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Viewing cable 06SANJOSE2320, NATIONAL ANTI-CAFTA PROTEST OCTOBER 23-24

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06SANJOSE2320 2006-10-23 21:09 2011-03-03 16:04 CONFIDENTIAL 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
VZCZCXYZ0001
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHSJ #2320/01 2962136
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 232136Z OCT 06
FM AMEMBASSY SAN JOSE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6385
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L SAN JOSE 002320 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPT FOR WHA/CEN, WHA/EPSC AND DS/IP/WHA 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/20/2016 
TAGS: ELAB ETRD PGOV ASEC CS
SUBJECT: NATIONAL ANTI-CAFTA PROTEST OCTOBER 23-24 
 
REF: SAN JOSE 2312 
 
Classified By: Ambassador Mark Langdale for reason 1.4 (d) 
 
------- 
SUMMARY 
------- 
 
1.  (C) SUMMARY: A broad coalition of union and student 
groups is posed to square off against the GOCR October 23-24, 
protesting mostly CAFTA but also pay increases below the rate 
of inflation and the high cost of living.  Both sides have 
much at stake.  The anti-CAFTA forces want to shake GOCR 
resolve (and demonstrate their influence) by putting large 
numbers of people in the streets.  If the opposition cannot 
rally their troops now, doing so during the 
December-February holiday period (the GOCR,s target window 
for CAFTA ratification) will be far more difficult.  For its 
part, the GOCR needs to avoid serious confrontation  or 
violence, while maintaining public order.  GOCR officials 
seem moderately upbeat, believing the public is tired of 
union shenanigans and ready to put the CAFTA chapter behind 
them.  The police seem prepared, but have asked Embassy 
assistance to rent busses to re-deploy personnel around 
the San Jose area, if needed.  Some senior government and 
media figures have told us privately that they view this 
showdown more as a test of how Costa Rica should be governed 
than about CAFTA, per se. Our best guess is that this week,s 
events  will be neither be violent nor definitive; the actual 
CAFTA votes in the Assembly  (whenever they take place) are 
more likely lightning rods for trouble.  END SUMMARY. 
 
----------------------------- 
UNIONS WANT TO SEND A MESSAGE 
----------------------------- 
 
2.  (U) A broad coalition of public employee union members, 
parastatal workers from the insurance, utility, and 
telecommunications industries, university students, transport 
workers, and agricultural groups plan to strike and hold 
anti-CAFTA demonstrations on October 23 and 24.  According to 
organizers, the groups plan to demonstrate throughout Costa 
Rica, then converge on San Jose to rally at the Legislative 
Assembly to protest CAFTA ratification, pay increases below 
the rate of inflation and the high cost of living.  The 
number of protesters expected to participate in this 
so-called "National Resistance Journey" is unknown, but 
supporters, such as PAC party faction head Elizabeth 
Fonseca,(optimistically) hope to see some of the largest mass 
rallies since the 1949 revolution.  As of late morning on 
October 23, the rallies and protests were still getting 
organized.  Large-scale disruptions of electricity and 
telecommunications are not expected and roadblockages had 
not been scheduled by truck drivers or taxis. 
 
3.  (U) The two largest teachers unions have called on their 
members to participate in the strike, affecting as many as 
900,000 students.   Members of the national social security 
system (the "Caja"), who operate the public hospital system, 
are expected to join as well.  Some 90,000 medical 
appointments and 1200 surgeries reportedly were rescheduled 
to allow Caja workers to join the protest.  (Emergency 
medical services and care for those already hospitalized are 
scheduled to operate normally.)  Flanked by President Arias 
and Justice Minister Chinchilla, Minister of the Presidency 
Rodrigo Arias announced on 
October 18 that that striking government workers would not be 
paid for their time off the job.  Education Minister Leonardo 
Garnier instructed principals to report absent public school 
teachers and dock their pay accordingly. 
 
4.  (U) Although President Arias and leading strike 
organizer, Albino Vargas, head of the National Association of 
Public Employees (ANEP), had agreed to meet October 17 to 
discuss various issues including CAFTA and the planned 
demonstrations,  Vargas subsequently cancelled the session, 
claiming that the President would not permit additional union 
leaders and associated anti-CAFTA groups to participate. 
Arias publicly regretted the cancellation and offered to 
reschedule, gaining some points in the media in the process 
(just as Vargas was criticized for canceling). 
 
