Central America’s Last Stand Against CAFTA

from Weekly News Update on the Americas

On Oct. 23 and 24, an estimated 75,000 Costa Ricans from all sectors of society took part in a mobilization against the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA), commonly referred to throughout the region as the Free Trade Treaty (TLC in Spanish). The two-day protest, called by the National Coordinating Committee of Struggle Against the TLC and numerous grassroots and labor organizations, included peaceful marches, road blockades, distribution of informational leaflets and other decentralized actions in all of the country’s provinces. Some public services—including schools and some non-emergency medical appointments—were shut down with strikes as part of the mobilization.

In San Jose, between 7,000 and 10,000 demonstrators marched to the Congress on Oct. 24 to demand that the legislature immediately withdraw consideration of the TLC and of a series of proposed measures linked to the trade pact, including the privatization of telecommunications, electricity and insurance. Costa Rica is the only nation included in DR-CAFTA which has not yet ratified the treaty.

The Human Rights Commission (CODEHU) and the Peace and Justice Service (SERPAJ) of Costa Rica protested the presence of armed officers at all the mobilization sites and the use of military helicopters in the province of Limon. The rights groups also reported that a clash between riot police and demonstrators in Santa Rosa de Pocosol, San Carlos, left several civilians hurt. Still, the government of President Oscar Arias did not respond to the Oct. 23-24 mobilization with the same repression seen at other recent protests. (Minga Informativa de Movimientos Sociales, Oct. 25; El Diario-La Prensa, NY, Oct. 25 from EFE)

That repression began May 8, the day Arias took office, when hundreds of riot police, mounted police, canine units and other forces were deployed to stop thousands of demonstrators from protesting his inauguration. On Aug. 16, a similar police operation—with more plainclothes agents—was launched when demonstrators tried to protest Arias’ 100th day in office.

The police response was again disproportionate for Costa Rica’s official Sept. 14-15 independence day celebrations. On Sept. 14, the town of Cartago was completely militarized, and all streets near the official celebration site were barricaded by police, who searched everyone trying to approach. Police harassed local residents, beat up students who tried to hold a peaceful protest, and stopped busloads of demonstrators at police roadblocks on the city’s access highways. Similar tactics were used during the Sept. 15 celebration events in San Jose, and again on Sept. 25 during another official event attended by Arias in San Jose.

On Sept. 26 in the northern city of San Carlos, police surrounded the cathedral where Arias was to take part in a mass. Agents closed off access to the cathedral and subjected local residents trying to attend the mass to humiliating searches, even going through women’s purses. Bishop Angel Sancasimiro was so indignant that he complained to the press and told government officials that if the police barricades weren’t removed, he wouldn’t say the mass. Eventually one of the barricades was removed. (Frentes Comunitarios de Lucha contra el TLC, Sept. 29)

Already angered by the repression, Costa Ricans were further upset by the news, revealed in early October by legislative deputy Oscar Lopez of the Accessibility Without Exclusion Party (PASE), that US weapons manufacturer Raytheon had bought a farm in the area of Paquera, in Puntarenas, with the intention of building a factory. A public outcry ensued as opponents of the TLC argued that the trade pact would pave the way for the manufacturing and trade of weapons in Costa Rica, a country with no army and a longstanding tradition of neutrality.

The outcry deepened when Arias issued a decree regulating weapons production, including heavy weapons and the enrichment of radioactive materials. Because Arias has not managed to satisfy the public with his reasons for issuing the decree, or to convincingly argue that it isn’t related to the trade pact, the decree has intensified popular distrust of the TLC—and of Arias himself, a 1987 Nobel peace laureate who continues to speak internationally in support of disarmament.

Arias has continued to push hard for the TLC, and insists it will be ratified in December or January at the latest—when the year-end vacations make it harder for social movements to mobilize. (Minga Informativa de Movimientos Sociales, Oct. 25)

Limon Port Strike Ends

In the early hours of Oct. 27, the government of Costa Rica reached an agreement with striking dock workers in the Atlantic coast city of Limon. The government gave up its demand to punish the strikers, and agreed to pay the workers $900,000 owed to them from their 2005 collective bargaining agreement. Representatives of the government and the port unions will return to the table on Oct. 30 to begin discussing the key issue: the “modernization” of the state-controlled Board of Port Administration and Economic Development of the Atlantic Shelf (JAPDEVA). Port workers oppose the planned privatization of the Moin and Aleman docks in Limon; the Caldera docks on the Pacific coast have been operated since August by a private firm backed with Costa Rican and Colombian capital.

The Limon dock workers began a work slowdown in late September, and stepped up the protest to an open-ended all-out strike on Oct. 25. Strikers set up barricades in the city of Limon and clashed with police on Oct. 25. Police arrested four people and used tear gas to clear the barricades. The strike kept at least one cruise ship from docking at the port on Oct. 26. (A.M. Costa Rica, Oct. 27; Teletica, Oct. 26; Diario Extr, Oct. 28; El Diario-La Prensa, NY, Oct. 26 from EFE)


Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also:

WW4 REPORT #125, September 2006


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Nov. 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution