San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Artist Sings Anti-CAFTA Heart Out in ‘¿Te Lo Canto?’

TLC (Tratado Libre de Comercio) is no longer just the Spanish acronym for the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA).

With last week’s inauguration of “¿Te Lo Canto?” (Shall I sing it for you?), the three letters that have managed to divide a nation unraveled into a scathing musical performance in protest against the agreement.

From the moment songwriter and musician Rubén Pagura steps onstage to spell out “Te Lo Canto?” in white paint out of the letters “TLC” graffiti-ed on a wall in the background, he uses nonstop monologues and music to deliver a lively, creative show about his views on the national issue.

Backed up by Gladys Chiny Naranjo, who sings and plays conga drums and a variety of other percussion instruments, and Leo Jiménez on the keyboard, Pagura goes through a repertoire of more than 10 original songs about topics such as globalization, one-sided journalism, collective fear, government corruption and the work CAFTA will bring to the country – work to defend a threatened environment and national dignity.

“I wanted to create a work that makes people think, in an entertaining way,” said Pagura, a leader of the protest music genre in Costa Rica, where he has performed at many a peace demonstration and anti-CAFTA march. Pagura begins his musical tale in 2001, when he follows his U.S. girlfriend Isa to Los Angeles.

Instead of living the American dream, he relates that he gets kicked out of the United States after Sept. 11 and returns to Costa Rica. Here, he finds life is plagued by economic difficulties, social inequity and a population that grows more politically divided as the date of the presidential election (held last February) approaches.

The musical is filled with symbolism: the prominent journalist Pagura sings about, Juan Ramón, represents Colombian-born journalist Parmenio Medina, who aired the investigative and satirical radio show “La Patada” (The Kick) and was murdered in 2001, and don Carlos represents President Oscar Arias.

The performance ends on a positive note, with the idea that “another world is possible.” A symbolic preview presented Nov. 1 at Fernando Volio Auditorium in the Legislative Assembly, where CAFTA’s fate will be resolved, drew a standing ovation from an albeit largely anti-CAFTA crowd of more than 100 people, including legislators, human rights activists, environmentalists and other familiar faces from anti-CAFTA protests. Several audience members broke into an energetic “No to CAFTA” chant.

“I thought it was an excellent artistic proposal, to generate opposition through music… it’s another way for social movements to transmit messages,” Abelardo Araya, president of the Diversity Movement, a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights group, said after the show.

Araya said he opposes CAFTA because it is a “poorly negotiated model of social exclusion.”

“It will only increase the gap between rich and poor – we know about its consequences in other countries,” he said.

While Pagura’s musical was not tied to any political party, it was presented at the assembly with support from the Broad Front Party and the Citizen Action Party (PAC), according to “Te Lo Canto?” producer Nerina Carmona.

The musical was also presented Thursday to Sunday of last week at Teatro San José in downtown San José. In the following weeks, the group will take its performances to rural communities throughout the country as part of the Culture Movement against CAFTA, to which Pagura belongs.

The Culture Movement, a group formed in September 2005 to inform communities about the treaty through art, often takes its ideals on the road on La Cazadora – a traditional Costa Rican slang word for “bus.”

Although it is not certain when or where the show will be staged next, Pagura explained it can also be performed upon request, for a cost of approximately ¢150,000 (about $290). Note that those not fluent in Spanish may have a hard time understanding the monologues; the songs are fun and catchy, however, and Pagura’s energy is an entertaining force in itself. Inquiries may be e-mailed to Pagura at, or visit for information.


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