----------------------------- 
BOTH SIDES HAVE MUCH AT STAKE 
----------------------------- 
 
5.  (SBU) Led by the firebrand Vargas, the anti-CAFTA forces 
need to shake the GOCR,s resolve (and demonstrate their 
influence) by putting large numbers of people, especially the 
easily incited students, into the streets.  As this may be 
just the opening salvo in what could become a season of 
protests, the union leadership is unlikely to resort to 
violence - for now.  In their view, the threat of violence 
and the ability to rally large crowds (which unions will 
label as anti-CAFTA, no matter what the groups are 
protesting) may be sufficient to force enough CAFTA 
supporters in the Assembly to think twice about their votes. 
(The PAC,s Fonseca told Pol Couns on October 20 that this 
would be an ideal outcome.)  Some of Vargas,s rhetoric has 
bordered on sedition, however. In an interview published in a 
political newsletter on October 16, he asserted the 
legitimacy of rebellion as a political tool and asserted that 
a "referendum of the street" should decide CAFTA; even having 
all 57 members in the Assembly vote in favor would not be 
enough.  In a television debate with Minister of Foreign 
Trade COMEX) Marco Vinicio Ruis the morning of October 23, 
Vargas was muted, insisting there would be no roadblocks, 
just people exercising their right to democratic protest.  If 
the opposition forces cannot rally an impressive display of 
strength now, doing so during the December-February holiday 
period (the target window for CAFTA ratification), when the 
public is not thinking about politics, will be far more 
difficult. 
 
 
6.  (SBU) For its part, the GOCR needs to avoid serious 
confrontation or violence, while demonstrating control by 
maintaining public order.  GOCR officials seem moderately 
upbeat.  According to COMEX Director General Gabriela Castro, 
the unions may have overplayed their hand already with the 
public tired of union maneuvers such as dragging on the Limon 
port slowdown (Reftel), urging teachers and national health 
system workers to join the protests and Vargas,s refusal to 
meet with President Arias.  Castro acknowledged to us on 
October 18, however, that the perception of the protests may 
be more important than the reality. The real "audience" is 
the media, especially television. The GOCR needs to be 
depicted as responsibly respecting the people,s right to 
protest, without losing control. NOTE: Late on October 20, 
the union in the port of Limon announced that it would strike 
October 23-24 in solidarity with the protestors elsewhere. 
 
---------------------------------- 
POLICE ASK FOR TRANSPORTATION HELP 
---------------------------------- 
 
7.  (C) In response to our inquiries about preparations for 
the upcoming demonstrations and particularly about any needs, 
the GOCR has only requested Embassy assistance in renting 
four large busses to provide additional mobility to the 
police.  Police Operations Director Eric Lacayo and other 
police officials we have contacted seem confident they are 
prepared to deal with the demonstrators.  Lacayo stated that 
he has orders to keep the roads clear, and unlike similar 
situations under the previous administration, Lacayo does not 
need to request further authorization to use force if 
necessary.  Lacayo told us that he is only concerned, for the 
moment, about three locations: President Arias,s house (a 
few blocks from the Embassy) where protestors had planned a 
"serenade"; the street in front of the ICE (Telecom) 
building, whose union, the largest in the public sector, can 
easily turn out thousands of employees who view their 
economic interests as threatened by CAFTA; and the main road 
to the airport (which may be the site of a large student 
march).  A large-scale march on the airport could greatly 
complicate Lacayo,s efforts to keep streets clear. 
 
------- 
COMMENT 
------- 
 
8.  (C) Some senior government (such as 1st VP Kevin Casas) 
and media figures (such as La Nacion Director General 
Alejandro Urbina) have told us privately that they view the 
overall CAFTA showdown more as a test of how Costa Rica 
should be governed than about CAFTA itself.  Vargas in 
particular has questioned the legitimacy both of Oscar 
Arias,s being able to serve a second term, and his 
re-election victory.  More broadly, union leaders like 
Vargas,s deputy Mauricio Castro, mainstream opposition 
politicians like the PAC,s Fonseca and a number of our best 
political commentator contacts lament what they view as 
Arias,s "praetorian governing style," which seems out of 
touch with the people and runs counter to the "consensus" and 
"national dialogue" model long cherished in Costa Rica. 
While we seriously doubt that Arias,s government will be 
jeopardized by the upcoming protests or the final push for 
CAFTA ratification slowed, how his government handles events 
in the next two-three months (including this week,s 
protests) may have a significant impact on the effectiveness 
(or not) of the rest of his administration. 
FRISBIE