Monday, October 08, 2007

CAFTA Wins in Costa Rica Vote

CAFTA Wins in Razor-Close Costa Rica Vote

AlterNet Posted on October 8, 2007

Editor's Note: On Sunday, in the first ever public
referendum on a trade agreement, Costa Ricans approved
CAFTA by a 51-48 margin. Opposition organizers have
asked for a recount. Below is a press release issued by
Public Citizen.

The depth of public opposition to North American Free
Trade Agreement (NAFTA)-style pacts was demonstrated
Sunday by Costa Rica's massive "no" vote to CAFTA
despite a intensive campaign led by the country's
president, months of deceptive radio and television
advertising in favor of the pact, and a threatening
statement issued Saturday by the White House, Public
Citizen said today.

The strong vote against CAFTA likely will fuel growing
opposition to another Bush proposal now before Congress
to expand NAFTA to Peru. The Peru Free Trade Agreement
(FTA) contains the same foreign investor privileges,
service sector privatization, agriculture and other
provisions that fueled Costa Rican public opposition.

"That nearly half the public in Latin America's richest
free-market democracy opposed CAFTA despite the
intensive campaign in favor of it should end the
repeated claims that pushing more NAFTA-style free
trade deals is critical to U.S. foreign policy
interests in the region or helps the U.S. image," said
Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade
Watch division. "This vote also debunks the claim that
these pacts are motivated out of U.S. altruism to help
poor people in trade partner countries, given that many
of the people in question just announced that they
themselves don't want this kind of trade policy. This
policy, supported by the elite, will help foreign
investors seize control of their natural resources,
undermine access to essential services, displace
peasant farmers and jack up medicines prices."

Preliminary results showed that those opposing CAFTA
garnered just over 48 percent of the vote and those for
it garnered under 52 percent. The anti-CAFTA vote
received the majority in most rural regions, where
fears about campesino displacement drove opposition to
the pact. The pro-CAFTA vote won narrow majorities in
most urban, populous regions, where Bush
administration's threats made Thursday and Saturday
were widely covered by the media despite a legally
mandated black-out on advocacy for or against CAFTA in
the press. As of Monday morning, the "no" campaign had
not conceded and was awaiting a partial recount on
Tuesday and an investigation into polling station

Citizens of El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala
and the Dominican Republic had no opportunity to voice
their own views of CAFTA. Despite massive, long-running
public demonstrations against CAFTA in those countries
- which resulted in protestors being killed by the
police in Guatemala and a legislature fleeing its own
building to hold the vote in a downtown hotel in
Honduras - legislatures in those countries ultimately
ratified and implemented CAFTA by mid-2006.

In Costa Rica, the CAFTA debate coincided with that
nation's presidential election. With fair trade
presidential candidate Otton Solis running against
CAFTA-supporter and Nobel-Prize winner Oscar Arias on a
campaign focusing on the widely unpopular NAFTA
expansion, CAFTA never came to a vote in Costa Rica.
Early in 2007, after Arias narrowly won, Costa Rica's
legislature passed a measure establishing a national
referendum on whether Costa Rica should enter CAFTA.

That Sunday's referendum resulted in narrow passage is
not surprising given considerable intervention by the
Bush administration and a massive, well-funded campaign
for the pact led by Costa Rica's president and pushed
heavily by the corporate sector and much of Costa
Rica's media. The Bush administration repeatedly
threatened to remove Costa Rica's existing Caribbean
Basin Initiative (CBI) trade preferences if the public
rejected CAFTA, even though the program was made
permanent in 1990 and only an act of Congress could
terminate it. (A tiny percentage of Costa Rica's U.S.
exports enjoys duty-free benefits under a CBI add-on
program that was approved in 2000. The tremendously
popular program, which covers nearly two dozen
countries and cannot be removed for rejection of an
FTA, is set for renewal next year.)

"Right now, we see the same duplicity with the proposed
NAFTA expansion to Peru, where proponents claim that
implementing the Peru agreement is critical to building
a positive U.S. image in the region," Wallach said.
"Yet if these agreements are good foreign policy, why
did the Bush administration also threaten to remove
existing Andean trade preferences to force the deal
over the opposition of the Peruvian public as well as
its religious, indigenous and labor leaders?"

The U.S. ambassador to Costa Rica, Mark Langdale, was
slammed with a rare formal denunciation before Costa
Rica's Supreme Electoral Tribunal in August after he
waged a lengthy campaign to influence the vote on
CAFTA. As part of that, Langdale employed misleading
threats and suggested there would be economic reprisals
if CAFTA were rejected. In response, Rep. Linda Sanchez
(D-Calif.) who serves on the House Foreign Affairs
Committee's Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, wrote a
letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in late
September demanding the cessation of Langdale's
interventions. "Even the perception of such
interference harms the U.S. image in a region already
suspicious of our intentions," Sanchez wrote. "If we
are to be seen as respecting democracy, sovereignty,
and economic development, we must not interfere in any
way with the historic popular referendum on CAFTA in
Costa Rica, the region's oldest and strongest

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader
Harry Reid in late September sent a letter to Costa
Rica's ambassador to the United States correcting
Langdale's false threats that Costa Rica would lose its
CBI trade preferences if the public rejected CAFTA.
"Participation in CBI is not conditioned on a country's
decision to approve or reject a free trade agreement
with the United States, and we do not support such a
linkage," Pelosi and Reid wrote. Despite this, Bush's
U.S. Trade Representative renewed the threats on
Thursday, and the White House issued a statement
repeating the threats on Saturday - just hours before
the vote.

"Only two years after CAFTA squeezed through Congress
on a one-vote margin, the narrowest margin ever for a
trade deal, nearly half of Costa Rica's public took a
strong stand, in the face of campaign trickery and
lies, against the damaging agreement," said Todd
Tucker, research director for Public Citizen's Global
Trade Watch division and author of the CAFTA Damage
Report. "No more countries should be subjected to the
damaging policies imposed by overreaching 'trade'

(c) 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights

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