On the job, Eugenio Trejos always wears a dark suit with a white shirt and a conservative tie. His hair is neatly trimmed and combed, and he rarely takes off his jacket, even when he is standing on the steps of the Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE) and leading protestors in a lusty chant of “No to TLC!” or tratado de libre comercio as the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA) is known.
It’s true that Trejos, 58, the rector of the Technology Institute of Costa Rica (TEC), projects an image distinct from that of some of his fellow activists.
Yet since the announcement that CAFTA would be decided by a nationwide referendum, Trejos has emerged as the de facto leader of the motley pastiche of social groups, unions, grassroots organizations and university groups that make up the anti-CAFTA movement.
Officially, he is the head of the National Front against CAFTA, but during the launch of the campaign against the free-trade pact last month (known collectively as the Patriotic Movement for No on CAFTA) he emerged as the keynote speaker heading up 17 other leaders, including community group representatives, union leaders, lawmakers and even Citizen Action Party (PAC) co-founder Ottón Solís himself (TT, June 29).
Trejos has spent his entire career at the Technology Institute. The father of three children ages 15-26, he holds a master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of Alcalá de Henares in Madrid, Spain.
The Tico Times recently caught up with Trejos at the southeastern San José campus of the Technology Institute after one of the many press conferences he is giving these days.
TT: Are you now the face of the movement against CAFTA?
ET: Little by the little the social and civil organizations have been consolidating the need to unify all the separate groups. Right now, we will continue to contribute to the struggle, and if it is thought that my image will help in the struggle, well, that’s where I will be.
Yet the anti-CAFTA movement remains extremely disparate, with different independent groups everywhere one looks. How are you coordinating the movement, and what’s the strategy?
The strength of the social movement is in its diversity and its plurality. Making this strength effective presents us with big challenges, and one of those challenges is coordination. A double challenge is the coordination of social and civil organizations in a political campaign. It is very different, because these are not the political parties participating in a presidential election.
We’re defining the development model of a country, and many of the people who participate in this movement are simply citizens.
Many of us do not have political experience. We have never been in an organization involved in an electoral campaign.
Does that mean that the movement against CAFTA is joining forces with political parties such as the Citizen Action Party (PAC), with which you haven’t had such a close relationship in the past?
The Citizen Action, National Liberation (PLN), Social Christian Unity (PUSC) and Broad Front parties are important parts of our National Front against CAFTA. As of now and throughout the next three months, we cannot do without them as we construct a new development model for Costa Rica. Right now, no one is extra. Everyone is necessary.
You’ve said the main strategy of the anti-CAFTA campaign will be to go door to door and cover the entire country.Will the Patriotic Committees (grassroots community groups against CAFTA) be key for this strategy?
Without a doubt.We have to compensate for the big disadvantages we have in access to resources and big media with organization and with hard work. And that organization is made up of the very communities that are going to be most affected if CAFTA is ratified.
How are the committees organized? Who is coordinating them?
One of the marvels of this process is seeing the autonomous proliferation of those committees. It’s incredible. I’ve noted it in my visits to the rural areas, or the urban areas, marginal zones, in which they’ve organized – homemakers, cobblers, artisans, shop owners – have organized spontaneously, without a visit from a political operative or a union or any other kind of organization. They’ve been formed spontaneously, and once they’re formed, they call us.What we’re achieving is the formation of large, national networks of Patriotic Committees, province and canton-wide.
This movement against CAFTA has raised the level of social consciousness and organization. I think this is the great accomplishment we’ve achieved – Costa Rica will never be the same, not before and not after CAFTA.
Is the movement against all free-trade agreements, or just this one?
Never. We are against this free-trade agreement, because we consider that many of its sections, and its spirit in general, go against the principles of solidarity and equality that are fundamental to the social state of rights in Costa Rica.
In the first place, Costa Rica is a small economy that is open to world trade. And international trade has become our nation’s engine for economic growth. Since its beginning, Costa Rica has entered into the international marketplace.We want to continue that.
But what we have been arguing for, demanding, is that the entry into international markets be done under a shared vision that is empowering and promotes fair trade.
If CAFTA is approved,what will happen to the movement?
If CAFTA is approved in the referendum, we are going to insist on active and peaceful resistance to the implementation agenda.
So the referendum will not be the end of the struggle either way?
Without any doubt, this is a subject on which the discussion hasn’t finished. The government has set the standard by separating (the trade agreement from the implementation agenda) … I continue to insist that the implementation legislation be withdrawn from the Legislative Assembly while we’re preparing for a referendum.
If the implementation legislation were withdrawn now, would the anti-CAFTA movement commit to not resisting it in the event CAFTA is passed in the referendum?
That is something we will have to discuss with the government. It’s a political decision in which many stakeholders are involved … we believe it’s necessary to reach consensus, and I think it’s relevant always to return to the phrase of (President) Oscar Arias, that it’s more important to convince than to conquer.
Now that you bring it up, convincing people often requires a certain amount of money. How is the anti-CAFTA movement planning to fund its activities?
We’re going to look for a way for our people to go out and get the money. Doing raffles, offering bonds, asking for donations. We’ve named a treasurer for the movement, Ernesto Macaya, a member of the group Businessmen for Costa Rica. We’ve given him the job of helping us raise funds. The use of our accounts will be totally open to the Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE) and to whoever wants to review them. We will never accept funds from any foreign government, or from any transnational company, or from any embassy that can stain the social movement.