San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Libertarians Submit CAFTA to Congress

THE Libertarian Movement Party attempted to makebusiness leaders’ wildest dreams a reality last week whenits legislators submitted the Central American Free-TradeAgreement with the United States (CAFTA) to theLegislative Assembly for discussion – an action only thePresident is empowered to undertake, according to traditionalinterpretations of the Constitution.The Libertarians insist there is room for interpretationin the Constitution regarding this matter.The unusual move, which Libertarian faction leaderFederico Malavassi referred to as a “legal strategy,” hascaused a stir among legislators.However, it appears unlikely it will result in the discussion of the controversial trade pactwithout the President’s approval.PRESIDENT Abel Pacheco hasangered CAFTA proponents by refusing tosend the agreement to the assembly for discussionuntil his controversial tax plan isapproved. The Libertarians, who are thetax plan’s most vocal opponents, areamong those who say Pacheco’s positionspells disaster for the country’s economicfuture (TT, Jan. 21).The Libertarians submitted the text ofthe agreement, signed by Costa Rica,Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador,Guatemala and the United States in May2004 – the Dominican Republic signed onin August of last year – to the assembly onFeb. 4, prompting what Malavassidescribed as “a great legal discussion.”NO matter how the Constitution isinterpreted, no action can be taken onCAFTA until May 1, when the assembly’sordinary session begins. The Constitutiongives the Executive Branch the sole rightto set the agenda when it convenes extraordinarysessions, such as the one nowunder way.After May 1, however, there appears tobe some room for interpretation regardingwho has the power to send CAFTA to theassembly.According to Article 123, “the initiativefor enactment of laws can be taken byany member of the Legislative Assembly,or by the Executive Branch through theCabinet Ministers.”However, Article 140 gives theExecutive Branch the sole power to “enterinto and subscribe agreements (and) publictreaties,” and “to direct the internationalrelations of theRepublic.”These clauseshave traditionallybeen takento mean that thePresident has thepower to decideif and when tosend internationaltreaties to theassembly for ratification,Malavassitold TheTico Times thisweek.“However, we did an analysis of theConstitution and found that to be untrue,”he added.UNFORTUNATELY for Malavassiand his cohorts, the assembly’s GeneralSecretariat appears to side with the traditionalview.On Monday, the secretariat respondedto the Libertarians’ presentation ofCAFTA, saying the assembly cannot discussthe pact until Pacheco decides to submitit.“The assembly only has the power toapprove or reject,” explained GerardoVargas, a legislator from the Citizens’Action Party (PAC).“Only the Executive Branch can presentthe treaty,” he told The Tico Times onTuesday.Malavassi expressed hope nonetheless,saying the Government Attorney’s Officehas undertaken a study of the issue, and theLibertarians are considering an appealbefore the Constitutional Chamber of theSupreme Court (Sala IV).The Libertarians have also said theyhope the action will inspire other parties toheighten their pressure on Pacheco to sendCAFTA to the assembly soon.At his weekly Cabinet meetingTuesday, Pacheco reiterated his now familiardefense of his insistence on taxreform (see separate article).BUSINESS leaders have beenbemoaning Pacheco’s position for months,taking any opportunity to enumerate thebenefits of free trade and the possible consequencesif Costa Rica delays in ratifyingCAFTA, or fails to ratify it altogether.They have raised their voices still louderin recent months as the Presidents ofGuatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua sentthe agreement to their respective legislaturesand El Salvador’s assembly ratifiedCAFTA late last year (TT, Dec. 24, 2004).The Dominican Republic and theUnited States are the only other signatorycountries besides Costa Rica where thechief executives have not yet submitted thepact to the legislature.IN Costa Rica, CAFTA proponents sayPacheco risks endangering thousands ofjobs and driving away foreign investment.Labor Minister Fernando Trejos chidedthe private sector this week for overstatingtheir case, according the daily DiarioExtra.He said the doom-and-gloom commentsfrom the private sector could driveaway foreign investment by creating anegative image for Costa Rica in the eyesof the world.

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