San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

What Do People Think About a Referendum?

The news that the Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE) decided a popular vote could be held on the polemic Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA) and President Oscar Arias’ subsequent request for a speedy referendum has filled the news and opinion pages of the Spanish-language dailies this past week.

What do the people think and how would they vote? The Tico Times conducted an informal poll on the streets of San José this week to find out. Excerpts:

Henry Gadea, 42, a

Costa Rican street

vendor of leather products from Alajuelita, south of San José, says he won’t vote. “I’m neither for nor against CAFTA. I won’t vote. I believe CAFTA will favor some people and it won’t favor others. CAFTA won’t favor us with what we’re doing. There’s no point in voting, the results will be the same. They shouldn’t have done a referendum. It will favor only the government, the haves, and the international businesses that come here. Why does the President want a referendum so much? Because it will benefit him.

Raúl Salamon, 48, a reggae and calypso musician from the Caribbean coast who plays bongo drums, says he would vote against CAFTA. “Everybody has their own opinion. The thing is that they don’t have the full story. They don’t fully understand it … people here don’t know. Automatically, psycholitically, you know, I’m not for it. The President called for a referendum because he knows he has a majority. It’s gonna be real sh*t here. It’s really gonna push people, and people here haven’t been pushed.”

Bernardo Amador, 60, a real estate agent from the Caribbean-slope town of Turrialba, says he would vote in favor of CAFTA. “It’s good for Costa Rica.We can’t fall behind and isolate ourselves from the rest of Central America. We are inviting in the Gringos (laughs).”

Daniela Castillo, 22, pharmacy worker and microbiology student from the western Central Valley town Alajuela, would vote against CAFTA. “I didn’t know (the court ruled in favor of the referendum). I think it’s good we can vote, but many people don’t know about it. There is a lack of information about the referendum.”

Randall Jiménez, 26, a bartender from Desamparados, south of San José, would vote in favor of CAFTA. “It’s a good idea.We need to vote on (CAFTA) to be able to leave behind our mediocrity.”

Mercedes Orozco, 21, an undocumented immigrant from León, Nicaragua, says she’s unaware of referendum plans, and can’t vote anyway, but would vote in favor of CAFTA if she could. “From a Nicaraguan point of view,my country and Costa Rica must approve CAFTA, because the economic activity of the two countries is so low. I haven’t studied CAFTA, it’s very complicated, but talking with Costa Ricans, most are in favor. Costa Rica doesn’t have any other option. They have to say yes given the economy.”

Wilmer Marchena, 26, a private security guard and former employee of the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) from San José, would vote against CAFTA. “A referendum is good. There’s parts of CAFTA that serve Costa Rica and parts that don’t. They’re going to privatize ICE, and have foreign companies come in and buy up public places.”

Sharon Copeland, 23, is a U.S citizen and Spanish student from Gadsdon, in the U.S. state of Alabama, who hasn’t heard of CAFTA. “I don’t think I’m educated enough to give an opinion. What’s CAFTA?”

Mike Townsend, 59, is a U.S. citizen and missionary from Pontotoc, in the U.S. state of Mississippi, who’s in Costa Rica studying Spanish and hadn’t heard there might be a referendum. “It’s good to have a public vote on CAFTA. Any democracy should reflect the will of the people.”

Armando Vega, 54, an engineer from Tibás, just north of San José, says he’d vote in favor of CAFTA. “The referendum is something democratic. So the people can decide.

We hope we have good luck with this so we can take out referendums on other issues.”

Mayo Quirós, 40, a street beggar from Guadalupe, northeast of San José, who plays a broken guitar with soundless plastic strings, says he would vote against CAFTA. “Yes. I will go vote.”

Miguel Mena, 50, a messenger from San José, says he’s undecided. “A popular vote is a good thing. It’s a polemic debate. I’m not sure, though I think I might vote in favor. Some say it’s good, some say it’s bad, even businesses say it’s good and bad. It’s a profound issue.”

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