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Left Wing Publications Right Wing Publications

Anti-war stand convenient to Pacheco opposition

by AM Costa Rica


The peace movement in Costa Rica has to be considered against the broader backdrop of partisan politics.

As with everything related to relations with the United States, public posturing is designed for internal consumption.

War protesters are aligned with the political parties that oppose President Abel Pacheco, and the prize is the next presidential election.

The combination of the proposed free trade treaty among the complaints is no accident. It may be that the Iraq war has been a big boost to those who oppose the international treaty that is supposed to be finalized this year.

Whenever the United States is involved, politicians are polarized. That was seen when the United States sought approval from the Asamblea National to use Costa Rican ports for brief visits by US Navy ships. The boats are patrolling for drug shipments off the coast.

Permission finally was granted, but not before opposition deputies made the issue into front-page news in the Spanish press.

Lost in the current controversy is the International Law Enforcement Academy. The US wants to fortify anti-drug law enforcement in Latin America by providing a school where modern techniques can be taught. Some of the administration and faculty will be US citizens, but many will be from Costa Rica and other Latin nations.

Opponents suggested that the law enforcement academy is a clone of the US School of the Americas where selected Latin military officers were encouraged to use torture and worse for stemming revolt.

The US spotty human rights record in Latin America does not help sell the school project, but US officials claim that sufficient checks are in place to prevent misuse of the school. In any event, the school is directed more to police methods than counterterrorism.

The school might be a victim of local sentiment about the Iraq war.

The free trade treaty with the United States causes fear in the public sector of Costa Rican society. From the electric company to the monopoly insurance giant to the government banks employees fear competition from more efficient international firms.

President Abel Pacheco said that Costa Rica's state ownership of such entities is not on the negotiating table, but treaties have a way of effecting big changes over time. So some of the biggest opponents of free trade are the employee unions for the state entities.

Another area of irritation for Costa Rica is agricultural imports. Some 154,000 tons of US rice now ride in a cargo ship in Caldera harbor. Such products are cheaper than Costa Rican agricultural products. Some say this is because Costa Rica's farmers are inefficient. Others say US exports are heavily subsidized. Some politicians think that Costa Rica should only import basic commodities when production here cannot meet the demand. Agriculture will be a big component of a free trade treaty.

Opposed on general principles are the Communist and similarly-oriented political groups that will fight anything connected with the United States.

President Pacheco infuriated his political foes when he seemed to side with the United States in its war against terrorism.

Some pragmatic Costa Ricans recognize that US force is the only counterweight to Panama and Nicaragua, two neighboring countries that at various times have coveted Costa Rica.

But many youngsters and even some US expats are believers in Costa Rica as some kind of island of peace in a troubled world. The army was abolished in 1948, and politicians since have encouraged this belief. Former President Oscar Arias furthered this belief when he won the Nobel Prize for Peace for his role in ending the Nicaraguan war.

Secondary school students and university undergraduates are being urged strongly by their teachers and administrations to demonstrate for peace.

At the University of Costa Rica such encouragement goes so far as to be an official February 25 resolution of the university council.

Marta Zamora, head of Partido Accion Ciudadana, in the Asemblea Nacional expressed total indignation toward Pacheco's stand, seemingly in support of the United States. At the same time Federico Malavassi, head of the Movimiento Libertario deputies, expressed concern for the effect on the economy by the war. He was particularly concerned with increases in fuel prices and an estimated five percent dip in tourism.

The Partido Liberacion Nacional, the party of former President Arias, also opposes the war and actively supports the war protests, along with Accion Ciudadana.

Pacheco is a member of Partido Unidad Social Cristiana, and his party controls the assembly. However, yet to be seen is the internal tension within the party caused by the president's position on the war. The future of initiatives such as the free trade treaty and the law enforcement academy hang on the degree of such inter-party tensions.


Also in this section:
Jackson, Colon needs CEMIS
Girvan, The Greater CaribbeanThis Week
Human Rights Watch, Iraq and US should obey laws on POWs
Amnesty International, US and Iraq should obey laws on POWs
Casa Alianza, Social Cleansing in Honduras
AM Costa Rica, Behind Tico anti-war protests
ICFTU, For a democratic solution in Venezuela