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Viewing cable 06SANJOSE2431, ANTI-CAFTA PROTEST IN COSTA RICA: TACTICAL VICTORY

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06SANJOSE2431 2006-10-31 23:11 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
VZCZCXYZ0019
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHSJ #2431/01 3042351
ZNR UUUUU ZZH (CCY AD4143FF MSI9789 538)
P 312351Z OCT 06
FM AMEMBASSY SAN JOSE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6493
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
UNCLAS SAN JOSE 002431 
 
SIPDIS 
 
(C O R R E C T E D C O P Y - MODIFIED PARAGRAPH MARKING) 
 
SENSITIVE 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPT FOR WHA/CEN AND DS/IP/WHA 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: ELAB PGOV CS
SUBJECT: ANTI-CAFTA PROTEST IN COSTA RICA: TACTICAL VICTORY 
FOR GOCR 
 
REF: A. SAN JOSE 2320 
 
     B. SAN JOSE 2312 
 
1.  (SBU) SUMMARY: On October 23 and 24, a two-day strike and 
associated demonstrations against CAFTA ratification took 
place throughout Costa Rica.  The peaceful demonstrations 
fell short of organizers, expectations and disruptions in 
basic services and transit were largely avoided.  Costa Rican 
security forces were mobilized and successfully maintained 
transit while avoiding clashes with demonstrators.  Union 
leaders proclaimed the event a success and planned to strike 
and protest again in November.   The Arias government 
downplayed the size and influence of the demonstrations, and 
again called for dialog as a better way to address the issue. 
 The GOCR was pleased with its performance during the two-day 
event and upbeat about its ability to face future protests. 
The anti-CAFTA movement cannot really be satisfied with the 
outcome of this protest.  The GOCR took the high ground, 
respecting the right of the strikers to protest, but 
maintained order and avoided direct confrontation.  Upcoming 
CAFTA votes in the legislature may spark renewed action "in 
the streets."  END SUMMARY. 
 
------------------------------------------ 
ANTI-CAFTA STRIKE FAILS TO MAKE BIG IMPACT 
------------------------------------------ 
 
2. (U) The long-planned two days of protest October 23 and 24 
saw a few thousand people (peacefully) rally and march around 
the country, but fell far short of the "referendum of the 
street" hoped for by anti-CAFTA forces (Ref A).  Although the 
broad and loose anti-CAFTA coalition of public employee 
unions, parastatal workers, university students, opposition 
legislators, and other groups mustered protestors around the 
country, most of the action was in San Jose.  Basic services 
such as electricity and telecommunications were not affected. 
 State-run emergency medical care functioned, though many 
appointments for non-critical care were canceled. 
 
3. (SBU) On the first and heaviest day of protests, some 
rural roads were temporarily blocked by protesters in parts 
of Costa Rica.  In San Jose, marchers temporarily blocked 
roads as they trooped to the legislature in the city center. 
On the second day, which featured smaller but more aggressive 
protests in some areas, a roundabout in front of the 
University of Costa Rica on San Jose's "beltway" was blocked 
for most of the day and there were reports that motorists 
trying to pass were harassed.  Attempts to block major roads 
near the airport were foiled, without incident, by security 
forces (keeping the airport road open was a prime objective 
of the GOCR.)  There were no reports of clashes between 
protesters and security officials. 
 
4.  (U) The cab of a tractor trailer was burned by protesters 
in the port city of Limon on October 24, but that disturbance 
was more related to the on-going strike by port workers 
regarding a collective bargaining payment issue and the 
possible concession of the government-run ports (Ref B).  The 
Arias government had vowed beforehand to respect the rights 
of the protesters to march peacefully, but requested in turn 
that protesters respect Costa Ricans' basic rights, including 
the right to free transit and the right to work. 
 
