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Viewing cable 05SANJOSE1712, COSTA RICAN LABOR UNIONS LOOK FOR WAYS TO COMBAT

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
05SANJOSE1712 2005-07-28 21:09 2011-03-03 16:04 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy San Jose
Appears in these articles:
http://www.nacion.com/2011-03-03/Investigacion/NotasDestacadas/Investigacion2697430.aspx
http://www.nacion.com/2011-03-03/Investigacion/NotaPrincipal/Investigacion2697496.aspx
http://www.nacion.com/2011-03-03/Investigacion/NotasSecundarias/Investigacion2697489.aspx
http://www.nacion.com/2011-03-03/Investigacion/NotasSecundarias/Investigacion2697532.aspx
http://www.nacion.com/2011-03-03/Investigacion/NotasSecundarias/Investigacion2697535.aspx
http://www.nacion.com/2011-03-03/Investigacion/NotasSecundarias/Investigacion2701964.aspx
http://www.nacion.com/2011-03-03/Investigacion/Relacionados/Investigacion2701965.aspx
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 SAN JOSE 001712 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE 
 
DEPT FOR WHA/CEN BBOYNTON 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: ELAB ETRD CS
SUBJECT: COSTA RICAN LABOR UNIONS LOOK FOR WAYS TO COMBAT 
CAFTA-DR 
 
REF: A. 04 SAN JOSE 2628 
 
     B. SAN JOSE 1153 
     C. SAN JOSE 944 
 
1. (SBU) Summary: Costa Rica's labor unions, flush from their 
earlier successes in intimidating President Abel Pacheco, 
recently fell back to earth when planned demonstrations 
against the Central American-U.S.-Dominican Republic Free 
Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) fizzled.  Now, with possible 
adoption and implementation of the trade agreement looming, 
the somewhat-humbled unions are joining with their regional 
counterparts to redefine their message and mission.  While 
not abandoning their vehement opposition to CAFTA-DR and free 
trade agreements in general, there are some indications that 
the unions are gradually coming to terms with the inevitable 
adoption of multiple free trade agreements, and are shaping 
their upcoming agenda to regain a legitimate, participatory 
role in determining Costa Rica's free trade policy.  End 
Summary. 
 
--------------------------------------------- ---------- 
FROM LIMELIGHT TO SEARCHLIGHT: LOOKING FOR LABOR'S ROLE 
--------------------------------------------- ---------- 
 
2. (SBU) During President Abel Pacheco's term of office, none 
of his political adversaries have been more opportunistic or 
more successful at intimidating the President than the 
country's public sector labor unions.  On numerous occasions, 
Pacheco has caved in to union demands in the face of large 
strikes, even in cases where courts had ruled the strikes 
illegal.  With each political victory, union leaders felt 
their power increasing, and became bolder in their opposition 
to Pacheco's policies (Reftel A).  Thanks to his charismatic 
leadership and constant media exposure, Albino Vargas, 
president of the National Association of Public and Private 
Employees (ANEP), became a minor celebrity.  Thus, from the 
moment of its introduction, Vargas and other union leaders 
brashly denounced CAFTA-DR, contending that it would result 
in high unemployment, deterioration of public services, 
inflation and massive industry shifts, and would further 
exacerbate perceived labor abuses. 
 
3. (SBU) Despite acceptance of CAFTA-DR by the general 
public, labor leaders confidently promised Pacheco that they 
would muster thousands to protest should he present the 
agreement to the Legislative Assembly for debate.  True to 
his history, and despite his initial support for the 
agreement, Pacheco immediately began to waver.  Afraid of 
widespread strikes and mass demonstrations, Pacheco has for 
the past year looked for any opportunity to postpone sending 
CAFTA-DR to the legislative assembly for approval. 
 
4. (SBU) In April 2005, however, labor leaders went too far 
by targeting Oscar Arias, front-runner for president in next 
year's elections and an ardent CAFTA-DR supporter.  In their 
anti-CAFTA-DR zeal, labor leaders stated that they would not 
recognize an Arias victory at the polls (Reftel B).  This 
message did not resonate well a population proud of its 
democratic traditions, and ultimately backfired.  The 
unionists latest attempt (in May) to flood the streets with 
angry marchers failed, with small, disheartened groups that 
disappeared at the first sign of rain (Reftel C).  Recent 
polls show a majority of Costa Ricans support CAFTA-DR, and 
events have shown that those who don't support the deal have 
not been able to make good on their threats to "take it to 
the streets." 
 
