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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
06SANJOSE762 2006-04-07 15:40:00 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy San Jose
Cable title:  

HUMAN RIGHTS OMBUDSWOMAN SLAMS CAFTA-DR

Tags:   ETRD PHUM PGOV CS 
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VZCZCXYZ0018
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHSJ #0762/01 0971540
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 071540Z APR 06
FM AMEMBASSY SAN JOSE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4699
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
					  UNCLAS SAN JOSE 000762 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR WHA/CEN JASON MACK

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ETRD PHUM PGOV CS
SUBJECT: HUMAN RIGHTS OMBUDSWOMAN SLAMS CAFTA-DR


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SUMMARY
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1. Costa Rica's Human Rights Ombudswoman, Dr. Lisbeth
Quesada, released a report on March 30 criticizing the
U.S.-Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement
(CAFTA-DR). Comparing the relative bargaining power of the
U.S. and Costa Rica to "a wild tiger vs. a captive rabbit,"
the report identifies the Ombudswoman's concerns with the
agreement, but refrains from specifically recommending
rejection of the treaty. While Costa Rica's negotiating team
races to refute Dr. Quesada's criticism, local CAFTA-DR
opponents had a field day, crowing that the report confirmed
their arguments against ratification. End summary.



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A BULLY PULPIT WITHOUT EQUAL


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2. Elected by the Legislative Assembly for up to two
consecutive four-year terms, the Human Rights Ombudsman is
given the broad mandate of protecting the rights of all
residents in Costa Rica, regardless of nationality. The
Ombudsman's office has over time become a bully pulpit and
has built a reputation for being outspoken and opinionated on
controversial topics, such as a former Ombudsman's successful
suit to declare unconstitutional President Abel Pacheco's
support for the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.



3. Current Ombudswoman Lisbeth Quesada, a pediatrician and
former professional actress, began her tenure in August 2005.
Relatively quiet for the first few months of her tenure, Dr.
Quesada has recently unleashed a wave of opinions on
government institutions, corruption and foreign policy. Her
most recent target is CAFTA-DR. Likening the relative
bargaining power of the U.S. and Costa Rica to a "wild tiger
vs. a captive rabbit," Dr. Quesada launched a highly
publicized criticism of the treaty at a press conference on
March 30. The press conference coincided with the release of
her office's analysis of CAFTA-DR, which details more
completely her concerns with the agreement.



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OPPOSITION DELAYED, BUT NOT UNEXPECTED


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4. While she has publicly withheld her stance on CAFTA-DR
until now, Dr. Quesada has made no secret of her opposition
to the agreement in meetings with Embassy officials and
Ambassador Langdale. She has expressed on numerous occasions
that CAFTA-DR by itself will not be a panacea for Costa
Rica's or Central America's economic woes, and expressed
doubt that those countries where CAFTA-DR had already entered
into force would close the development gap between them and
Costa Rica. Dr. Quesada has demurred on the question of
whether she intends to challenge the constitutionality of
CAFTA-DR.



5. While the report does not call explicitly for the
rejection of CAFTA-DR, it asserts that the treaty will be
detrimental to the country unless it is accompanied by
sweeping social reforms in the form of a long-delayed
complementary agenda. Further, Dr. Quesada stated her belief
that the Legislative Assembly must include "interpretive
clauses" in its ratification of the treaty, giving the GOCR
more flexibility in breaking up government service monopolies.



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COMPREHENSIVE CRITICISM


--------------------------





6. Identified in the report as the Ombudswoman's primary
areas of concern were:

--Telecommunications: CAFTA-DR will require Costa Rica to
strip the Costa Rica Electricity Institute (ICE) of its
monopoly status for cellular, Internet and data services.
Dr. Quesada asserts that, without these businesses to
subsidize ICE's continued monopoly for less profitable
land-line services, prices for terrestrial phone service are
certain to increase, and favors requiring new Internet and
cellular service providers to help subsidize terrestrial
services.

--Sovereignty: The Ombudswoman's report asserts that CAFTA-DR
imposes restrictions on the Legislative Assembly's ability to
legislate, and that Costa Rica will be obliged to adopt
implementation criteria developed by "other states," and
prevents the GOCR from resolving trade disputes in its own
courts.

--Labor Standards: While acknowledging that CAFTA-DR provides
some opportunities for improving enforcement of existing
labor laws within member countries, Dr. Quesada asserts that
countries with higher labor standards will be placed at a
competitive disadvantage. (Note: She is comparing labor
standards in Costa Rica with what she perceives to be the
lower standards of other Central American countries. End
note.)

--Environment: Despite CAFTA-DR's built-in requirements for
environmental protection, Quesada maintains that Costa Rica
will be unable to enforce its stricter-than-average
protections against multinational corporations.

--Distribution of wealth: Quesada acknowledges that CAFTA-DR
will bring increased investment and national income. She
argues, however, that very little of that income will benefit
lower-income citizens. Of particular concern are small
farmers and rural residents.

--Agricultural inequity: Dr. Quesada asserts that Costa
Rica's farmers will be unable to compete with subsidized U.S.
agriculture, and that the country has no anticipated plan for
dealing with the potentially negative effect of the treaty on
small farmers. (Note: The Minister of Agriculture challenged
Quesada on this point, noting that 80 percent of farmers
support CAFTA-DR. End note.)



7. Reactions to the report from both sides in the CAFTA-DR
debate were swift and predictable. Labor unions, the
country's most vocal opponents to the free trade deal,
applauded Dr. Quesada's report and pledged to support the
Ombudswoman. CAFTA-DR's supporters, on the other hand,
disagreed with Quesada. The day after the report was
released, a pro-CAFTA-DR attorney in private practice asked
the Prosecutor General to bring criminal charges against
Quesada for illegally attempting to "create disorder in the
streets and chaos in the country." Marco Vinicio Ruiz, the
incoming Minister of Foreign Trade, defended CAFTA-DR,
reiterating that its benefits far outweigh any potential
problems. He stated that when he heard Dr. Quesada's
statements, he thought that her efforts were misdirected and
that she should instead focus on protecting the "500,000 jobs
that depend on exports."



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COMMENT


--------------------------





8. All of Dr. Quesada's arguments against CAFTA-DR have long
since been debated and addressed. They are given added
weight, however, by her position as protector of the poor and
marginalized. She will undoubtedly raise these issues again,
likely challenging the constitutionality of CAFTA-DR if it is
voted favorably by the Legislative Assembly.
LANGDALE