The “No” forces came together en masse Saturday for the first time since the news that the future of the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA) in Costa Rica would be decided by referendum.
Representatives from the myriad organizations that make up the “Patriotic Campaign for No on CAFTA” gave a total of 17 speeches in the rented auditorium of the Episcopal Conference, and almost all of them stretched on longer than they were supposed to judging by the frantic gestures of the master of ceremonies.
Nevertheless, the cheering didn’t let up.
Representatives from the grassroots activist groups campaigning against CAFTA, known as Patriotic Committees, of the provinces of Guanacaste, Alajuela, Heredia, Puntarenas and Limón gave passionate speeches that raised cheers from other members of Patriotic Committees, labor unions, politicians and other community leaders who made up the crowd.
Heads of those various groups got up to say a few words as well.
“Never again will we be a domesticated people!” thundered Oscar López, the only legislator for the new Access Without Exclusion Party (PASE).
Many a reference was made to Costa Rican heroes “Juanito” Rafael Mora, a former President who led Costa Rican troops to battle against invading U.S. filibuster William Walker and his troops in 1856, and Juan Santamaría, a Costa Rican folk hero said to have died while setting fire to a house where some of those filibusters were holed up.
“With the torch lighted, we are ready for the blaze!” said Flor Avila, the representative of the Alajuela Patriotic Committee.
Also giving a speech at the event was Rolando Araya, one of the founders of the Anti-CAFTA Front of the National Liberation Party (PLN). A former Liberation presidential candidate, Araya is the brother of pro-CAFTA San José Mayor Johnny Araya. The Liberation party brought pro-CAFTA President Oscar Arias back into power in 2006.
Saturday’s gathering marked the first time that representatives of the principal Patriotic Committees were brought together under one roof.
It also marked the first time Citizen Action Party (PAC) leader Ottón Solís appeared on stage with other members of the anti-CAFTA movement. In the past, Solís has stayed somewhat separate from the anti-CAFTA crowd.
Solís is one of the founders of the PAC, a party whose birth upset the political order in Costa Rica. In 2006 he rocked Costa Rican politics again by running for President on the PAC ticket and against CAFTA. He came within less than 2 percentage points of defeating Oscar Arias (TT, June 16, 2006).
Solís maintains that a free-trade agreement with the United States would be a good thing – just not this particular version (TT, Feb. 7). He says Costa Rica should renegotiate the terms of CAFTA before approving it – something Arias has said is not realistic.
In other happenings on the CAFTA referendum front, President Arias, whose top priorities include passing CAFTA, gave a speech June 21 at the Citi Prize award ceremony, at which Citibank Costa Rica presented awards to six Costa Rican micro-businesses.
In his speech, the President said CAFTA would bring a sustained annual growth of 7%, which would double Costa Rican salaries within 10 years.
“In other words, by 2017, Costa Ricans would have double the money they have now to feed their families, educate their children and build a respectable house,” Arias said.
“Not approving CAFTA, therefore, would be denying these opportunities.”
Last Friday, Arias stopped by the Sardimar tuna cannery during a visit to the principal Pacific port of Puntarenas, where he reemphasized the importance of the passage of CAFTA for the Costa Rican tuna industry.
Trade officials say preferential access to the U.S. market will end when the Caribbean Basin Trade Protection Act, part of the Caribbean Basin Initiative, expires next year and the United States could levy a 35% tariff on canned tuna.
But according to the U.S. Embassy in San José, Costa Rica exported only $1.3 million in “prepared or preserved” fish to the United States in 2006 – a drop in the bucket compared to the total $3.16 billion worth of goods that Costa Rica exported to its northern trade partner that year, according to figures from the Trade Promotion Office (PROCOMER).
The Citizens’ Alliance for Yes on CAFTA released a schedule of various debates and discussions planned for this weekend.
Among them is a charla at the Senderos de Luz Church in Desamparados, starting at 1 p.m. and featuring speakers from both sides of the issue. For more information on the event, contact the Chamber of Industries at 202-5677.