U.S. Trade Agreement Polarizes Ticos’ Opinions

March 11, 2005

THE Central American Free-TradeAgreement (CAFTA) with the UnitedStates has divided opinions in Costa Rica,as business groups press for its ratificationand social sectors protest in thestreets against it.Between both extremes, PresidentAbel Pacheco affirms that he will notsend the treaty to Congress until the legislatorsapprove a fiscal reform plan, whichthey have been discussing for more thantwo years without achieving the necessaryconsensus for its approval.The principle business chambers andpolitical sectors headed by the presidentialcandidate for the National Liberation Party(PLN), Nobel prize winner Oscar Arias, areemphasizing the need to ratify CAFTA andnot be “left behind” compared to the othercountries of the isthmus.Well-known public figures such as ex-President Rodrigo Carazo and variousacademics and intellectuals have joinedthe social sectors. They reject the agreementbecause they say it was negotiated“only for a few people.”“The government doesn’t necessarilyreact to pressure, all groups have the rightand the liberty to show their support foror against certain projects,” Minister ofCommerce Manuel González said.“What the government must do ismake the decision that is best for thecountry. We do not react in order to favora particular sector,” he added.Business leader Marco Vinicio Ruizsaid CAFTA must be ratified “to meet ourresponsibility with the region and theUnited States.”The general secretary of the NationalAssociation for Public Employees (ANEP),Albino Vargas, warned that “they will haveto protest on the streets” because CAFTAstipulates transformations in the social statewhich the people reject.Vargas cited the breakup of the statemonopolies on energy, telecommunicationsand insurance as examples.Independent political analyst LuisGuillermo Solís said, “Costa Rica is toodivided for the discussion of the treatyduring the electoral year.” General electionswill be held in February 2006.“The discussion of CAFTA will necessarilypolarize the country,” Solís said,adding there also exists the danger that“the Costa Rican elections’ only themewill be the discussion of CAFTA.”

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