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The US-Central America Free Trade Agreement, commonly referred to as “CAFTA,” was signed in December 2003 after twelve short months of negotiation. The negotiations involved the US, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Costa Rica at first refused to join the agreement, then changed its position in late January 2004. The US separately negotiated a bilateral treaty with the Dominican Republic, with a view to folding the deal, and the country itself, into the US-CAFTA scheme.

The US-CAFTA was signed late May 2004, and the Dominican Republic became an additional party to it in August 2004. Since then, the accord has been officially renamed the “United States-Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement” or US-DR-CAFTA. But the overall agreement — which a lot of people continue calling just “CAFTA” — still needs ratification by all parties to go into force.

CAFTA is a wide-ranging agreement covering many areas: agriculture, telecommunications, investment, trade in services (from water distribution to gambling), intellectual property, the environment, etc. It essentially serves US business interests by giving them a concrete and high-level set of rights to operate in Central America. Some US sectors, such as sugar producers, feel threatened by the treaty. But by and large, the threats are mainly against the Central American countries which signed on, as it opens the depths of their economies — public and private — to the interests and power of US companies.

In July 2005, US Congress approved the DR-CAFTA and Bush signed it into law in early August. The Central American parliaments eventually also approved it. For the Dominican Republic, the treaty took effect in 2006.

Costa Rica was the Central American country with the strongest resistance to DR-CAFTA. There were large public demonstrations and information campaigns, and a broad grouping of civil society organizations, from trade unions to small farm organizations, signed on. This coalition successfully pushed for a referendum on ratification, which was held on 7 October 2007. The result: 51.62% in favour and 48.38% opposed. The result was considered binding since more than 40% of the electorate voted. In view of these results, CAFTA was ratified.

On December 23, President Bush issued a proclamation to implement the DR-CAFTA for Costa Rica as of 1 January 2009.

last update: May 2012
Photo: Public Citizen

Results: The power of NO
Hundreds of women came together to celebrate women’s contributions to the struggle against the ratification of CAFTA in Costa Rica
Human rights body uneasy about impacts of CAFTA-DR in Costa Rica
As furore continues in Costa Rica about ratification of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), members of a leading UN human rights body have been expressing their concern to Costa Rican officials today in Geneva, about the human rights impact of the trade agreement.
Letter to US Congress requesting rejection of the 7 October referendum
Letter from Costa Rican citizens to US Congress requesting rejection of the alleged approval of CAFTA through the 7 October referendum
CAFTA referendum heightens social tensions in Costa
The NO to CAFTA campaign has produced tens of thousands of activists who are using grassroots methods to change the political system in Costa Rica, which has been dominated by a small elite since the founding of the country.
Costa Rican lawmakers debate FTA law
The Board of the Costa Rican Legislative Assembly admitted that it is studying 943 of 1,097 motions against one of the implementation laws of the Free Trade Agreement with the United States which poses danger for Costa Rican farmers and biodiversity
Costa Rica: It’s more than just the numbers
Just over half way through the stipulated time period before certification of the referendum on CAFTA will take place, a meticulous counting of every vote is happening in front of TV cameras, accompanied by a detailed accounting process. For the uninitiated, this provides the illusion of squeaky transparency; how could there be voter fraud here? However, the fraud was committed long before the voting even started - and so far, there is no institution or mechanism willing to name that.
Costa Ricans to strike against FTA
Trade unions from the Costa Rican Electricity Institute announced a strike against the complementary agenda of CAFTA, so that the company continues to govern in the fields of electricity and telecommunications.
Fear and voting in Costa Rica
Costa Rica’s recent referendum was supposed to decide once and for all whether that country should enter into the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). Instead, the Oct. 7 vote polarized and politicized this small country of four and a half million people more than anything since neighboring Nicaragua’s war between the Sandinistas and the Contras two decades ago. And even though supporters of the treaty prevailed by a slim margin, CAFTA opponents still have a few cards to play and may yet block its implementation.
Free Trade undermining democracy in Costa Rica
Democracy in Costa Rica was undermined after several violations to costarrican law.
Costa Rican court confirms approval of US free trade pact
Costa Rica’s top electoral court confirmed the results of an Oct. 7 referendum on a free trade agreement with the United States, saying a recount showed the ’yes’ votes only slightly lower than preliminary results had indicated.