Astronaut to Join CAFTA Council

May 13, 2005

POPULAR U.S.-Costa Rican rocketscientist Franklin Chang will be one ofthe five members of a “council of notables”Pacheco plans to appoint to reexaminethe ramifications of the CentralAmerican Free-Trade Agreement with theUnited States (CAFTA) for Costa Rica,according to a statement released lastweek by Casa Presidencial.Pacheco – who, according to the statement,is in the process of selecting theremaining four council members – has saidhis five choices will represent “the best wehave,” people not involved in politics, whowill determine whether or not the pactwould benefit Costa Rica (TT, May 6).Astronaut Chang has dual U.S. andCosta Rican citizenship and lives part timein Texas, where he has worked onthe plasma rocket for the U.S. NationalAeronautics and Space Administration(NASA) since 1979.HE is among the most popular publicfigures in Costa Rica, according to recentpolls by the private firm Unimer. WhenUnimer asked 1,415 Costa Ricans to ratepublic figures – both candidates and non-candidatesfor the 2006 elections – aspresidential material, Chang’s rankingwas the highest in the poll, surpassingthat of ex-President and 2006 candidateOscar Arias (1986-1990).The appointment has been the subjectof widespread debate on the editorialpages of the nation’s dailies and amongCAFTA proponents and critics. For themost part, those in favor of the agreementappear to feel Chang is a good choice in abad situation, while opponents are aghastover his U.S. citizenship and what theysay is pro-CAFTA bias.Union leader Edgar Morales comparedthe decision to “appointing a judgewho has already issued his verdict.”“I wasn’t expecting such a terriblesurprise,” said Morales, who previouslytold The Tico Times he held out hopesthat the council would create a forum forpublic debate on the issues surroundingthe agreement. “He has appeared with theCosta Rican-American Chamber ofCommerce (AmCham). He has made(pro-CAFTA) declarations in magazines.He is very close to the neoliberals… andhe is a North American citizen.“In no way does he deserve to makedecisions about CAFTA,” added Morales,the adjunct secretary general of the NationalAssociation of Public and PrivateEmployees (ANEP). “His presence, for me,completely disqualifies… the council.”AMCHAM’S executive director,Lynda Solar, expressed satisfaction withthe choice.“Of all the people Pacheco could havechosen, Franklin Chang would be probablyat the top of my list, simply becausehe has a vision of what it’s like to liveoutside of Costa Rica,” said Solar, a dualU.S.-Costa Rican citizen herself. “I thinkpart of the problem we have here is thatwe have a lot of people in positions formaking decisions that affect the future ofthis country, who are very limited interms of their knowledge… We have legislatorswho probably pride themselveson never having left Costa Rica.”Chang’s appointment aside, the councilitself is a “shame” and evidence ofPacheco’s unwillingness to lead, accordingto Solar.“What we have is a power vacuum –(Pacheco’s) just pushing the ball forward,not making decisions, and the clock isticking,” she said.Former Foreign Trade MinisterAlberto Trejos concurred.“I welcome Chang’s appointment tothe commission. I don’t welcome the factthat the commission exists,” he told TheTico Times this week.

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