CAFTA referendum in Costa Rica: Dirty tricks and repression mount as vote nears

Share with your friends


Costa Rica’s many assets — its unsurpassed beauty and abundant natural resources, relative prosperity, and large public sector providing union jobs, affordable basic services and universal healthcare — are all at risk if the people of this singular democracy are roped into approving the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) on Oct. 7.

But polls show that the large opposition movement is gaining ground while support for the treaty is stagnating. This reflects the coordinated grass-roots efforts of hundreds of “No to TLC” (the Spanish acronym for CAFTA) committees throughout the country whose members include unionists, leftists, liberals, students, farmers, women, and indigenous people.

Indigenous spokespersons are urging a vote against ratification because CAFTA lacks protections for their land, which contains almost 40 percent of the potential hydroelectric generation in the country as well as other valuable resources. Women from diverse backgrounds are also united in their opposition to CAFTA and are playing a leadership role in the struggle. They hold many of the estimated 200,000 service, agriculture and manufacturing jobs that will be lost if the agreement passes. And unionists in the public sector are fighting for their jobs and the crucial services they provide to people on a daily basis.

Ranged against the “No to TLC” movement are corporate interests on the prowl to exploit Costa Rica as a market for U.S. goods. Should the treaty be approved, the country’s environmental laws will be undermined, the government-run electric and telephone companies will be sold off to the highest bidder, and U.S. goods and agricultural products will drive farmers and workers to the unemployment lines.

As the election draws near, intimidation and threats from pro-treaty groups have escalated.

Presidents Arias and Bush engage in dirty tactics. The U.S. government’s message to Costa Ricans is simple extortion: Vote yes or suffer economic and political retaliation.

The blatant use of U.S. influence to help President Óscar Arias win the referendum is provoking sharp denunciations from many quarters, including Costa Rica’s national federation of students: “We consider it absolutely unacceptable that the Ambassador of the United States … has become the ‘National Head of Yes to the TLC’ — reducing President Arias to the role of assistant manager.”

To counter door-to-door community education done by opposition committees, CAFTA supporters are using high-priced TV and radio ads to make false promises of jobs and prosperity. President Arias has even resorted to public bribery, pledging to put 10 percent of the nation’s budget under the direct control of the country’s mayors to gain their loyalty on the issue. The Arias government also gave police wage increases to ensure their willingness to use violence to put down demonstrations and strikes challenging Arias’ fraudulent campaign.

Other aspects of this reprehensible effort to bully Costa Ricans into voting for CAFTA include suppression of free speech, political slander, redbaiting and threats of violence.

The Supreme Electoral Commission issued a ruling imposing a gag order on students and university employees. The Catholic Church exposed its alliance with the business class by banning priests from giving sermons discussing the upcoming vote.

The pro-treaty newspaper La Nación published a series of malicious attacks on prominent anti-CAFTA spokesman Albino Vargas, head of the National Association of Public and Private Employees (ANEP), equating him with Stalin, Pinochet, Somoza, Castro, Pol Pot and Hugo Chávez. Treaty advocates are also illegally funneling large sums of money into their campaign through anonymous societies. Big agricultural exporters are using the threatening slogan “My Country or Death” as their pro-CAFTA battle cry.

Death for whom? Trade union leaders like Miguel Angel Vásquez Aguerta, recently assassinated for opposing the implementation of CAFTA in El Salvador?

Opposition fears of physical repression are buttressed by the extreme measures, including constitutional violations, political graft, murder and violent punishment of dissent, which other governments throughout Central America have used to win congressional approval of this treaty.

Win, lose, or draw on Oct. 7, we should use the valiant fight against CAFTA in Costa Rica to expand and revitalize the global struggle against not only neoliberalism but its source — capitalism. Immediately we need to protest attempts to rig the election and call for defense of anti-CAFTA activists from reprisals. Visit the Freedom Socialist Party website,, for details on how you can help and to sign up for future email alerts.  

Share with your friends