San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Thousands Turn Out for CAFTA

IN what may have been the biggest demonstration ever in favor of the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA), thousands of Costa Ricans arrived by the busload and filled Avenida Segunda, stretching west from Plaza de la Democracia, in downtown San José yesterday.With an atmosphere reminiscent of a street festival or concert, the avenue began to fill at about 9 a.m. as a DJ’s selection of salsa, cumbia and reggaetón blared from a high-powered sound system that included multiple towers with enormous speakers. A professional MC cheered on the crowd from an elevated stage, and the once-popular salsa band Los Hicsos put on a live performance followed by a parade of speakers praising the free-trade agreement.“Those who say yes (to CAFTA) understand that optimism is the only possible revolution for our generation,” said 23-year-old José Rodolpho, a biology graduate student from the University of Costa Rica, as he faced the demonstration. “I believe in Costa Rica. I believe in youth, and because of that I came here today to say yes to CAFTA.”MOST of those who attended were brought by bus by their employers, and many stood with signs and banners supporting their industry or business.“We demand a prompt approval of CAFTA. We produce 2 million kilograms of chayote per week for the American market. Two hundred direct jobs,” read one large banner.“We are here because Costa Rica needs new opportunities, and we always support free trade,” said Roberto Truque, who attended with employees of Atlas Industries, in Heredia, but declined to give his position, saying “we are all bosses.” Truque said approximately 300 people from Atlas were present, but others were still at the factory keeping the assembly line going. “Those of us who aren’t communists…CAFTA,” read another hand-written sign held up during the demonstration.AMONG the buzz of organizers and coordinators onstage was legislator and vice-presidential hopeful Laura Chinchilla, from Oscar Arias’ National Liberation Party (PLN) ticket.“It seems that the least that we, the legislators who have expressed a favorable opinion toward the agreement, can do is accompany this impressive quantity of citizens… and support them in the message that they have come to give the citizenry,” Chinchilla told The Tico Times.Other legislators from Liberation and the Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC) later joined Chinchilla at the nearby Legislative Assembly to meet with a delegation representing various businesses and workers who support CAFTA. Delegation members one by one outlined their reasons for supporting the agreement, highlighting the importance of trade for the national economy and the opportunities they said the agreement would bring. However, several members also emphasized the importance of legislation and projects to complement the trade agreement by strengthening various sectors and infrastructure in order to be more prepared to compete under CAFTA – the so-called complementary agenda.“CAFTA by itself is not going to bring the solutions to the problems we have,” said Anibal Chávez, a representative of the textile sector.Figures of how many CAFTA supporters attended the event vary wildly, making it difficult to determine how this week’s event compared to the anti-CAFTA march held last week (TT, Nov. 18). Several journalists present at both events confirmed that last week’s event was significantly larger; for that march, The Tico Times published a conservative estimate of 10,000, while the daily La Nación conducted a detailed study that produced an estimate of 18,000 attendees, and anti-CAFTA organizers put their estimates between 35,000 and 80,000. For yesterday’s march, organizers said they confirmed 35,000, registered by their employers who brought in their workers by bus, while Transit Police said approximately 18,000 people were present, basing their figure on the 350 buses that arrived.

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