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Costa Rica referendum on CAFTA outcome questioned

Alliance for Responsible Trade
Stop CAFTA Coalition

October 8, 2007

Costa Rica referendum on CAFTA outcome questioned

US intervention, corruption, and an internationally financed fear campaign provoke questions about referendum process

United States intervention, corruption, and the
realities of an internationally financed
campaign led to the passage of the
U.S.-Dominican Republic-Central American Free
Trade Agreement (CAFTA) in yesterday’s popular
referendum in Costa Rica. A delegation from
the U.S.-based Alliance for Responsible Trade
and the Stop CAFTA Coalition, who represent
U.S. faith-based, solidarity, union, and
student organizations and served as
international observers, point to the process
as an example of dirty campaigning designed to
pressure countries to accept the existing trade
model and the economic program it promotes.

“In Costa Rica, voting ‘No’ was about stopping
CAFTA, but it was also about a twenty-year
struggle to preserve publicly run electrical,
phone and health care systems,” says Tom Loudon
from the Alliance for Responsible Trade. “The
Costa Rican and U.S. governments and the
multinationals they represent simply had too
much to lose to allow the ‘No’ campaign to win.”

Many characterized the “Yes” and “No” campaigns
as a struggle between David and
Goliath. Although the locally-funded
grassroots door-to-door strategy facilitated
unprecedented broad-based mobilization around
the trade agreement, it was up against an
internationally-backed fear campaign
administered by the Costa Rican and U.S.
governments, multinational companies, and multilateral institutions.

“It is clear that pro-‘free trade’ forces
identified Costa Rica as a pivotal battleground
for their model,” said Phil Jocelyn from the
New York People’s Referendum of Free
Trade. “The amount of funds that the ‘Yes’
side had at its disposal was practically
limitless, and as a result, Costa Ricans were
submitted to a nine-month long advertisement for CAFTA.”

In spite of the funds available to them, CAFTA
advocates witnessed a swelling movement, which
they feared would triumph at the polls­a fear
which led to manipulation and corruption. Vice
President Kevin Casas resigned last month over
a leaked memorandum mapping out their strategy
for an iron-fist approach to ensuring CAFTA’s
passage. Just two days before the referendum,
another scandal broke uncovering illegal
campaign financing to President Arias from
powerful Carlos Slim, the Mexican telephone
baron, and Central American families with
interests in the Costa Rican telecommunications market.

“We are not accepting the results of the
referendum because of the way in which the
Costa Rican and U.S. governments behaved during
the final three days of the referendum,” said
Jorge Arguedas Mora, President of ANTTEC union
electrical and telephone workers and
coordinator of the No CAFTA campaign. “Both
violated laws regulating the referendum, the
constitution, and even existing international
agreements,” he said. “The media colluded in
the government manipulation and unfortunately
the Supreme Electoral Tribunal looked the other
way,” Jorge clarified. The Tribunal, which
oversees elections, permitted pro-CAFTA
messages to be broadcast and failed to act when
allegations that the government was delivering
housing vouchers to influence votes in
marginalized communities in the three days
leading up to the referendum surfaced­ campaign
activities that are illegal. CAFTA opponents
pledged to investigate allegations of fraud in the voting centers.

The U.S., on behalf of the multinational
companies in whose interests it acts, played an
aggressive role to secure a favorable vote.
“Observing the campaign waged in the Costa
Rican media over the last few days, I am
outraged by the U.S. role in presenting
misinformation as fact and pressuring Costa
Rica with threats,” said Emily Gaggia from
CISPES. As recently as just three days prior
to the referendum, U.S. Trade Representative
Susan Schwab made a declaration stating that
Costa Rica risked losing trade preferences with
the U.S. if it did not vote for CAFTA­ a power
given only to Congress. The Bush
Administration, represented by U.S. Ambassador
Mark Langdale, backed up those threats
in-country and went as far as visiting
export-dependent companies with the same message.

In spite of the manipulation and fear
campaigns, Costa Ricans came out to the polls
with faith in the process. The energy of the
people moved me to tears as I entered my first
center as an international observer,” said
Jessica Walker Beaumont of the Alliance for
Responsible Trade. “Not only were people
empowered by the opportunity to have a voice in
the process, but it was also clear that for
Costa Ricans, CAFTA and global trade have become household issues.”

The Costa Rican movement against CAFTA joins
the struggles of its neighbors and of the trade
justice movement in the U.S. and challenges
people’s movements around the world to continue
building on its lessons. “We have only been
here for a short time, but we’ve received an
intensive course in Costa Rican history,
politics, and grassroots mobilization,” said
Tara Carr-Lemke, of the Stop CAFTA
Coalition. “It is clear that we in the U.S. have much to learn.”

“There is consensus that we will not allow the
implementation agenda and will continue to
fight against the deliverance of our
fundamental institutions to multinational
corporations,” said Jorge of ANNTEC. “Tomorrow
begins the fight against the 13 laws that will
facilitate the implementation of the agreement.”

“We have learned that there are two United
States, just like in many countries there are
various ways of thought and not all support the
executive decisions,” Says Mr. Arguedas. “This
knowledge will strengthen us across borders as
we continue this struggle in different countries,” he shared.


Tom Loudon, Alliance for Responsible Trade: 011 (506) 864-3449 through 10/9 and (301) 204-9549

Tara Carr-Lemke, Stop CAFTA Coalition: (202) 319-5542