San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Can Foreigners Get Involved?

The country’s Electoral Code strictly prohibits campaign donations by foreigners or foreign businesses, and the Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE) has made it clear this prohibition applies during the upcoming referendum.

Less certain is whether foreigners can express their opinions about the agreement, an issue at the heart of controversies this week over comments by Cuban President Fidel Castro (see separate story).

The Constitution states that foreigners “may not interfere with the political affairs of the country,” but does that mean they can’t voice support for or opposition to the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA) – to friends or employees, at a public event, or on newspaper opinion pages?

TSE representatives told The Tico Times that Electoral Programs Coordinator Héctor Fernández is the man to answer this question, but he did not return phone calls by press time. Others had differing views.

“No,” Ottón Solís, leader of the anti-CAFTA Citizen Action Party (PAC), said bluntly when asked whether foreigners can speak freely about the agreement as the referendum looms. “It’s better that they don’t interfere, that they respect our democracy.”

Ombudswoman Lisbeth Quesada, who has also spoken against CAFTA, said she sees no problem with foreigners voicing opinions “as long as they are respectful.”

Lynda Solar, executive director of the pro-CAFTA Costa Rican-American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM) and a dual U.S.-Costa Rican citizen, said there’s no question foreigners are allowed to speak their mind.

“There’s free speech in Costa Rica, and foreigners can say whatever they want about CAFTA,” she told The Tico Times.


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