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Polish Nobel Laureate Discusses Unions, CAFTA

May 12, 2006

Lech Walesa, winner of the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize and former President of Poland (1990-1995), capped off a Monday filled with inaugural pomp by speaking to a standing room-only crowd of students, professors and others at the Universidad Nacional (UNA) in Heredia, north of San José.With humor and a straight-from-the-hip style, as transmitted through interpreters,Walesa, 62, opined on how Costa Ricans, from the students before him to fellow Nobel laureate President Oscar Arias, should face the future.

Walesa, though known for his fight against Poland’s Communist government as a shipyard union leader in the early 1980s, criticized the inequalities of capitalism and called for an alternative.

“Maybe you (the students) are capable of forming a third path,” he said. “The world today needs more discussion… and new formulae.”

When asked about the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA), which appears likely to cause significant disagreement between pro-CAFTA Arias and Costa Rica’s unions, Walesa said he would return to help the unions “if there are conflicts…but I won’t bite the President.” He added that unions should promote strikes only as a last resort – the strikes he led in 1980 resulted in the Gdansk Agreement, which gave workers the right to organize independent unions – and should remember they are “parasites” who should not destroy the structures that employ them.

“Today, unions have no mercy,” he said. “You have a good President, but he alone, without the unions, won’t be able to do anything.”

He recommended that Arias form a “triangular commission” with representatives from the government, the business sector and unions, to discuss CAFTA and come to an agreement. According to Walesa, in 30 years similar conflicts will be able to be resolved using computers to analyze the situation and select the best result – but for now, all that can be done is “to sit ourselves down with a beer” and work it out.

Walesa was one of Arias’ special guests for the inauguration, along with Peace Prize-winners Betty Williams (see separate story) and Rigoberta Menchú (who made no other appearances during her visit).

 

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