San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Visit from U.S. Congressmen Sparks Outrage

A surprise visit from two U. S. congressmen at the behest of the Citizen Action Party (PAC) has those in favor of the controversial free-trade agreement up in arms.

The two U.S. lawmakers visited Costa Rica last weekend at the invitation of PAC founder Ottón Solís and in support of the campaign against the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA).

Bernard Sanders, a freshman independent senator from Vermont and self-identified socialist, and Michael Michaud, a Democratic representative from Maine, made appearances at which they emphasized the failures of the North American Free-Trade Agreement (NAFTA) among the United States, Canada and Mexico.

“What I can tell you is that the CAFTA trade model was built on the NAFTA trade model,”Michaud said at a press conference at Solís’ house, noting that, from the U.S. point of view, NAFTA is a failure because it did not decrease illegal Mexican immigration.

Sanders, meanwhile, said that CAFTA and other trade agreements like it serve only the interests of large corporations and called rumors that the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) benefits are set to expire “nonsense,” although a part of CBI will expire in 2008 if Congress does not renew it.

Both members of the U.S. Congress said they would like to see a “second generation”of trade agreements that protects the rights of workers “living in the United States and the rest of the world,” though they gave no details.

Likewise Michaud said he would push for a separate bilateral free-trade agreement for Costa Rica if the country votes down CAFTA Oct. 7, but he acknowledged that would take some time considering Congress did not renew the U.S. President George W. Bush’s fast-track authority to negotiate trade agreements.

Luis Gamboa, vice-president of the pro-CAFTA Costa Rican-American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM) expressed indignation at the visit, saying in a statement that the congressmen’s “presence here is interference in political matters, and that is condemnable.”

Representatives of the other major political parties also criticized Citizen Action and Solís for inviting the congressmen.

“These men don’t want more and better jobs created in Costa Rica,” said Libertarian Movement (ML) legislator Mario Quirós, according to the daily Diario Extra. “It doesn’t seem very likely to me that what they say would be (in the interest of) Costa Rica.”

Also, two Costa Ricans have lodged a complaint against Solís and PAC President Epsy Campbell before the Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE) for bringing foreigners to the country to participate in political activities –something that is against TSE rules.

Presenting the complaint were Miguel Schyfter, president of the National Association of Textile Exporters, and Rodolfo Molina, the CEO of a textile import company.

Neither Michaud nor Sanders has ever cast a vote in favor of a free-trade agreement.

In 2000, during his time in the U.S. House of Representatives, Sanders voted against an expansion of the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) that added leather goods, some textiles and canned tuna to the benefits.

That expansion – known as the United States-Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act – will expire Sept. 30, 2008 if Congress does not renew it, in contrast to the rest of the CBI benefits, which have no expiration date.

Since NAFTA, free-trade agreements have become increasingly unpopular in the United States. CAFTA itself squeaked through the U.S. Congress 217-215. In contrast, NAFTA passed by 34 votes.

The Democrat-controlled Congress recently came to an agreement with President Bush that future trade agreements –for example, the agreements with Panama, Peru and Colombia that have yet to be passed – include measures to protect the environment and workers’ rights in signatory countries.


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