According to the latest poll by the University of Costa Rica (UCR) School of Statistics, most Costa Ricans – who continue to express conflicting opinions regarding the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA) – are allowing the views of their preferred presidential candidates to determine whether they support the controversial pact.
In the poll, based on telephone surveys of 608 homes Nov. 11-22, 2005, 68.1% of those questioned said the government defended Costa Rica’s interests “a little,” “very little” or “not at all” during the negotiating process; however, 56.5% of respondents said the agreement would be “good” or “very good” for the country, with only 23.6% responding that it would be “bad” or “very bad.”
This is “totally contradictory, so one asks oneself why,” said study coordinator Johnny Madrigal. “We can see two possible explanations.”
One is that Costa Ricans may have doubts about the way the agreement was negotiated, but are now taking their cue from the candidates for whom they plan to vote.
Respondents who said they will vote for pro-CAFTA candidates Oscar Arias, of the National Liberation Party (PLN), or Otto Guevara of the Libertarian Movement, are significantly more likely to support CAFTA than supporters of anti-CAFTA candidate Ottón Solís of the Citizen Action Party (PAC),Madrigal said.
The other explanation, also based in study results, is that Costa Ricans support the opening of government monopolies of telecommunications and insurance to competition.
Approximately 56% support the lifting of the monopoly of both the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) and the National Insurance Institute (INS), though they “roundly rejected” turning these entities over to private ownership, with less than 6% supporting such a proposal.
According to Madrigal, this support for increased competition has likely increased support for CAFTA, which requires that ICE’s and INS’ monopolies be gradually lifted.
A UCR poll in July showed 47% of poll respondents believed the agreement would bring benefits to Costa Rica, down from 59% in 2004; 45% said it would bring poverty and damage the environment.
Bankruptcy among farmers, increases in the cost of medicine and increased unemployment were other commonly feared possible consequences of CAFTA in that poll (TT, July 29, 2005).
The trade pact has been ratified, though not yet put into effect, in the other signatory countries: the United States, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.
Costa Rica’s legislators will continue to discuss the pact when they return to work Feb. 7, following the national elections.