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Viewing cable 07SANJOSE175, CAFTA: ARIAS ADMINISTRATION FLEXES LEGISLATIVE

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07SANJOSE175 2007-01-30 20:08 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
VZCZCXYZ0009
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHSJ #0175/01 0302018
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 302018Z JAN 07
FM AMEMBASSY SAN JOSE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7099
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE
UNCLAS SAN JOSE 000175 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE 
 
SIPDIS 
 
For WHA/CEN and WHA/EPSC 
 
STATE PASS TO USTR FOR AMALITO 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: ETRD EINV ECIN PGOV CS
SUBJECT: CAFTA: ARIAS ADMINISTRATION FLEXES LEGISLATIVE 
         MUSCLES 
 
REF: A. 2006 SAN JOSE 1792, 
 
      B. 2006 SAN JOSE 2617, 
     C. 2006 SAN JOSE 2779 
 
1. (U) SUMMARY.  After a seemingly slow start this month, prospects 
for CAFTA ratification have taken a leap forward.  The Arias 
administration used its 38-seat working coalition and creative 
interpretation of parliamentary rules to limit the number of 
sessions for CAFTA debate, making full ratification more likely by 
May 2007.  The Arias administration similarly expedited 
consideration of legislation to break the telecom monopoly, one of 
the most difficult components of the CAFTA implementation agenda. 
These rule changes were accompanied by public calls from MinPres 
Rodrigo Arias and 2nd VP Kevin Casas for Costa Ricans  to "take 
their destiny in their hands" and move forward (using majority 
rules) instead of pursuing "the dangerous mirage of consensus." 
Min. Arias even expressed hope that CAFTA could be ratified and 
implemented by October 2007. The combination suggests a (welcome) 
Arias administration offensive not only to ratify/implement CAFTA, 
but to make the Legislative Assembly more effective, taking 
advantage of public disillusionment with the "just say no" PAC-led 
opposition.  There will no doubt be bumps in the road ahead, 
however.  Union leaders and other CAFTA opponents have called for a 
national strike in late February.  END SUMMARY. 
 
------------------ 
A SLOW START . . . 
------------------ 
 
2. (U) As the Legislative Assembly resumed business after the 
holiday recess, it appeared the CAFTA momentum which had built 
slowly in late 2006 (reftels) had softened.  The PAC-led opposition 
waited until January 12, the last possible day, to submit its nearly 
500-page minority report from the International Relations Committee. 
 This tactic, along with the sheer bulk of the Committee's overall 
report (which totaled nearly 4,000 pages), delayed the required 
publication in the official GOCR gazette, which in turn slid the 
projected January 26 start of the CAFTA debate. 
 
3. (SBU) One veteran Assembly staffer told us the PAC maneuver, plus 
the likely flood of motions expected from the opposition, likely 
would lead to CAFTA ratification in late-May or mid-June, unless the 
GOCR exercised more legislative discipline.  On January 18, in a 
strategy meeting organized at Embassy behest, the GOCR's CAFTA team 
from the Ministry of Foreign Trade (COMEX) was slightly more 
sanguine.  The COMEX team believed it would be possible for 
legislative rules to be interpreted to permit the first of two 
required ratification votes by early April, just before the Easter 
Week recess.  The final vote would then take place in May, following 
the required 30-day Supreme Court review of constitutionality.  The 
COMEX team described a parallel effort to have Assembly committees 
begin action on the implementing legislation. 
 
---------------------------- 
. . . THEN, A QUICK RECOVERY 
---------------------------- 
 
4. (U) The COMEX assessment proved accurate. In parliamentary moves 
that obviously caught the opposition off guard, the Arias 
administration began to wield its 38-seat coalition as a 
super-majority, changing legislative rules to accelerate the CAFTA 
process.  On January 18, the PLN-led coalition (also including the 
ML, PUSC and two single-seat parties) voted to move two telecom 
bills from the standing committee, where they had languished, to a 
newly formed special committee that was given one month to hold 
hearings and vote the matters up or down.  The maneuver took place 
so quickly that PAC legislators, trying to walk out of the Assembly 
to prevent a quorum, found themselves technically voting in favor of 
the rule change (since an "aye" vote is registered by legislators 
standing up). 
 
