Country Reacts to CAFTA Decision
PRESIDENT Abel Pacheco’s submission of theCentral American Free-Trade Agreement with theUnited States (CAFTA) to the Legislative AssemblyOct. 21 was a relief to those who support the agreement,while the national strikes and protests that had beenthreatened failed to materialize this week. At least oneperson, however, anonymously threatened thePresident’s life because of his decision.Following rumors and statements by other officialsthat Oct. 21 would be the long-awaited day, thePresident announced at a press conference Friday morningthat he would send CAFTA to the assembly. TradeMinister Manuel González personally handed the tradeagreement to Assembly President Gerardo Gonzálezfollowing the conference.The decision follows months of increasing pressure.The United States approved CAFTA July 27, and Nicaragua’s approval of the pact on Oct. 10 made Costa Rica the only signatory countrythat has not ratified the trade agreement.The business community, especiallythose in the export industry, have decriedCosta Rica’s hesitance, saying that asCosta Rica waits it loses investment opportunitiesand puts its future at risk.PACHECO dismissed those concernsat Friday’s press conference.“This decision has been (made) at theopportune moment,” the President said.“Contrary to what some think, this has notbeen wasted time for the country or for theagreement, as over these 14 months (sinceCAFTA was signed) the country has had theopportunity to inform itself, discuss and formopinions on the utility of the agreement.”At a press conference this week,Pacheco confirmed rumors that he hadreceived death threats, but played downtheir importance.“Yes, there have been threats, but therehave been threats all the time – some moreserious, others weaker, affectionate onesfew,” he said. “What can I do?… If thiscosts me my life – well, we are here toserve Costa Rica.”The Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ)is investigating the threats, and has suggestedincreasing security for the Presidentand employees of Casa Presidencial,according to the daily Al Día.THE decision to send CAFTA wasmusic to the ears of business organizationsthat have been pushing for the passage ofthe agreement.“The President’s decision is one morestep in the right direction,” said JackLiberman, President of the Chamber ofIndustries, in a statement released the sameday CAFTA was sent.Those who oppose CAFTA alsoresponded to the news. University studentsmarched Monday from the University ofCosta Rica (UCR) in San José and Tuesdayfrom the Universidad Nacional (UNA) inHeredia, north of San José. Both marcheshad turnouts much smaller than previousanti-CAFTA protests.“This isn’t considered the mother of allmarches,” UCR student organizer CésarLópez, one of approximately 150 studentsat Tuesday’s march, told The Tico Times.“This is a small, informative march that is(part of) a progressive stepping-up of forceto unite with the rest of the populationmovement in a general strike.”NOTICEABLY absent from thisweek’s protests were the unions. Prior toPacheco’s announcement, union leaders hadsaid that if Pacheco were to send the agreementto the Legislative Assembly, the resultwould be a nationwide general strike. In lateSeptember, Jorge Coronado, director of theNational Social Network, said that the sendingof CAFTAwould be a “detonator” for an“indefinite strike in the entire country.”But the detonator seems to have a longfuse. National Association of Public andPrivate Employees (ANEP) SecretaryGeneral Albino Vargas told The Tico Timesthis week that there are no planned unionactions related to CAFTA until Nov. 17,when he said various social movementswould be uniting in a national protest.Meanwhile, the arrival of the long awaitedagreement in the Legislative Assembly has stirredup legislators who have been criticized onmore than a few occasions for their inaction.Legislative President Gerardo Gonzálezannounced last week that he would like toshorten the legislators’ winter break in orderto get more work done on CAFTA, citing thenational importance of agreement. BECAUSE it’s an election year, the regular break that beginsbefore Christmas is extended until after the Feb. 5 elections, totaling 46 days.González’s proposal would bring legislatorsback from break the first week of January towork for two weeks, and then give them twoweeks off until after the elections.The motion would require the votes of38 legislators to take effect, but some haveexpressed their doubts. Lawmakers fromthe National Liberation Party (PLN) andthe Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC)have questioned whether much would getdone in the two weeks between New Year’sDay and the final days of the national campaigns.The commission that will study CAFTA, the Commission of InternationalRelations, has three vice-presidential candidates and one presidential candidateamong its nine members.Marta Zamora of the Citizen Action Party(PAC) called the 46-day break “an abuse.”“In PAC, we have a code of ethics inwhich a clause says that we may take nomore than 15 work days off per calendaryear,” Zamora told The Tico Times.LEGISLATORS are waiting for thepublication of the massive agreement inthe official government daily La Gaceta, asrequired by law. The estimated cost of theprinting for that edition, more than 3,072pages long, is ¢40 million ($82,000),Antonio Ayales, Executive Director of theAssembly, told The Tico Times.After it is published, the agreement willgo to commission, which will grant audiencesto representatives of various sectorsuntil commission president Rolando Laclé(PUSC) decides it’s time to vote on whetherto send it to the floor.On the floor, the bill would take either 29or 38 votes to approve – with supporters sayingits approval would take 29 votes, a simplemajority, and opponents saying it wouldtake 38, a two-thirds majority. The decisionis up to assembly president González.According to a poll of legislators conductedby Al Día, 29 legislators say theywould vote in favor of CAFTA, 16 wouldvote against and six are undecided.Another six either could not be reached orpreferred not to comment.