A diverse and energetic crowd waved banners of all sizes and colors under a scorching sun that beat down on Avenida Central in San José Monday, taking advantage of the annual Labor Day march to protest the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA).
After a 9 a.m. mass attended by approximately 200 people at Iglesia de la Merced, in downtown San José, to commemorate the international holiday, a crowd of peaceful protestors gathered outside the church at 10:15 a.m. to begin the eastward march.
Organizers say approximately 5,000 participants joined in the march, which ended at approximately 2 p.m. beside the National Museum. It drew representatives from labor unions – whose leaders organized the event, as well as environmentalists, human-rights organizations, members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community, feminists, university students and socialists, among other groups.
The crowd got its anti-CAFTA message across with chants, patriotic anthems, speeches, firecrackers and street theater.
“In 1856 (Costa Rican President) Juanito Mora kicked out (U.S.) filibuster William Walker. Today we don’t have Juanito Mora, but we need to kick out the filibusters who support CAFTA. We will kick out all those who betray the homeland,” animator Mario Rojas, secretary of the Rerum Novarum Worker Confederation, a national labor union, yelled to the crowd.
As march coordinator Rodrigo Aguilar told The Tico Times during the event, the country’s labor unions are against CAFTA because they believe it will hurt the country.
“It will affect its institutionalism; CAFTA will affect everything,” said Aguilar, a retired educator.
Roxana Arroyo, a member of the group “Women in Diversity,” a group of 20-30 feminists, said CAFTA does not contribute to the development model her group envisions for the good of the country.
“It won’t help to distribute wealth evenly but will benefit only a small sector. That is not profitable to women, who will be even more affected by neo-liberal politics,” Arroyo said.
Yolanda Araya, head of the Peace and Justice Service Foundation (Serpaj Costa Rica), an international human-rights organization, carried a banner calling for “demilitarization of the mind.”
“This treaty comes to tie us to a set of rules that will not only bind our present society, but that of our grandchildren and great-grandchildren,” she told The Tico Times during the march.
Luis Alberto Arias, a member of the Costa Rican Post Office labor union who helped organize the march, said labor union representatives started planning it three months ago.
Costa Rica has celebrated International Labor Day on May 1 since 1913, said Aguilar, who remembered that 10 years ago, only a dozen labor union members marched down Avenida Central.
Protestors said another anti-CAFTA march is scheduled for Monday, the day pro-CAFTA President-elect Oscar Arias takes office (see separate article).
Costa Rica is the only signatory country that has not yet ratified CAFTA (TT, April 7).