-------------------------- 
THE NUMBERS?  NOT HISTORIC 
-------------------------- 
 
5.  (U) Size estimates of the crowds varied.  Protest leaders 
claimed 100,000 demonstrators marched through San Jose the 
first day.  A methodical estimate of crowd size commissioned 
by leading daily "La Nacion" suggested that the real number 
at the legislative assembly gathering point was closer to 
9000 demonstrators, putting this round of protests on a par 
with previous anti-CAFTA actions.  Our police contacts 
estimated the turnout to be closer to 6000.  Both sides 
agreed that turnout the second day was smaller although more 
tense around traditional flashpoints, such as the university. 
 At 3:00 P.M. on October 24, poloff saw no protesters at the 
legislative assembly, but dozens of police officials 
scattered throughout the downtown area.  Students maintained 
a blockade outside the university campus until after dark, 
however.  Media coverage was much lighter for the second day, 
with reporting overall highlighting the much 
smaller-than-expected crowds and the lack of violence. 
 
-------------------------- 
BOTH SIDES DECLARE VICTORY 
-------------------------- 
 
 
6.  (U) Protest organizers publicly declared success.  Union 
leader Albino Vargas described the event as an "extraordinary 
advance toward the defeat of CAFTA."  Organizers vowed to 
continue monitoring CAFTA progress in the legislature, 
pledging to return to "the streets" in November (no date 
set).  Poloff discussed the strike with Gilberth Brown, 
Secre tary General of the Rerum Novarum labor union, on 
October 26.  Brown stressed the variety of interests that 
participated in the strike as well as its nationwide scope. 
He stated that the unions could mobilize ten times the number 
of protestors in future strikes, but did not commit to any 
future strategy.  He said that changing one or two votes in 
the legislature against CAFTA would be enough to defeat it. 
 
 
7.  (U) President Arias announced October 25 that he would 
not withdraw the CAFTA legislation, as demanded by the 
protestors, but would make good on his campaign pledge to 
ratify CAFTA.  The president also reiterated his call for 
dialog as a preferable way to address the issues.  In a press 
conference on October 24, Minister of the Presidency Rodrigo 
Arias pointed out that the strike and protest did not enjoy 
widespread support, with only two percent the 
employees from the social security administration and 28 
percent of teachers participating (no doubt affected by the 
GOCR,s threat the week before to dock striking employees, 
salaries).  The protests seem to have had little effect in 
the legislature, where staffers evinced surprise to us at the 
lower turnout, and CAFTA debate continued as scheduled -- 
neither slower nor faster -- in the International Relations 
Committee. 
 
8.  (SBU) The Ministry of Security requested Post,s 
assistance in renting four buses which were used to transport 
police and their equipment around San Jose October 23-24. 
Police contacts told us this behind-the-scenes help (all the 
GOCR asked of us) had proved invaluable.  Overall, the GOCR 
was pleased with how events unfolded.  Minister of Production 
Alfredo Volio told the Ambassador and Econ Chief on October 
26 that preparing for and dealing with the protests had been 
a "good teambuilding exercise" for the cabinet, which left 
the GOCR "more confident" about dealing with future protests. 
 
----------------------------------- 
COMMENT: OPPOSITION LOST THIS ROUND 
----------------------------------- 
 
9.  (SBU) Victory declarations aside, the anti-CAFTA movement 
cannot be satisfied with the outcome of this latest round of 
protests.  Turnout was low and the opposition did not appear 
to have gained any new public support.  The GOCR seems to 
have prepared and reacted fairly skillfully by docking 
striker's pay, mobilizing large numbers of unarmed police 
and avoiding direct confrontation with the harder-core 
student protestors.  By making clear that violations of the 
law would not be tolerated but that people had the right to 
protest peacefully, the Arias government took the high ground 
and came out ahead of the protestors.  The anti-CAFTA crowd 
is in a difficult position, having repeatedly failed to 
mobilize large enough crowds to make a lasting impact, nor 
having found significant resonance for the "right to 
rebellion" philosophy espoused by Vargas and some of the 
other leaders.  We would not rule them out just yet, however. 
 The upcoming CAFTA votes in the legislature, starting with 
the International Affairs Committee's report, scheduled for 
November 30, may spark renewed action "in the streets." 
LANGDALE