San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Anti-CAFTA March Suggests Opposition’s Renewed Vigor

THE most optimistic predictions of 25,000marchers in yesterday’s protest of the Central AmericanFree-Trade Agreement with the United States(CAFTA) may have been shots at the moon, but theimpressive strength of the anti-CAFTA movementrattled San José’s streets with an estimated turnout ofat least 10,000, while organizers put it at 20,000.The high participation appears to show theresuscitation of a movement that has floundered inpast protests this year, with low turnouts and disjointedorganization (TT, April 22).Public employees of the National InsuranceInstitute (INS) and the Costa Rican ElectricityInstitute (ICE), teachers’ unions, university students,rice farmers, campesinos from the CentralValley or as far away as the Southern Zone, taxi driversand dozens of other groups brandished signsand banners as they converged on the LegislativeAssembly in downtown San José, and later on CasaPresidencial in Zapote, the southeast suburb.Among them, vans and a rig platform outfittedwith speakers blared chants, played music and listed grievances with the trade agreement.“Business owners are afraid.(Supermarkets) Mas x Menos and Palíwere bought out by Wal-Mart. That’swhat’s happening: they’re invading already,”speakers announced, referring tothe U.S. giant’s recent purchase of sharesin Central American supermarkets (TT,Sept. 30).THE protest is a delayed response toPresident Abel Pacheco’s Oct. 21 decisionto send CAFTA to the assembly (TT, Oct28).“We would have liked (to protest)sooner, but we needed to unite the sectors’forces,“ said ICE union leader FabioChaves. He represents workers who fearthe trade pact’s requirement that monopolieson telecommunications and insurance– now held by ICE and INS, respectively –would cause job loss, higher prices to consumersand lack of coverage for both services.“Here we insure everyone, but in theUnited States big insurance companiesdon’t cover all the victims of disasters. Theinternational companies will come for themoney” and won’t cover the poor, INSoffice worker Javier Herrera said.Traffic made laborious detours aroundthe main artery through San José to SanPedro, the eastern suburb, eliciting grumblesfrom one cabbie who said he opposesthe agreement but he also opposes “allthis,” gesturing toward the crowds.Che Guevara poked his cartoon headon a stick from the windows of a cloth andsteel-pole-framed imitation taxi urging hissocialist rebels “Hasta la victoria siempre”(“Forever until victory”). Other signs proclaimed“Pura vida sin TLC” (“Pura vidawithout CAFTA”); “We won’t give oureconomy to the United States”; “Don’t letthem sell us out,” on a banner above caricaturesof presidential candidate and ex-President Oscar Arias (1986-1990) andother politicians and business leaders infavor of CAFTA; “I want to eat our rice”;and, on a banner of a cartoon U.S.President George W. Bush parachutingover Costa Rica, “Out of the way, Ticos…All this… all this is mine.”A two-piece light jazz band playedbetween announcements of the dangers ofCAFTA on the bed of a rig, a hoarsethroatedman quoted the celebrated Cubanpoet José Martí on the necessity of self-expression,and Argentinean and CostaRican musicians played protest songs onacoustic guitars on another truck platformwhile hundreds looked on.Former and current anti-CAFTA legislators,including Epsy Campbell of theCitizen Action Party (PAC), joined theaction, and National Liberation Party legislatorLuis Ramírez, who supports theagreement, spoke with protesters in thestreet near the assembly.“This process should be rational andreceive the highest number of arguments.If not, if we don’t respect differing perspectives,it will become fanatic,” he toldThe Tico Times while a protester shoutedopposition statements over his shoulder.

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