Massive Costa Rica protests against CAFTA

From La Nación in Buenos Aires, translated by reader Joe Hartley.

SAN JOSE: Thousands of Costa Ricans marched through the main streets of San José to protest against the possible ratification of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) with the United States, in a festive atmosphere without a trace a violence.

With placards, T-shirts and with phrases like “No to CAFTA, Yes to Costa Rica” and “Costa Rica is not for sale,” thousands of union members, environmentalists, university students, indigenous people [NB: probably an error], and politicians demonstrated against the CAFTA in a march that ended near the Congress building.

The vice-chancellor of the state Technological Institute of Costa Rica (TEC) and principal organizer of today’s activity, Eugenio Trejos, declared during the march that the FTA is harmful, and asked the government to withdraw it from legislative consideration.

“We are saying ‘no’ to the FTA . . . and that the government should remove it from consideration before the Legislative Assembly and open a space for profound dialog over what should be the model for development. We don’t want implementation plans that sell the country,” affirmed Trejos near the Congress.

In the protest, which was accompanied by musical groups, dance, and other cultural activities, 17 deputies from the Citizen Action Party (PAC) also participated, as did José Marions from the Broad Front and Óscar López of the Accessibility without Exclusion Party, all of whom are in opposition parties to the government.

Ex-president Rodrigo Carazo (1978-1982) also attended, and so did Ottón Solís, president of PAC and former presidential candidate in the last elections, who called the march “a democratic celebration” and demanded that the government drop the FTA.

On his part, the speaker of the Legislative Assembly, Francisco Antonio Pacheco, from the majority National Liberation Party, told journalists that protest is a right of all citizens, but he ruled out the possibility that the deputies who favor CAFTA will change their minds.

The organizers calculated that about 50,000 people participated in the demonstration, while the president’s chief-of-staff Rodrigo Arias said in a press conferences that the attendance was “very far” from reaching that number.

The march was monitored by some 170 police officers who, by order of President Óscar Arias, were unarmed, while members of the defense ministry watched to insure that the human rights of all citizens would be respected.

According to the government, all public services were operating normally, including 45,000 medical appointments scheduled for today, and only 25 per cent of teachers were absent from work.

CAFTA, a treaty between Central America, the Dominican Republic, and the U.S. has been before the Costa Rican Congress since October of 2005 awaiting consideration.

Costa Rica is the only signatory country to the treaty which has not ratified it and the government expects that it will be considered within the next 2 months.