Costa Rica: 100,000 march against CAFTA trade agreement

Next step general strike?

More than 100,000 people marched peacefully through downtown San Jose, Costa Rica, to the Congress building, last Monday, demanding legislators reject the free trade agreement (CAFTA) between Central America, the United States and the Dominican Republic. In the biggest march against the implementation of the neo-liberal agenda in Central America, trade unions, students, public sector workers, farmers, environmentalists and civic organisations joined forces to show their opposition to neo-liberalism.

Many protesters carried signs with slogans like, “The North is Invading us Again”. The mood was clearly anti-imperialist. Much of the mass opposition stems from requirements under the CAFTA pact that Costa Rica opens its telecommunications, services and agricultural sectors to greater capitalist ‘competition’. Employees of the public telecom company were a major contingent on the march.

Jesus Vazquez, President of the Association of Secondary School Teachers, said: “It is more than obvious that the Costa Rican people are telling the government to withdraw the trade pact from the legislature.”

While religious-based groups, and others, are calling for a referendum on CAFTA, the more radical left demands a general strike to defeat the trade agreement. Albino Vargas, President of the public sector workers’ union, ANEP, commented: “The marches are a good start. I call them ‘referendum of the streets’, if the government does not discard CAFTA and the implementation [of its] agenda, a general strike may be the right answer. We are discussing this now and I know that colleagues at ICE (telecom and electricity plant workers) already decided in favor of a general strike, as they would be the most affected by CAFTA”

’Workers’ party’

Costa Rica is the only nation of the five Central American countries that has not ratified the treaty, which would include it in a ‘free trade zone’ along with the US, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. The reason is the very strong social movement in Costa Rica. Ironically, Costa Rica is the only one of these countries which lacks a left party of any real size (since the communists in Costa Rica where banned in 1948 after a civil war that lasted decades).

The tide of the Anti-CAFTA-Movement led union leaders, like Albino Vargas and Jesus Vazquez, to discuss with the small left-reformist party, Frente Amplio (which has one MP), and other activists, about the formation of a new ‘workers’ party’. The first public meeting on this issue, in January, was well attended by older activists but also notably by youth.

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