San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

More than 10,000 March against Trade Pact

WITH demands to keep Costa Ricaout of the hands of the “imperialist” UnitedStates, an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 protestorsflooded San José streets Mondaywith banners, bullhorns and chants inobjection to the Central America Free-Trade Agreement (CAFTA).Employees from dozens of public institutions,students and representatives ofhundreds of social organizations participatedin the march and work stoppage, thelargest since CAFTA negotiations beganwith the United States in January 2003.The march came just days after the toptrade officials of Central America and theUnited States signed the final version ofCAFTA last Friday (see separate article).Negotiations for the free-trade agreementended for most Central Americancountries in December and for Costa Ricain January (TT, Jan. 30).MAY began and ended with anti-CAFTA protests, as thousands of workersalso took to the streets May 1 to protest thetrade pact on International Workers’ Day(TT, May 7).“There have been other marches, butthis is the first that really focuses on justCAFTA… little by little we are understandingwhat it will really do,” said MarioRetana, a union leader for the NationalAssociation of Public and PrivateEmployees (ANEP), at Monday’s march.“We couldn’t take to the streets untilwe knew what it really said. Now I understandhow bad it really is,” he added.CAFTA opponents object to the openingof the telecommunications and insurancemonopolies, by allowing privatefirms to enter the country and competeagainst the Costa Rican Electricity andTelecom Institute (ICE) and NationalInsurance Institute (INS).They also object to the trade agreement’spotential negative effect on theenvironment (see separate article) and theopening of markets to subsidized agriculturalproducts from the United States.AMONG the chanting workers andstudents draped in Ché Guevara flags weresigns reading “El ICE no se vende, el ICEse defende” (ICE won’t be sold, ICE willbe defended) and “No al TerrorismoComercial” (No to commercial terrorism).CAFTA “benefits very few interests.Most Americans have very little to gain aswell. Mostly it benefits the large multinationals,like Standard Fruit, pineapplecompanies…” agreed Luis Vivanco, a visitingUniversity of Vermont professor currentlyteaching a cultural anthropologyclass on the effects of globalization onCentral America at the University of CostaRica.“I think it spells the end of a certainkind of life that (Costa Ricans) have cometo expect from their national experiment,”he added while observing the march.ROGELIO Cedeño, secretary generalof the Patriotic Union for Education (SINPAE),told The Tico Times, “Going intothis march we had modest expectations,and many people that we didn’t expecthave shown up.“People are conducting work stoppagesin other parts of the country. Thisreveals there is an outbreak of consciousnessamong the people of Costa Rica, theice has been broken, the fear is gone; thepeople have realized how much is atstake,” he added.Organizers estimated as many as20,000 people participated in the march,including 7,000 ICE employees – manywearing yellow ICE hardhats and singingthe ICE anthem – according to FabioChaves, president of ICE union ASEDICE.However, Public Security Ministryspokesman Nicolás Aguilar estimatedbetween 10,000 and 11,000 people attended.No problems were reported along themarch’s route, where 600 officers werepresent, Aguilar added.PUBLIC employees who attended themarch will have money docked from theirnext paychecks, Presidency MinisterRicardo Toledo announced on Tuesday.“I have asked don Pablo Cob (executivepresident of ICE) and the leaders of allother institutions and ministries, includingthe Education Ministry, to give me the lists(of people who missed work to march). Iwill also ask the Finance Ministry to verifythe names the executive presidents giveme as a way of cross-referencing the information.Just to be sure.”Teachers, environmentalists, Marxists,anarchists, dairy farmers from San Carlos,employees of the Ministry of Public Worksand Transport, the Social Security System(Caja) union and a nurses’ union could allbe found among the waving banners andprotest signs.ALSO donning their yellow and redcolors were members of the Citizen ActionParty (PAC), who made their anti-CAFTApresence well known at the march, withseveral of the party’s deputies speaking tothe crowd gathered outside the LegislativeAssembly in east San José, where themarch ended.The Social Christian Unity Party(PUSC) also had a presence throughdeputy Gloria Valerín.“We cannot allow this free-trade agreementto advance. This protest reaches allthe way to ICE (in La Sabana, in west SanJosé, where the march began). If that is nota poll, then tell me what is,” the congresswomansaid.However, some felt the protestors werejust looking for a day off.“The majority of the people don’tknow about CAFTA, a lot of these peopleare just here because they don’t have towork. And the students are just repeatingwhat they hear,” said Francisco Lee, whoworks at a photo lab along the march’sroute. He added he doesn’t know muchabout CAFTA, and doesn’t feel verystrongly either way about the treaty.KNOWLEDGE is lacking in theUnited States as well, Vivanco pointed out.“There is a total lack of knowledgeamong the (U.S.) mainstream. Unionworkers are very aware. But too much elseis going on for people to pay attention.This is just one more complaint against thecurrent administration,” he said.The march was just one way to raiseconsciousness, protestors said.Students from Liceo Dr. José MaríaCastro Madriz in Barrio Córdoba are raisingCAFTAawareness with the group HighSchool Action Against ImperialistOperations, which participated in themarch.“We are trying to spread the word toother schools. At each meeting we discusswhat we have learned recently about theeffects of the treaty,” explained 18-yearoldMarcela Granados.(Tico Times reporter Fabián Borges contributedto this report.)

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