from Weekly News Update on the Americas:

Costa Rican president Oscar Arias announced on April 13 that his government will hold a referendum on the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA), a trade accord between the US and Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. “For the first time, Costa Ricans…will be able to decide directly the future of a very important law for the country,” Arias said at a news conference. He is to send Congress a decree on April 17 authorizing the referendum, which could take place within three months. Under Costa Rican law, the referendum will be binding if 30% of Costa Rica’s voters, a little more than 781,000, participate.

Costa Rica is the only one of the seven countries that signed DR-CAFTA in 2004 not to win approval for the pact from its legislature; it now becomes the only country to subject the controversial measure to a popular vote. DR-CAFTA took effect in the other countries during 2006. President Arias is a strong supporter of the pact; he acted on the referendum only after a decision by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) on April 12 to authorize the referendum if DR-CAFTA opponents could collect signatures from 5% of the country’s registered voters (about 130,000) in nine months. Observers said opponents could easily meet the requirement.

Anti-neoliberal activists described Arias’ announcement as a major victory for Costa Rican democracy. As recently as December, analysts expected Congress to approve DR-CAFTA by March or April. Now observers feel there’s a real possibility that the pact will be rejected. Opinion polls currently show less than 40% of those surveyed in full support of the trade accord. But Rafael Carrillo, president of the Union of Chambers of Private Enterprise (UCCAEP), insists that Costa Ricans will “certainly” vote to ratify the accord. Albino Vargas, a leader of the National Association of Public and Private Employees (ANEP) and of the campaign against DR-CAFTA, warned against “corrupt political manipulation.”

“We can’t allow money to decide the fate of the referendum, in defiance of the people’s wishes,” he said. (Boston Globe, April 13 from Reuters; La Nacion, Costa Rica, April 13 from AFP)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 15


Weekly News Update on the Americas

See our last report on Central America:

WW4 REPORT #132, April 2007

See related story:

Central America’s Last Stand Against CAFTA
from Weekly News Update on the Americas
WW4 REPORT #127, November 2006


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, May. 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution