CAFTA Debate Continues

June 2, 2006

With official discussion of the controversial Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA) still not quite off the ground in the Legislative Assembly, pro-CAFTA President Oscar Arias met this week with union leaders opposed to the pact.

Representatives of workers’ unions from the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE), which holds a monopoly on telecommunications but would have to open to competition under CAFTA, visited Casa Presidencial Monday to speak with Arias, according to a presidential statement. ICE Internal Workers’ Front (FIT) representative Jorge Arguedas said employees plan to strike June 7 to protest the agreement and asked Arias to withdraw it from consideration in the Legislative Assembly.

Arias responded that “it’s impossible to please the unions with respect to CAFTA,” and said trade is the only way forward for the country. However, he proposed to review the documents presented during the meeting.

Workers also gave the President feedback on a proposed law to strengthen the institution.

Rodrigo Arias, the President’s brother and spokesman, met Monday with leaders including Foreign Trade Minister Marco Vinicio Ruíz, Public Security Minister Fernando Berrocal and various legislators to determine both political and police strategy with respect to the agreement. The meeting was apparently prompted by comments last week by Albino Vargas, Secretary General of the National Association of Public and Private Workers (ANEP), who in an interview published Sunday by the daily Al Día said CAFTA would be defined not in the assembly, but in the street.

Ruíz said in a statement that Berrocal, along with Labor Minister Francisco Morales, were among the ministers at the meeting because “we want to safeguard the rights of all citizens, so (the ministers) need to be aware of all actions related to CAFTA.”

Arias told Al Día Vargas’ comments are “almost a call to a state of national uprising.”

 A confrontation could be some ways away, since the legislative International Affairs Commission, charged with debating CAFTA and voting on whether to send it to the assembly floor, has not yet begun that process. Its first meeting took place last week (TT, May 26), but so far legislators are still deciding how and when the discussion will take place.

At press time, a decision regarding whether to move CAFTA from 12th to first place on the commission’s agenda was pending; prioritizing the pact would allow it to be discussed in extra commission sessions, rather than only during regularly scheduled sessions, according to the daily La Nación.

CAFTA, signed in 2004, has been under consideration in the assembly for eight months. Costa Rica is the only signatory country that has not yet ratified the pact.

It faces stiff opposition from unions such as ANEP and other groups, including Universidad Nacional (UNA) in Heredia, north of San José. The university’s governing council voted last week to express its opposition to the pact, according to a statement from UNA.

 

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