a meeting aboutCAFTA’s relation to international security.“They were very insistent about thebenefits we will obtain with CAFTA”Pacheco said of the discussions with militaryleaders. “They spoke a great dealabout how the United States wants to haveprosperous neighbors.”Rumsfeld linked CAFTA to anti-terrorismefforts.“Economic progress and security areinterdependent,” Rumsfeld said followingthe meeting. “Today the security threats inCentral America and the Caribbean comefrom an anti-social combination of gangs,drug traffickers, smugglers, hostage takers,and terrorists… This trade agreementcould help usher in a new era of cooperationbetween our countries and enhancedprosperity in the region.”Bush made the same point in his commentsat the White House following theleaders’ meeting there yesterday. He alsoalluded to hopes that South Americancountries will follow suit in signing free tradeagreements with the United States ifCAFTA becomes a reality.“For the Western hemisphere, CAFTAwould bring the stability and security thatcan only come from freedom,” he said.“By transforming our hemisphere into apowerful free-trade area, we will promotedemocratic governance, human rights andeconomic liberty for everyone.”PACHECO’S meetings with legislatorson Capitol Hill Wednesday wereinterrupted when an unidentified planeentered the protected airspace above theCapitol and White House. During theevacuation of the congressional building,Pacheco was escorted outside by SecretService agents, and returned to his hoteluntil the all-clear.“It was very interesting, how they dispatchedthe security,” Pacheco said after thefalse alarm. “They took me off running.”He added that the legislators withwhom he met were sympathetic to hisargument that Costa Rica needs taxreforms before it can handle CAFTA.“They don’t understand why it is thathere (in Costa Rica), not paying taxes is anational sport,” he said. “They understandthat people should pay taxes.”Some of Pacheco’s colleagues, such asPresident Ricardo Maduro of Honduras,expressed no such reservations about theagreement.According to The Miami Herald,Maduro told an audience at the Port ofMiami, Florida, that when his small planerecently went down off the coast (NT, May6), his unfinished agenda – with CAFTA’sfull approval at the top of the list – waswhat flashed through his mind as he confrontedhis mortality.COSTA Ricans who, no doubt, wishPacheco would think that way, say thosewho favor CAFTA have not been vocalenough in the past about the advantages ofthe agreement, though they are quick todistance their advocacy methods fromthose of anti-CAFTA activists.One example of the new strategies: apro-CAFTA demonstration in front of CasaPresidencial May 6 that drew more than1,400 textile workers.Tatiana Remy is the executive directorof the Association of Textile IndustryExporters, one of the groups whose presentationsto workers about the benefits of thetrade agreement prompted the May 6 pro-CAFTA protest. When textile workers heardher association’s presentations, they sent atotal of 5,300 letters and signatures toPacheco, who eventually granted them anaudience to discuss the treaty. Asmall groupof employees from various textile firms metwith the President May 6, Remy said.Other employees wanted to make theirpresence known outside the CasaPresidencial gates and were granted leaveby their employers, according to Remy.ALBERTO Trejos, the Foreign TradeMinister who oversaw CAFTA’s negotiationand signing before resigning late lastyear because of Pacheco’s refusal to submitthe pact to the assembly, recentlyhelped found the pro-CAFTA group PorCosta Rica (TT, May 6). He told The TicoTimes the groups’ member will not usedisruptive tactics in expressing theirviews.He added, however, that “if we continuein this peculiar situation we’re in,more and more people who care about theeconomic health of the country, who fearfor their jobs, will express those concernsin an increasingly large-scale manner.”More than 2,100 people have joinedPor Costa Rica in the two weeks since itsfoundation, according to executive coordinatorFernando Ocampo.Union leaders here have promised ahuge anti-CAFTA march on Monday, butcritics say they are losing their focus onthe agreement.“The anti-CAFTA movement is graduallybecoming the anti-price rising, anti-globalization,anti-the airport, anti-Riteve,anti-Saprissa losing, anti-blah blah blahmarch,” Trejos said.
Today in Costa Rica