San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

CAFTA Battles Continue to Heat Up

WITH opposition to the CentralAmerican Free-Trade Agreement with theUnited States (CAFTA) becoming stillmore concerted this week, President AbelPacheco took his strongest pro-CAFTAstance in months, downplaying opponents’worries about the pact’s consequences.“Costa Ricans: have no fear,” he saidafter his weekly Cabinet meetingTuesday. When the free-trade agreementwith Mexico was under consideration in1994, people believed “we’d end updrinking tequila and eating chiles,” headded, but those fears proved unfoundedas Costa Rican exports to Mexico soared.The President also assured the pressthat despite an April 14 meeting in SanJosé planned by unions, CAFTA’sstrongest opponents, from across CentralAmerica, Costa Rica will remain violence-free. In Guatemala, the agreement’sratification was marked by violent streetprotests and deaths (TT, March 18).“Welcome to the union members,” hesaid, but “in Costa Rica discussions takeplace at the negotiating table. We will nottolerate disorder.”While Pacheco maintains he will notsend CAFTA, signed in May 2004, to theLegislative Assembly until the assemblyreforms the country’s tax system, TradeMinister Manuel González said nothing ispreventing legislators from beginning toreview the text of the agreement immediately.“There is nothing to impede that,” hesaid.Libertarian Party leader Otto Guevera,however, said Gonzalez’s comment isdesigned to “wash his hands of theresponsibility (the Executive Branch)has.” The Libertarians have proposed thatCAFTA’s future be decided by a nationwidereferendum (TT, March 11).Guevara told The Tico Times this weekthat the assembly is waiting for Pacheco’sresponse to the proposal, and that,because of the amount of time theSupreme Elections Tribunal (TSE) wouldneed to organize a referendum, the proposalwill likely be shelved if Pachecodoes not express his support within thenext week and a half.Pacheco has said the referendum is “apossibility,” but has not yet presented adefinite response to the proposal.The Catholic Church also sprang intothe fray this week, asking the executiveand legislative branches to take action onCAFTA.“Legislators: please do not keep thecountry hanging on the approval or rejectionof such important projects for solong,” Bishop Angel Sancasimiro toldRadio Monumental on Easter Sunday.Meanwhile, Citizen Action Party(PAC) presidential candidate Ottón Solísannounced that opposition to CAFTAwould be the platform of his campaign,according to La Nación.

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