5.  (U) On January 22, the PLN-led coalition proposed another rule 
change, which would limit the plenary debate on CAFTA to 22 
sessions, with a possible one-time extension of six additional 
sessions, after which a vote must take place.  The proposed rule 
change was approved in committee on January 24 and is expected to be 
approved by the full plenary, again using the administration's 
38-seat working coalition, early the week of January 29.  Depending 
on how many sessions are devoted to CAFTA debate, the 26-session 
limit should make the first ratification vote possible by late March 
or early April, as the COMEX team predicted.  One experienced PUSC 
staffer told us January 23 she had never seen any Costa Rican 
legislature act so quickly. 
 
--------------------------------- 
TIME FOR POLITICS, NOT PERFECTION 
 
--------------------------------- 
 
6.  (U) In public comments the week of January 22, Minister of the 
Presidency Rodrigo Arias, 2nd Vice President Kevin Casas and 
Assembly President Fernando Pacheco articulately framed the 
political debate.  In an op-ed, Arias challenged Costa Rica to "take 
our destiny in our hands", construct "broad political agreements", 
and move the country ahead with support of the majority.  Directly 
targeting PAC, he warned that pursuit of a unanimous national 
consensus would be a "dangerous mirage" and "interminable debate" of 
any initiative, CAFTA or not, would only be a "tangible 
demonstration of our dysfunctional politics."  Casas and Pacheco 
gave similar messages to a legislative law seminar, stressing that 
perfect consensus was elusive, the Costa Rican people wanted results 
from their representatives, and there was "no contradiction" between 
"speed and quality" in the Assembly. 
 
7. (U) Minister Arias capped the week with a lengthy newspaper 
interview printed on January 27.  He explained how PAC intransigence 
in the International Relations Committee had energized the 
administration's efforts to build an effective working coalition, so 
Costa Rica could get beyond CAFTA, a key component, but only one 
component of President Arias's broader development agenda.  Minister 
Arias said the administration had to focus on its priorities, and 
was working with all its coalition partners on issues of interests 
to them (in exchange for their CAFTA support).  Arias was cautiously 
optimistic that the rule changes would stand up to Supreme Court 
scrutiny, and he expressed hope that, using the revised rules and 
maintaining coalition unity, CAFTA could be approved and ratified by 
October 2007.  Minister Arias also left the door open to work with 
the PAC on issues other than CAFTA. 
 
-------------------------- 
. . . BUT IT WON'T BE EASY 
-------------------------- 
 
8. (U) As expected, union leaders and other CAFTA opponents have 
called for a national protest, including strike action, for late 
February.  (Their target date is February 26.) The pressure tactics 
have begun already.  Following the first rules change (which would 
accelerate legislation to open the telecom sector), leaders of the 
telecom and electricity workers union packed the Assembly gallery 
and warned pro-CAFTA legislators, such as Jose Mario Echandi of the 
one-member National Union Party, "we know where you live."  (Echandi 
told the media he has requested extra police protection in his 
neighborhood.)  The opposition is also likely to challenge the rule 
changes in the Supreme Court, but coalition legislators and Assembly 
staffers tell us that the GOCR is pro-actively consulting the Court 
already, in anticipation of challenges. In his January 27 interview, 
Minister Arias threw down the gauntlet to opponents, noting that 
demonstrations would be permitted, but roadblocks would be dealt 
with "respectfully but forcefully." 
 
------------------------------ 
COMMENT: FINALLY, SOME MUSCLE 
------------------------------ 
 
9. (SBU) This combination of words and deeds is welcome and 
illustrates the sort of disciplined, organized "realpolitik" 
leadership the Arias administration must continue to demonstrate in 
order to ratify and implement CAFTA.  Making the Legislative 
Assembly more effective, taking advantage of current public 
disillusionment with the "just say no" PAC-led opposition, would 
also have long-term positive benefits for Costa Rica, and has found 
resonance with coalition legislators who do not want this 
legislature to be perceived as feckless, as was the case with the 
previous one.  The consensus ideal will not fade quickly (or 
quietly) here, however, and the Costa Rican political system still 
offers far more ways to get to no than to yes, whether in the 
legislature, in the Supreme Court, or on the streets.  Nevertheless, 
the Arias administration, in its own way, has started 2007 on the 
political offensive.  That by itself is significant. 
LANGDALE