A poll just released by the University of Costa Rica (UCR) suggests that nearly half of all voting heads of household would vote in favor of the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA) if October’s referendum on the treaty were held today.
Meanwhile, only 37.6% said they would vote against the pact, and 12.8% said they are still undecided. With a 4-point margin of error, that means that even if all undecided respondents voted against CAFTA, it would only achieve a statistical tie.
The poll, however, is limited in its scope and should not be taken as a portrait of Costa Rica’s total population, said Miguel Rodríguez, director of UCR’s School of Statistics. Since the school originally designed the study to gauge consumer confidence, not political opinions, only heads of household were consulted.
Likewise, the school’s Center of Opinion Studies conducted the poll of 705 Costa Ricans by telephone, meaning that the opinions of the 35% of Costa Ricans who don’t have telephones are not included.
In related news, supporters and opponents of the controversial trade agreement made themselves heard this week.
On Wednesday, an estimated 4,000 people turned out to a sport complex in the Caribbean-slope town of Guápiles to hear speeches by pro-CAFTA President Oscar Arias and various Cabinet members, and to show their support for CAFTA.
Farmers, teachers, local sports committees, municipal employees, students and others filled the stadium waving banners and signs saying “Yes to CAFTA.”
“With CAFTA’s approval, Costa Rica will obtain ample development that will be visible as more jobs, improved roads, increased security and better education,” legislator Jorge Méndez, a member of the ruling National Liberation Party (PLN) from the Caribbean province of Limón, told the crowd.
On the other side of the debate, the Citizen Action Party (PAC) announced that microbus owners in the central Pacific port city of Puntarenas would be offering free transportation on the day of the referendum in support of “no” votes.
The offer is the result of an agreement reached Saturday between the National Transportation Association (ANATRANS) and the Puntarenas Student Transport Association.Members say the U.S. free-trade agreement would endanger small-scale transportation companies that transport students and tourists.
The official launch date of the Patriotic Movement for No on CAFTA, one of several big groups working to defeat CAFTA, is set for tomorrow morning in the auditorium of the Episcopal Conference, part of the headquarters of Costa Rica’s Catholic bishops.
The Arias administration criticized the choice of location.
“It doesn’t seem like the best place to me,” said Arias’ brother and spokesman Rodrigo Arias. “We would have liked it to happen in any other place, but it’s not our decision.”
The Catholic Church has remained neutral in the debate over CAFTA, and Episcopal Conference spokesman Glen Gómez said it plans to remain that way.
The auditorium “is a completely different building,” Gómez said, noting that it is being rented by a labor union, and has been rented by that group many times before. “It’s a very central auditorium.”
On the legal front, Citizen Action Monday added requests to the petition it submitted before the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV) May 24 contesting the constitutionality of CAFTA (TT, June 1).
Part of the addition is a request to review some procedural aspects of the CAFTA process, and another is to review the constitutionality of a chapter in the more than 2,000-page agreement that has to do with investments.
PAC legislator Rafael Elías Madrigal said that the additions to the petition should not affect the date by which the Sala IV is expected to announce its ruling on the matter, July 11.