San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

‘Where the Saber Failed, the Dollar Will Succeed’

Not one Roberto Güell, but dozens, fill the Civil War veteran’s study at his home in eastern San José. The sprightly, white-haired Costa Rican activist is surrounded by photos of his younger self leading student protests in the 1940s and holding a machine gun as an  18-year-old commander in the National Liberation Army; in 1948, the revolutionary force made its way to victory in the country’s last armed conflict.

Today, Güell, 78, is a great-grandfather, the president of the National Ex-Combatants  Association, and a vocal opponent of the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA).

He says the agreement would strip the country of its sovereignty, finishing the work begun by infamous U.S. filibusterer William Walker, who invaded Central America in the 1850s. Excerpts:

TT:Will you vote for or against CAFTA in the upcoming referendum?

RG: I’m not against free-trade agreements – what’s more, Costa Rica should form them with everyone, (like) a mosaic that covers the whole world. But the way CAFTA was negotiated was corrupt. They didn’t negotiate as Costa Ricans, but as members of (foreign) companies. It’s going to ruin our agriculture, our industries. CAFTA is a modernized and well-executed attempt to get what (the United States) couldn’t get in 1856. I’ve been told that when they went to execute William Walker by firing squad, he said, “Wretched Central American Indians. Where the saber failed, the dollar will succeed.” Look what foresight he had.

How do you think the outcome will affect you personally?

Well, I’m not a chiquillo anymore. It will affect me less, but of course it will affect my kids, my grandchildren and great-grandchildren – the new generations. I suffer for them… if this gets ratified, they’ll face a dark world.

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

We’ll stop being a free, independent country and become a dependent factory. The gangs that direct the U.S. government will come here to squeeze us, to get out the juice.

What is the single most important reason to oppose CAFTA?

It doesn’t give us freedom to negotiate with the rest of the world, and it doesn’t respect our legal and constitutional regime. If companies that come here don’t agree with our (requirements), they can fight it, not in our courts, but in another country. We’d have to go as foreigners and defend our interest abroad, at enormous cost.

Why has CAFTA attracted so much attention here and abroad?

In the rest of Central America… without studying it, they approved CAFTA almost in one night. Luckily, Costa Rica still has a great sense of critique, analysis, discussion, freedom of thought. In school now, they’ve moderated that independent Costa Rican spirit, but many of us still have it.


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