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Referendum on FTA unleashes political controversy in Costa Rica

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Havana. April 19, 2007

Referendum on FTA unleashes political controversy in Costa Rica

SAN JOSE, April 18.- The call for a referendum in Costa Rica to decide on the future of a free trade agreement (FTA) with the United States has unleashed a hotly-debated controversy on the issue, which has marked political life here over the last three years, the AFP reports.

In a January 13 ruling, the Supreme Electoral Court surprisingly approved the collection of signatures, which must total 5% of the total electorate, by a group of citizens led by former opposition presidential candidate José Miguel Corrales, for a petition to hold a “citizens’ initiative” referendum, one of the three permitted under referendum law.

The court ruling was a setback to attempts by the Oscar Arias government to make Congress the instance to decide on the treaty’s future.

The citizens’ initiative referendum would provide for a maximum of 10 months for Corrales and his group to obtain the signatures, after which a referendum would be convened for three months later.

This means that a referendum could be held no later than May 2008, when Costa Rica would be left out of the FTA between Central America and the United States, given that the time period to join that treaty expires in March 2008.

With that in mind, and with the intention of speeding things up, the Oscar Arias government, which until April 13 had opposed any possibility of referendum, also made a surprise change of position and announced that he would call a referendum, “convened by the executive branch.”

That provoked an irate reaction from the most radical opponents to the FTA, who accused Arias of trying to get the treaty passed by any means necessary, without allowing the population to be informed of its impact.

Translated by Granma International

 source: GRANMA