While a human river of green and white flooded Paseo Colón, in west San José, Sunday to say “yes” to leading presidential candidate Oscar Arias – whose campaign slogan is “Sí Costa Rica” – on the opposite side of the capital, artists, environmentalists, students and concerned citizens gathered to say “no” to the National Liberation Party candidate and what he represents.
With capoeira, performances by Costa Rican songwriters, T-shirt and banner decorating, participants at the Festival del No found outlets to express their opposition to not only Arias’ candidacy, but also the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA), government corruption and offshore oil exploration.
The festival, which attracted some 600 people that came in waves from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. to the University of Costa Rica (UCR) campus east of San José in San Pedro, had no head organizer because as musician Esteban Monge told The Tico Times Sunday, “We don’t believe the boat needs a captain but a crew,” a clear jab at Arias’ campaign slogan, “The boat needs a captain.”
Singer and actor Rubén Pagura, among the festival’s chief collaborators, explained the activity was not just about saying “no” toCAFTA, but also a call for citizens to vote in Sunday’s election.
“This (festival) is about saying ‘no’ to petroleum exploration, mining and selling our natural resources. The main danger of Oscar’s coming is the arrival of transnational companies,” said Pagura, a member of the Culture Movement Against CAFTA, a group formed last year to inform communities about the trade pact. Costa Rica is the only one of seven participating countries that has not ratified the agreement.
President Abel Pacheco’s son, environmentalist Fabián Pacheco, a member of the Culture Movement, agreed with Pagura, and pinpointed Arias’ party and the Libertarian Movement Party, whose presidential candidate ranks third in recent polls, as a “genuine threat” to the country for their positions on oil exploration and open-pit mining in Costa Rica, both of which President Pacheco banned through a decree he signed shortly after taking office (TT, June 7, 2002).
“We are making a call to those who plan to abstain from voting, to vote against Oscar Arias and the Libertarians,” said the 27-year old president of the Costa Rican Federation for Environmental Conservation (FECON).
National Liberation and the Libertarian Movement share a similar stance on the issue of oil exploration, which they would not prohibit if elected.
According to Teófilo de la Torre, member of National Liberation’s energy commission, the party does not rule out contracting with international companies for oil exploration in Costa Rica.
“This is a resource we cannot say we do not want to use. You cannot say no to everything, you have to analyze all possibilities,” he added.
Danny Quirós, Libertarian Movement director of communication, said his party does not object to oil exploration as long as it does not threaten the environment or any community.
“If God gave us oil fields then we have the opportunity to explore them and benefit from them,” he told The Tico Times.
National Liberation has also declared it might lift Pacheco’s moratorium on open-pit metal mining (TT, Jan. 27).
On the other hand, second runner up in the polls, Citizen Action Party (PAC) presidential candidate Ottón Solís has pledged to uphold Pacheco’s moratoriums on oil exploration and strip mining.
PAC holds a very clear position regarding oil exploration and open-pit mining – it will maintain Pacheco’s decree, according to Carlos Quesada, the party’s environmental coordinator.
PAC will leave the door open to the option of natural gas extraction, a much cleaner option that has less of an environmental impact, according to Quesada.