5. (SBU) With U.S. Congressional approval of CAFTA-DR and 
increasing pressure on President Abel Pacheco to present the 
treaty for Costa Rican legislative consideration, Costa 
Rica's labor organizations are struggling to find a role to 
play in the debate.  While the unions have never wavered in 
their opposition to CAFTA-DR, and continue to rail against it 
with every opportunity, the only person who appears to be 
really taking them seriously is President Pacheco.  It is 
difficult to say whether declining opposition to CAFTA-DR is 
due to an on-going backlash at the demagoguery of certain 
labor leaders, media fatigue, or to a growing understanding 
of globalization and a desire not to be left behind. 
Whatever the reason, as their audience dwindles, the labor 
organizations are struggling to regain their hold on the 
public's attention. 
 
--------------------------------------------- ------ 
MISERY LOVES COMPANY: CA LABOR UNIONS MEET, REFOCUS 
--------------------------------------------- ------ 
 
5. (SBU) Given the context in which it was convened, many 
expected grand statements of solidarity to emerge from the 
July 12-13 conference of Central American labor leaders, 
organized by the Central American Common Labor Platform 
(PSCC) and held in San Jose.  However, the only sign that 
such a meeting even occurred was a single article in national 
daily newspaper "Prensa Libre," which detailed plans for a 
Central American Labor Summit in October, with others to 
follow through the end of the year.  Puzzled by the lack of 
public statements to emerge from the conference, Poloff 
contacted Edgar Morales, deputy secretary general of ANEP. 
According to Morales, the chief purpose of the July 
conference was simply to lay the groundwork for the October 
summit.  He stated that the October meeting would include not 
just regional labor leaders, but industry and political 
invitees as well.  While CAFTA-DR is an intended topic of 
discussion, Morales stated that the principal theme will be 
twenty years of unfair labor practices in all the Central 
American countries.  Also on the agenda are free trade 
policies in general, workers' rights, and International Labor 
Organization (ILO) conventions and their implementation. 
 
6. (SBU) Predictably, union leaders have responded to U.S. 
Congressional approval of CAFTA-DR with dismay and promises 
to continue fighting the good fight.  In a conversation with 
Poloff, Rodrigo Aguilar, president of one of Costa Rica's 
largest labor organizations, the Rerum Novarum Workers' 
Confederation, expressed his hope that President Pacheco's 
"Commission of Eminent Persons" will recommend against 
implementation of CAFTA-DR.  Aguilar believes that Pacheco 
will resist pressure to send the treaty to the legislature 
until after the commission has rendered a decision; Aguilar 
concedes, however, that no one has yet been able to 
accurately predict what Pacheco will do.  According to 
Aguilar, leaders of all Costa Rica's major labor 
organizations will be convening on Tuesday, August 2, to 
discuss strategy, and will release details to the public 
sometime after August 3.  Albino Vargas, head of ANEP, told 
the press that regardless of Congressional approval of 
CAFTA-DR, his organization would continue its fight against 
the treaty.  Both Vargas and Aguilar reiterated their 
commitment to organize large demonstrations upon the 
agreement's presentation to the Legislative Assembly. 
 
------- 
COMMENT 
------- 
 
7. (SBU) Now that the U.S. Congress has blessed CAFTA-DR, 
President Pacheco will be under increasing pressure to 
present it to the Legislative Assembly.  Even if Pacheco 
decides not to act, the February 2006 elections will serve as 
a public referendum on CAFTA-DR, in which case the unions' 
successful intimidation of Pacheco could backfire on them. 
Oscar Arias has already signaled his intention to fight for 
adoption of CAFTA-DR, and if he wins convincingly, he will 
certainly follow through with his plan to present the treaty 
for legislative approval.  With adoption and implementation 
growing more likely, the unions have to make a decision: 
continue to kick against the tide of globalization and free 
trade, or work constructively with the government to have a 
hand in equitable implementation. 
KAPLAN