San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Pacheco: CAFTA’s On Its Way

PRESIDENT Abel Pacheco could send the controversial Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA) to the Legislative Assembly for ratification within the next 15 days, according to Foreign Trade Minister Manuel González.On Sept. 17, Pacheco’s Council of Notables, a five-member group he appointed to make recommendations on CAFTA, turned in its final report after studying the agreement for two months. Pacheco has said he would not submit the pact to the assembly before receiving the council’s report – despite increasing pressure from the business sector and many legislators since the agreement was passed in the United States (TT, July 29).The report was made public Tuesday at the press conference following the President’s weekly Cabinet meeting, an occasion that brought hundreds of anti-CAFTA protestors into the streets, blocking traffic in parts of San José into the evening.WHILE many expected, feared or hoped – depending on their CAFTA stance – that Pacheco would announce the immediate submission of the treaty to the assembly, he remained evasive during his press conference, saying he will send it when the moment is right.However, in an interview with The Tico Times Wednesday, Trade Minister González said it would be soon. “I would say we are talking about a few weeks, maximum,” he said.The council’s report does not include a recommendation on whether or not to send CAFTA, and is non-binding. According to the text of the 69-page document, it is meant to offer opinions and additional information for the legislators who will decide the fate of the pact, and the many Costa Ricans “justly interested and concerned” by it. It also attempts to put the complex trade agreement in terms more easily understood by the average citizen.“THE agreement has the potential to help and not to help, to contribute and not to contribute to the integral development of the country,” reads the conclusion of the report. “It all depends on Costa Rica’s ability, will and commitment to implement profound changes in its political, social, commercial, legal and administrative structures.”The council’s spokesman, Costa Rican-U.S. astronaut Franklin Chang, compared entering the agreement without these changes to connecting a half-inch garden hose to a fire hydrant. “It’s not the hydrant that is bad,” he said. “On the contrary, it has sufficient water, but we should get a wide hose and the regulation valves.”The valves and hose Chang referred to are social and economic programs and laws designed to strengthen Costa Rica in the face of free trade with the United States. Such projects already exist in the package of bills known as the Complementary Agenda, now under consideration in the assembly. However, the council reported that it is inthis area that the most urgent need for actionexists.“WITH respect to the Complementary Agenda: when the Executive Branch presented it more than two months ago, we were the first to recognize that it was not sufficient, that we would like it to be broader, that we would like it if there were more projects included,” González told The Tico Times. “But we were also sincere in saying that, responsibly, this is what we could offer the country.”He explained that all the projects now in the agenda are already financed by the government and international institutions.“It (would be) very easy to take a list of 100 projects and say, ‘This is the Complementary Agenda, and this is what we are going to do.’ And how will we do it? They (wouldn’t) have any economic foundation,” he said.THE council, in its report, also calls on the country to leave behind the “profound and disconcerting national polarization” they say has paralyzed the national decision-making process, and to work together for the good of the country.As if to illustrate that polarization, protesters arrived in force just outside the gates of Casa Presidencial, in the southeastern San José suburb of Zapote, where the press conference was being held. Their march, which began in Parque la Merced in downtown San José with somewhat scant numbers in comparison to previous anti-CAFTA protests and composed mostly of union members, grew in size as it went along and joined forces with student protesters who had stopped traffic at the major roundabout in San Pedro, east of downtown San José. A total of approximately 1,500 were present, according to the daily La República.Manuel Gómez, an 18-year-old high school student, told The Tico Times he is against the treaty because the United States “wants to dominate us, as they always have done since the beginning, and we are fed up with it.”“I’m here to show solidarity with the Costa Rican people and to show that there are conscientious Americans as well,” said U.S. citizen Jason Moyer Lee, one of several study-abroad students from Long Island University who were marching in the protest. “I think that any free-trade agreement always fucks the little guy, and Costa Rica is definitely the little guy against the United States.”

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