Cables reveal secrets on CAFTA

March 4, 2011

Officials in Oscar Arias’ administration knew in advance how the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV) would rule on the legality of a sensitive bill that was key to Costa Rica’s implementation of the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA), cables released this week by WikiLeaks reveal.

A cable from October 2008 told of a meeting between former Vice Minister of the Presidency Roberto Thompson and the U.S. Ambassador to Costa Rica at the time, Peter Cianchette: “VM Roberto Thompson, who is managing the process for the Presidencia, was cautiously optimistic when we met with him on October 14. The Constitutional Court has given informal signals that it will complete its review well before the 30 days allot obtained by WikiLeaks and shared with the daily La Nación.

The conversation likely took place on Oct. 14, 2008, amid nationwide protests and heated political discussions over whether Costa Rica ted, and will not raise new concerns about the modified law.” The leaked cable is one of hundreds of diplomatic documentsshould adopt CAFTA. At the time, ruling National Liberation Party lawmakers  were  attempting  to  whisk through Congress a reform to intellectual property rights law that was the final step before CAFTA could be adopted before a deadline set by the United States.

The bill included changes to the Biodiversity Act, which required prior consultation with Costa Rica’s indigenous communities. That never happened, prompting the Sala IV to reject the bill on the first vote.

Once sent back to Congress, legislators decided to eliminate the clause requiring indigenous people to have a voice in changes to the Biodiversity Act. These actions sent the bill back to the court for review of its constitutionality. According to the leaked cable, Thompson apparently knew ahead of time how the court would rule.

Early on in the bill’s discussion, Luis Paulino Mora, president of the Supreme Court, allegedly discussed with Cianchette the importance of CAFTA’s approval.

“Later we (and the Arias administration, no doubt) will examine more closely why the Sala [IV] made this decision, and why President Mora (who acknowledged to the Ambassador recently the need to get CAFTA done) authored it,” Thompson wrote in one of the cables.

However, Mora, Costa Rica’s top official in the judicial branch, denied speaking with the ambassador about the vote or expressing a commitment to see CAFTA passed.

“Many people call me and ask me for information and that does not mean they influence my judgment,” Mora said in a press conference Wednesday. “The division of powers does not mean we are enemies.”

La Nación posted the first batch of leaked cables on its website this week. The first cables to be published here reveal that the U.S. Embassy actively promoted and in some cases pressured lawmakers into approving and implementing CAFTA before a deadline set by the U.S.

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