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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
05SANJOSE2727 2005-11-25 20:08:00 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy San Jose
Cable title:  

CAFTA SUPPORTERS RALLY FOR LEGISLATIVE APPROVAL

Tags:   PGOV ETRD ELAB CS 
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252008Z Nov 05
					  UNCLAS SAN JOSE 002727 

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR WHA/CEN JASON MACK

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV ETRD ELAB CS
SUBJECT: CAFTA SUPPORTERS RALLY FOR LEGISLATIVE APPROVAL

REF: SAN JOSE 2689

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SUMMARY
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1. Several thousand workers, business owners and merchants
marched on Costa Rica's Legislative Assembly on November 24,
to encourage the GOCR to ratify without further delay the
U.S.-Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement
(CAFTA-DR). The march was widely seen as a rebuttal to last
week's anti-CAFTA-DR protest organized by union and student
leaders (see reftel). In head-to-head terms, the
pro-CAFTA-DR drew a larger crowd, but ultimately may have
played into the hands of anti-CAFTA-DR leaders who have long
promised to initiate a "referendum on the streets." End
summary.



2. On November 24, several thousand pro-CAFTA-DR marchers
joined business and trade leaders on the streets of San Jose
to encourage swift legislative approval of the trade
agreement. The rally on the 24th was widely portrayed as a
rebuttal to the large anti-CAFTA-DR demonstration held on
November 17. Using its now-familiar graphical analysis of
protester density per square meter, the influential daily
newspaper La Nacion estimated that 20,500 people participated
in the pro-CAFTA-DR rally. While estimates from other
sources varied, La Nacion's estimate was significantly higher
than their own calculation of 16,000 participants in last
week's demonstration. Fortunately, both events were peaceful
and carried out with little or no confrontation with law
enforcement officers. Both demonstrations did, however,
negatively impact daily life in San Jose, as downtown
streets, which are congested on the best of days, were
completely shut down on consecutive Thursday mornings.



3. Borrowing their route from last week's demonstration, the
pro-CAFTA-DR crowd converged on the Legislative Assembly,
where lawmakers are set to begin debating ratification of the
trade accord. Upon arrival at the legislative complex, a
delegation of seven business leaders presented an action
request to key lawmakers, including Gerardo Gonzales,
President of the Legislative Assembly. Gonzales was later
quoted as saying that the event was a "signal" rather than
pressure on the Legislative Assembly, to quickly ratify the
agreement.



4. Several notable CAFTA-DR supporters participated in the
march, among them libertarian presidential candidate and
steadfast CAFTA-DR proponent Otto Guevara, several
legislative aspirants, and the leaders of Costa Rica's
business community and chambers of commerce.



5. Albino Vargas, Secretary General of the Association of
Public and Private Employees (ANEP) and outspoken critic of
CAFTA-DR, said he was encouraged by the event. Vargas was
quoted as saying that, considering the economic power of the
pro-CAFTA-DR business community and the amount of money it
has invested in support of the agreement, there should have
been an "unimaginable" number of rally participants. Vargas
predicted that as the debate progresses, opposition to
CAFTA-DR will increase.



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COMMENT


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6. While organizers expressed their satisfaction with the
pro-CAFTA-DR march, they appeared unaware that by organizing
such an event they have ceded the terms of the debate to
anti-CAFTA-DR forces. Albino Vargas, who organized last
week's highly successful anti-CAFTA-DR demonstration, has
long promised a "referendum on the streets" to determine
CAFTA-DR's fate in Costa Rica. By staging their
counter-demonstration, CAFTA-DR supporters fulfilled Vargas's
promise. Public opinion surveys indicate that more than 60
percent of Costa Ricans support implementing CAFTA-DR. In
addition, a clear majority of legislative deputies have
indicated their intentions to vote for the agreement; dueling
demonstrations with successively larger participation could
merely serve to make the national debate appear closer than
it actually is, and allow anti-CAFTA-DR activists to continue
to grab headlines.



7. Further, CAFTA-DR proponents also run the risk of one day
being unable to top the opposition's numbers. Such a
situation would convey, correctly or not, that the
pro-CAFTA-DR movement had lost steam. Given that they had so
little to gain and so much to lose, most observers concluded
that the pro-CAFTA-DR movement made a serious tactical error
with the demonstration.
LANGDALE