San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Foreigners’ Rights and Limitations Clarified

Two weeks ago, The Tico Times reported that some uncertainty surrounded whether foreigners can freely express opinions about the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA) during the campaign months leading up to the referendum.

This week, Hector Fernández, head of electoral programs at the Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE), cleared up our doubts – mostly.

There’s no doubt about financial contributions from foreigners: they’re not allowed. 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.

According to Fernández, foreigners are free to voice their opinions on CAFTA, though they should keep in mind the Constitution’s prohibition on non-citizens “interfer(ing) with the political affairs of the country.”

In other words, foreigners can express their thoughts on CAFTA in a letter to a newspaper, for example, but not by actively campaigning, organizing CAFTA forums or other events, or transporting voters, he said.

If violations of this Constitutional prohibition were reported to the Tribunal, its authorities would investigate and, if necessary, issue an order that the foreigner in question desist from further campaigning. If that order were disobeyed, the TSE could file a case before a Criminal Court.

However, “liberty of expression is a right” for all, Fernández told The Tico Times.


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