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March Organizers’ Methods Draw Criticism

December 2, 2005

FOLLOWING last week’s demonstrationin favor of the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States(CAFTA), opponents of the agreement, whoheld an anti-CAFTA rally exactly one weekearlier, have accused pro-CAFTA businessesof pressuring or manipulating employeesto fill their ranks and make the demonstrationlarger. Organizers, in turn, denied allegationsthat anyone attended the rallyagainst their will and called their pro-CAFTA demonstration a success.There have been conflicting reportsregarding how many people showed up atboth events and which was larger (TT,Nov. 25), with leaders from both sidestouting their events’ turnouts.In the days leading up to the demonstrationby proponents of the pact, anti-CAFTA groups such as the High SchoolTeachers’ Association (APSE) called onthe government to investigate allegedcomplaints of pressure from businesses ontheir employees to attend the event.“Workers, who have for obvious reasonsasked for their identities to be protected,have said that they are threatenedwith firings if they do not attend the (pro-CAFTA) activity, and furthermore theyhave to memorize how to answer journalists,”APSE president Jesús Vásquez saidin a statement.ORGANIZERS of the pro-CAFTAdemonstration rejected this idea.“That is totally false. It is a lack ofrespect for the intelligence and commonsense of the three million workers in theprivate sector. It is very difficult to thinkthat even a small group would attend ademonstration by being forced. This isonly in the minds of those who have a veryleftist way of thinking, a communist wayof thinking,” said Mario Montero, theExecutive Director of the Food IndustryChamber, who was in charge of logisticsfor the demonstration.“Those are lies,” added SamuelYankelewitz, president of the Union ofPrivate-Sector Chambers and Associations(UCCAEP) and one of the principal organizersof the event. “There is nobody herewho has been forced. Those who came,came because they wanted. And manymore wanted to come, but couldn’tbecause they had to work. Otherwise, itwould have been ten times bigger.”ADDING to the controversy was anarticle published in the daily Diario Extrathat featured several people from lowincomeneighborhoods who said they hadbeen told they were being brought to anevent for pro-CAFTA presidential candidateOscar Arias, of the NationalLiberation Party (PLN), and were quotedas saying they did not even know whatCAFTA was.Luis Fernando Villalobos, spokesmanfor the Arias campaign, said the campaignwas in no way involved in organizing thedemonstration.“These (allegations) don’t seem tohave any foundation,” he told The TicoTimes, adding that Liberation memberswere at the rally in force, the party has“extraordinary” support, and its leaderswould not need to trick people to get themto the rally.Another criticism of the march centeredon a document entitled “GeneralInstructions, Demonstration PlazaDemocracia, Nov. 24 2005,” which gaveinstructions for attendees ranging fromwhen to arrive (9 a.m.), what to wear(white T-shirt and comfortable shoes) andwhat to write on their signs (“Yes toCAFTA,” and “More Work with CAFTA,”among others).The Tico Times received two versions ofthe instructions. One version was e-maileddirectly from the National Federation ofBusiness Chambers and Associations(FENACAE), while a second version wasforwarded by an anti-CAFTA organizationand contained an additional section withsample questions and recommendedanswers about CAFTA.“Why are you in favor of CAFTA?”reads the fourth question on the list. Thesuggested answer follows: “Because itassures us work, because it is going tobring us opportunities and because we aregoing to be better off if the legislatorsapprove it.”ANTONIO López, of FENACAE,told The Tico Times the document was tohelp organize and keep the event orderly,and that businesses had requested guidancefor what to write on their signs.While no similar document instructinganti-CAFTA protesters has surfaced, bothsides have used workshops and instructionalmeetings with workers to try andimpress upon them their stance, and APSEhas been heavily criticized for calling onall teachers to speak out in their classesagainst the trade pact. Public employeeshave also been accused of attendingmarches just take a day off.“What we did was converse with eachsector, and in the cases of high schools,we laid out the negative consequences(of the agreement), and the people voluntarilyturned out in San José, massively,because of their conviction,” said APSEpresident Vásquez. “We have not indoctrinatedthe people – we have convincedthe people of our reasons. They are twototally different things.”The union leader also noted that teachershad been threatened by the PublicEducation Ministry with official reprimandsif they missed class to marchagainst CAFTA, and said that the ministryhad not made the same statements aboutparticipation in the pro-CAFTA march.

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