In person, Eugenio Trejos, director of the Technological Institute of Costa Rica (ITEC), is civil and soft-spoken.
You wouldn’t know that, however, if you saw him grab the microphone to speak his mind about the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA), as he did this week in San José.
Trejos appears to be emerging as a lightning rod in the CAFTA debate. Despite his humble presence, he has drawn fire from the likes of pro-CAFTA President Oscar Arias because of his tough stance against the trade pact.
“We want globalization with a human face … we want to see the globalization of solidarity, the globalization of justice, the globalization of equality!” he told a jampacked auditorium at the TechnologicalTransferCenter in Zapote Monday.
“We don’t want globalization that will force us to lose our sense of nationhood!” The ecstatic crowd, which included academics and opposition party leaders, rose to its feet with a standing ovation that soon became a chant: “No to CAFTA! No to CAFTA!”
Trejos took his seat as presiding director of the National Council of University Rectors (CONARE) last week, the same week he was named president of the new National Front of Support against CAFTA.
The highly educated CAFTA opponent is quick to point out his views on free trade don’t represent the views of CONARE.
He and Universidad Nacional (UNA) economist Henry Mora are now the heads of the anti-CAFTA front, a group of academics, business leaders and student groups that have added yet another, perhaps more intellectual, facet to the CAFTA opposition.
Trejos returned last week from Venezuela, where he was invited by the Superior Central American University Council (CSUCA) to monitor the presidential elections as an international observer. Leftist President Hugo Chávez reclaimed his seat in a landslide, as opponents accused him of becoming increasingly authoritarian.
Trejos said the elections, in which more than half the voting population hit the polls, strengthened the country’s democracy.
“The greatest achievement was the fact that discussion surrounding the elections did not focus on the cleanliness of the election results and whether there was fraud. Instead, the political discussion focused on political issues,” he said.
Trejos said the recent leftist shift in Latin American politics is the result of failed attempts in the region to implement economic policies focused on promoting free trade and foreign investment.
“It’s a response to a model of short-sighted neo-liberal policies pushed for more than two decades. The only thing they brought is more poverty,” he said.
Mora, who is now the secretary of the National Front of Support against CAFTA, said the group will support any legal means to block approval of CAFTA.
Trejos, an Heredia-born father of three children, said recent neo-liberal policies in Costa Rica have brought development that has created “islands of technology in an ocean of poverty.”
He said one way anti-CAFTA legislators may be able to block a vote on the trade pact – for which Arias says there is majority support – is to question the constitutionality of the legislative process of the pact. For instance, two thirds of the legislature voted to set a deadline to send the pact to the floor, despite hundreds of pending motions from mostly opposition parties (see separate story).
“I think the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV) will judge on the unconstitutionality of CAFTA,” he said.
In October, at an event celebrating Intel’s 10th anniversary in Costa Rica, President Arias publicly singled out Trejos as a CAFTA opponent (TT, Nov. 3). Arias said he didn’t understand how a technological institute, whose graduates would benefit from the arrival of more tech companies in Costa Rica, could be opposed to the pact.
“It seemed to me a truly pointed remark,” Trejos said of the President’s comment.
“But it’s the right of the President to say what he wants … In a democracy, everyone has the right to dissent, all the way up to the President himself,” he said.