San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Campaigns Close with Mad Rush

An estimated 100,000 people descended on western San José Sunday to rally against the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA).

Paseo Colón was packed with students, union members, teachers, politicians, toddlers and dogs, decked out in anti-CAFTA T-shirts and hats. They cheered and chanted as musicians played and campaign leaders spoke on a stage at the front of the walkway.

It was perhaps the most visible display of CAFTA fervor in a week filled with rallies, house visits, speeches, debates and radio spots with legislators and opinion leaders.

The Patriotic Movement for No on CAFTA held forums at universities, union headquarters and cultural centers. The Citizens’ Alliance for Yes on CAFTA brought its campaign to a women’s jail, hosted a party  with campaign leaders and organized caravans of pro-CAFTA cars.

CAFTA supporters largely showed their muscle through the media. In a speech on national television Monday, President Oscar Arias insisted that CAFTA would benefit the little guys – farmers, housewives, students and teachers.

A flurry of full-page advertisements in daily newspapers depicted “yes” leaders as national heroes and “no” leaders as unsavory figures with communist ties. “Who do you believe?” one advertisement questioned, showing a picture of astronaut and national icon Franklin Chang, who supports CAFTA, next to a disheveled picture of leftist legislator José Merino, who opposes the treaty.

The “no” camp appealed to other national leaders. During the Sunday protest, anti-CAFTA leader Eugenio Trejos asked the crowd for a minute of silence to remember former Costa Rican President Juan Rafael Mora, who fought against efforts by U.S. soldier William Walker to conquer Central America in the 1850s.

“Juanito lives on in the heart of the anti-CAFTA movement,” said Eugenio Trejos.

The mood at the rally was joyful and there were no confrontations, although an airplane did circle overhead with a pro-CAFTA banner, drawing curses from the crowd. A delegate from the Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE) who was monitoring the rally told Civil Aviation authorities to order the plane to leave the area.

“It was completely inappropriate,” said Tribunal president Luis Antonio Sobrado.

Beginning today, campaign leaders can no longer spread propaganda, and the press cannot publish CAFTA advertisements or poll results until Sunday night, according to elections officials. The goal is to give voters a final period of quiet reflection before they go to the polls. To view the final poll results visit our online Daily News page from Thursday,

“Everyone is overwhelmed by all the arguments in favor and against (CAFTA) and all the repetition,” Presidency Minister Rodrigo Arias conceded.

The pro- and anti-CAFTA campaigns spent nearly $1.5 million in total on advertising in the press, radio and television between July and the end of September. The Tribunal has spent less than $100,000 on its information campaign, which has explained the treaty and urged people to vote.


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