THE BLOG
10/06/2007 06:53 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Costa Rica's Historic Referendum

Tomorrow, Costa Rica will have a historic referendum on Costa Rica's participation in the so-called "Central America Free Trade Agreement." Historic, because no country has had a referendum on such an agreement before. "So-called" because "free trade" is a deceptive misnomer for these agreements, which typically involve restrictions on trade, like preventing developing countries from importing lifesaving generic pharmaceuticals.

You will not be shocked to discover that the Bush Administration is trying to interfere in the referendum, using threats to try to get a "yes" outcome. You will not be shocked to discover that the mainstream media in the United States is not reporting on what should be a scandal - the Bush Administration's interference in Costa Rican democracy.

But although you may not be shocked - nonetheless, you should be outraged.

As Public Citizen reports in its Eyes on Trade blog,

Just when you thought the Bush administration was at its most shameful, it gets even worse. Just hours before Costa Rica goes to the polls to decide the fate of CAFTA, the Bush administration released yet another statement trying to intimidate Costa Ricans into approving CAFTA.

Writing on Huffington Post, Mark Weisbrot gives the background:

The latest polls in Costa Rica give an advantage to the "yes" vote, but things have been moving rapidly towards "No" since an embarrassing high-level government memo was leaked a few weeks ago. The memo, as the Los Angeles Times described it, "outlined a campaign of dirty tricks intended to sway voters." This included telling mayors that their cities would "not get a penny from the government for the next three years" if they did not deliver a majority of voters for CAFTA. In the words of the memo, the government also needed to "stimulate fear" among the voters, including "fear of the loss of jobs."

The Bush Administration joined the campaign to "stimulate fear," with the U.S. Ambassador threatening that Costa Rica could lose some of it existing access to U.S. markets if the voters reject CAFTA. This led US Congresswoman Linda Sánchez to remind the Ambassador's boss, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, that such interference in Costa Rica's electoral politics violates US, Costa Rican, and international law. Senate Majority leader Harry Reid and House Majority leader Nancy Pelosi also weighed in with a letter stating clearly that Costa Rica's access to U.S. markets under the Caribbean Basin Initiative are not conditioned on acceptance of any trade agreement.

In fact, the threats from the US government, and repeated by the Costa Rican proponents of CAFTA, are empty. There is only a small portion of Costa Rica's trade preferences that Congress would have to renew next year. It is politically inconceivable that the Democratic majority in Congress - which voted against CAFTA when it was approved here - would move to punish Costa Rica for its voters having rejected the same agreement.

If the referendum tomorrow in Costa Rica passes narrowly, it will be entirely plausible that illegal and anti-democratic threats and intimidation from Washington determined the result. Don't let this outrage against Costa Rican democracy go unnoticed in the United States. Spread the word!