October 24 marks a second day of huge protests against Costa Rica President Oscar Arias and his campaign for ratification of the US-Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) in Costa Rica. On October 23 thousands marched in the streets of San Jose to reject Arias’s latest push for a CAFTA vote in the Costa Rican Parliament. The march was organized by the Coordinadora Nacional contra el Tratado de Libre Comercio (or “National Coordination Against CAFTA”) which includes labor unions, student groups and other social movement organizations.
President Arias barely won the presidential election last spring and has been unable thus far to bring CAFTA to a vote, despite making it a central part of his platform. The agreement was signed in 2004 and has gone into effect in four Central American countries and is pending implementation in the Dominican Republic. Thus far the social movement in Costa Rica has managed to thwart the ratification of CAFTA, a major blow to the Bush Administration’s “free” trade agenda. Join Costa Rican unions and popular organizations today in saying NO to CAFTA!
1) Send a fax or email from your organization to Costa Rican Ambassador Francisco Tomás Dueña Leiva in Washington DC at 202 265-4795 or firstname.lastname@example.org . See below for sample fax and background information.
2) Contact your Congressional Representative and send them a copy of the Stop CAFTA Coalition Monitoring Report, “DR-CAFTA in Year One”. Also tell them to sign on to the principles included in the “No More CAFTAs Pledge for Trade Justice”. See below for background information or go to www.stopcafta.org.
Sample letter to Costa Rican Embassador
Ambassador Francisco Tomás Dueña Leiva
Embassy of the Republic of Costa Rica in the United States
Please receive cordial greetings from (name of your organization). Our organization works (describe area of work). Through relationships of international solidarity, which we have established, we are aware of the many ways in which organizations in Costa Rica have expressed opposition over the last three years, to the Free Trade Agreement that your country and the rest of Central America have negotiated with the United States.
In January of 2003, negotiations for the Free Trade Agreement were initiated under a neoliberal , “free trade” framework without consultation or prior studies regarding the country’s economy. Since the initiation of these negotiations, social organizations in Costa Rica have been aware of the dangers of following this model. We are aware of the negative impacts of NAFTA in Mexico, which, rather than resolving the problems of unemployment, poverty and inequality, the model has deepened them.
When the negotiations were finalized and the text was made public, a diversity of organizations, institutions, investigators, academics and politicians published studies demonstrating the serious impacts that this treaty will have on our country. At this juncture, organizations asked the government of Cost Rica not to send the Treaty to the Legislative Assembly. However, once again the voice of the people was ignored and the proposed legislation is advancing in the legislative process.
The social organizations in Costa Rica have not remained silent. They have requested more audiences with the Assembly in order to express their reasons for opposing the treaty. The legislative commission has closed its hearings; 85% of the organizations and institutions testified in favor of CAFTA, and the majority of the organizations critical of CAFTA were excluded from testifying, despite having requested an audience.
On the 23 and 24th of October, the National Coordinator against CAFTA has convened the Costa Rican social movements to take to the streets throughout the country in order to once again express opposition to CAFTA. The mobilization is set for this date because the Treaty and the implementation agenda are scheduled to be approved, including destructive projects such as the opening of the telecommunications and insurance sectors to foreign investment, and ill advised provisions that permit patenting of living organisms among other things.
First and foremost, we would like to express our solidarity with the people of Costa Rica and the valiant actions of resistance that they are carrying out. They are defending a peaceful country and insisting on the need to build and advance a country that guarantees stable, quality employment, where biodiversity is respected, where small farmers have land and can cultivate healthy crops. It is a country where it is viewed as achievements of national pride that: generations have had access to quality public education, social security and excellent public telephone systems. We express our solidarity because we share the Costa Rican organizations negative assessment that CAFTA will convert all of these achievements, guarantees and dreams into a Costa Rica at the service of transnational corporations.
In addition we would like to ask you, as a representative of the government of Costa Rica in our country, to send a message to president Oscar Arias Sanchez exhorting him to hear the demands of the Costa Rican organizations and to withdrawal form these projects. So called “free trade” is not the only way to establish commercial relations between peoples. Costa Rican social organizations want international trade based on laws of justice and respect for the rights of peoples.
