Costa Rica votes for CAFTA
FORMIDABLE struggle in Costa Rica ended on October 7 with a referendum on the free trade treaty the country signed in 2004 with the US, other Central American countries and the Dominican Republic. The ‘Yes’ vote gained just over 51 percent, beating the ‘No’ vote narrowly by about 50,000 ballots.
For three years, a huge resistance blocked ratification, until the decision to call a referendum to resolve the conflict. It was the first time the country had carried out a popular consultation like this, and the first referendum on a free trade treaty in Latin America.
Why was the resistance so fierce? Because the treaty’s opponents are convinced that, much more than reducing tariffs, it will establish a neoliberal model as stipulated in the clauses on banking, services and telecommunications, not to mention unacceptable rules on resolving disputes and intellectual property. It also requires ratification of an agreement on patenting plant species that could trump farmers’ rights to save their own seeds, which has already been rejected twice by Costa Rica’s legislative assembly.
But the win for the pro-treaty camp was only possible by violating all the rules on electioneering. There was open participation by the executive power right up to the hour that the polls closed, backed by the White House and the national and international press. Publicity for the ‘Yes’ vote outweighed the ‘No’ vote by about 100 to 1. CNN repeatedly aired an interview by its economics reporter with a Washington ‘analyst’, warning about the dangers of rejecting the treaty, one day before the referendum.
Not all is lost, however. There are now 13 laws required for the treaty to take effect awaiting ratification in the legislative assembly, raising the prospect of a new political battle.
According to the Tico Times, the Citizen Action Party has vowed to use all the tools in its power to keep the assembly from approving the implementation agenda. The legislation covers some of the most controversial aspects of the trade pact, such as taking monopolies away from the state-run Costa Rican Electricity Institute and National Insurance Institute.