San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

‘It will Give our Environment Away’

Syria Alvarez, 60, is dressed in prim waitress attire as she shuffles around the openair Mirador Enís restaurant, flanked on one side by the highway to the central Pacific port city of Puntarenas, and on the other, expansive views of the hazy, cloud-shrouded Gulf of Nicoya. The crowd at this restaurant, where Alvarez has worked for 20 years, is mixed. Local fishermen, tourists, a trucker and others are eating a casual breakfast on this  Friday morning – and Alvarez waits on them all with good cheer and an easy smile.

A single mother from Esparza, along the central Pacific coast, she has two children and four grandchildren, and has worked as a waitress for 37 years.

TT: Will you vote for or against the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA) in the upcoming referendum?

SA: I will vote against it.

How do you think the outcome will affect you personally?

I don’t think it will affect me at work. But what about the environment, our air, our water? People with power could come steal these resources if it passes. What will be left for my grandchildren?

If CAFTA passes, what kind of Costa Rica will we have in 10 years?

The country will be asphalted over – or pure cement. And everything will be very expensive, I imagine. And it would no longer be our Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE), or our National Water and Sewer Institute (AyA). These are things we’ve always had, and we’re comfortable with them. They wouldn’t be ours anymore if CAFTA passes.

What is the single most important reason to oppose CAFTA?

It will give our environment away to people with power. But I see the other side, too. Our children could have better jobs.

Why has CAFTA attracted so much attention here and abroad?

Because like all countries, we need to change to compete. It’s difficult to find good services here in this country. Our people are not competent in government offices. But I don’t know if CAFTA is the answer.


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