Costa Ricans take to the street to protest against CAFTA
On September 30, 2007, members of Friends of the Earth Costa Rica joined between 100,000 and 150,000 people on the streets of San José in a peaceful march that stretched for over a kilometer. The aim: to encourage people to vote against CAFTA (the Central American Free Trade Agreement with the US) in the referendum on October 7.
Similar uprisings were seen earlier this year in February and last year in October. In a small victory for anti-CAFTA demonstrators, Costa Rica's Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE) decided to call a referendum on CAFTA instead of putting it to vote at the National Assembly, where pro-CAFTA forces have a majority. This referendum will be the first time any population has voted on a free trade agreement. Costa Rica is the only signatory who has not yet ratified the agreement.
The goal of CAFTA is the creation of a free trade zone. If passed, tariffs on about 80% of US exports to the participating countries will be eliminated immediately and the rest will be phased out over the subsequent decade. There are worries that CAFTA will force local businesses to close. It´s predicted that poverty will increase as Central American countries prematurely open markets to US agricultural goods which are subsidized, making local farmers unable to compete with imports. These countries simply do not have the resources to support even short-term unemployment.
CAFTA also faces opposition due to provisions outlining "test data exclusivity" for pharmaceuticals. Test data exclusivity could enable multinational pharmaceutical companies for a limited time to hold an effective market monopoly on various medicines, including those used to treat AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. Critics say that this provision would prevent many poor people from receiving life-saving medications.
In 1948 Costa Rica became the first country in the world to constitutionally abolish its army and instead dedicated the military budget to security, education and culture. The CAFTA agreement includes importing war weapons and arms, tax-free in Costa Rica.
¨Next Sunday we will reject the CAFTA and continue building the country that we want¨ asserted Isaac Rojas, Friends of the Earth, Costa Rica.