Lastly, we hope that the mobilizations of the citizenry which will be carried out in these days in Costa Rica are seen by the government and its representatives as one more of many actions through which the social movement has tried to express its opinion. We ask that the government not react with violence, repression nor criminalization of social protest as has happened recently during other protests.
(Name of organization)
Costa Rica is the only country not to have ratified CAFTA. Opposition to the trade agreement in Costa Rica has perhaps been the most adamant among the six countries involved. Some say that Costa Rica has the most to lose by joining CAFTA as it has not implemented neoliberal reforms to the extent of the other countries involved, so the changes inflicted by the accord will be more drastic. The majority of Costa Rican civil society is clear that CAFTA will be more harmful than beneficial, and has been very vocal in opposition to the accord through historically large marches and strikes.
The presidential elections of February 2006 most clearly showed the national level of concern with CAFTA. Former President Oscar Arias was favored to win by up to 20 percent of the vote leading up to the election, but ended up almost losing to Ottón Solis who ran on a campaign heavily focused on the dangers of CAFTA and the need for its renegotiation.
The main concern with CAFTA for many Costa Ricans is that it will dismantle their unique state-led model of development based on social security and solidarity. Despite recent increases in income inequality, Costa Rica remains very egalitarian compared to the rest of Latin America, and is the longest-running democracy in the region.
The fear is that many of the policies that have been so successful would be dismantled were Costa Rica to become a member of CAFTA. For example, the social security system (CCSS) currently provides universal health care, but would be forced to change due to intellectual property provisions that prohibit the purchase of lower price generic medicines, along with services requirements that would limit government’s ability to guarantee access to all.
As in most countries, another major concern is the effect of CAFTA on rural communities. Rice production is an especially worrisome area for many as it is the basic food staple for Costa Ricans, especially the poor. While there is little consensus on what will happen after joining CAFTA, all agree that the rice industry would probably not survive competition from subsidized rice from the U.S. They fear results similar to what occurred in Mexico following the implementation of NAFTA in 1994. Prices for Mexico’s raw corn plummeted, driving millions of corn farmers from their land. At the same time, the price of corn tortillas skyrocketed due to the end of government subsidies that had been in place to guarantee a cheap food staple for the poorest Mexicans. Costa Rica already imports at least 100,000 metric tons of rice per year while producing over 250,000 tons. In CAFTA, those numbers are sure to reverse, resulting in the loss of livelihoods for thousands of small farmers.
Insurance, telecommunications, electricity distribution, petroleum distribution, potable water, sewage, and railroad transportation industries are all state-run in Costa Rica. It was because of demands made by the U.S. for their liberalization, especially telecommunications and insurance, that Costa Rica briefly withdrew from the CAFTA negotiations in December of 2003. The Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE), which controls most of the communications and electricity sectors, including everything from power lines to Internet connections, and employs hundreds of thousands of well-organized workers, will most assuredly be split up and privatized under CAFTA rules. If ICE and other state-run industries are privatized, there will be large scale layoffs and access for the poorest Costa Ricans will be put in jeopardy.
CAFTA’s ratification depends first on the passage of two bills that would privatize the telecommunications and insurance industries. While the CAFTA ratification requires only a simple majority vote, both these bills need a two-thirds vote that is required for any bill related to the privatization of state industries. Three other CAFTA bills on intellectual property that cover provisions on patent reform and the observance of intellectual property rights also need to pass in order to be fully compliant with CAFTA. Costa Rican patent law has already been quite loose.
According to former presidential candidate Ottón Solis, the anti-CAFTA coalition in the Costa Rican Congress is one vote shy of preventing the two-thirds vote for the telecommunications bill. When the bills come before Congress, the National Commission of Networks (CNE) which coordinates the various civil society organizations opposing CAFTA, will continue promoting massive protests aiming to influence the vote in Congress.
Taken from “Costa Rica and CAFTA” by David Kane; published as part of “DR-CAFTA in Year One” – for more information and to download the full report, go to www.stopcafta.org