Though a new poll suggests more than half of Costa Ricans favor the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA), another recent poll, efforts to submit the treaty to a nationwide referendum and activities surrounding the Independence Day holiday pointed in another direction.
This week, a group of citizens calling itself Patriotic Convergence met with magistrates at the Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE) Wednesday to present their case for a non-binding referendum that would send CAFTA to a public vote. The group has presented 900 signatures in favor of a referendum, which a TSE official has said would hold no legal water because referendums cannot be applied to financial or fiscal matters (TT, Sept. 15)
Magistrate Oscar Fonseca, president of the Tribunal, said the TSE will decide whether or not to organize a referendum, and whether or not such a referendum would be binding. If held, it would be the first referendum in Costa Rica’s history.
There is no deadline for a decision, but Fonseca said one would be made “as soon as possible.”
Patriotic Convergence, a group that includes former legislators, administrators, academics and poets, gave their case for a referendum, and members brought up results of an Unimer survey published in the daily La Nación Wednesday that suggests 51% of Costa Ricans believe the trade pact would benefit the country.
The survey is the latest in a series of surveys about CAFTA done by newspapers and universities, which tend to show varied results.
For example, an opinion poll released last week by the math faculty of the University of Costa Rica suggests 54.8% of Costa Ricans believe the country should renegotiate CAFTA, while 34.8% answered this is not necessary.
Last week, environmentalists and university students expressed their opposition to the agreement at Independence Day activities.
A small protest of approximately 20 university students in the province of Cartago Sept. 14, ended with the detention of nine students from UCR and Universidad Nacional (UNA), according to Cartago Police Commander Carlos Alvarado.
Alvarado said that evening, during the procession of the Freedom Torch that made its way toward the President and his Cabinet meeting in Cartago, protesters attempted to snatch the torch from the parade.
Police took nine students to the station and gave them notes of detention but did not arrest them.
UNA biology student Andrea Barrantes, in a column in a newsletter of the anti-CAFTA National Association of Public and Private Employees (ANEP), said the group was chanting peacefully and handing out flyers about the trade agreement when police suddenly barred them from joining the crowd gathered for the Independence Day activity.
“We asked them to let us in…showing them our IDs to prove that as Ticos, we deserve respect. But none of that was taken into account. At that moment…we decided to enter by our own means,” she relates.
A more peaceful gathering occurred the following day in San José, where members of environmental organizations arrived to Plaza de la Democracia to call for “independence from CAFTA.”
Approximately 200 people showed up at the activity, hailed as the first anti-CAFTA event organized by the environmental movement, from noon until after dark, according to Mauricio Alvarez, representative of the Costa Rican Federation for Environmental Conservation (FECON).
Of these, 30-40 people rode their bikes from the University of Costa Rica (UCR) in San Pedro, east of San José, to the site of the activity, stopping to distribute pamphlets with environmental information supporting their anti-CAFTA position at the Independence Day parade that made its way through the streets of the capital.
One pamphlet warns that CAFTA represents a threat to Costa Rica’s water supply, making it possible for transnational companies to privatize this resource. Also, the trade pact could “turn biodiversity into merchandise.”
A long list of musicians performed at the activity, including Esteban Monge, Manuel Monestel and Rubén Pagura, renowned for his performances at peace protests and anti-CAFTA rallies. During the music shows, people performed juggling acts and purchased shirts with the slogan “No hay ambiente para el TLC” (There is no environment for CAFTA) and anti-CAFTA buttons from a stand set up by FECON representatives.
According to FECON volunteer and fourth-year education student Carol Ramírez, the activity was planned for Independence Day because “the idea is to continue being independent and CAFTA is something that ties you up.”