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Viewing cable 07SANJOSE361, COSTA RICA: NEXT ANTI-CAFTA PROTEST ON 26 FEB

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07SANJOSE361 2007-02-23 19:07 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
VZCZCXYZ0053
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHSJ #0361/01 0541928
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 231928Z FEB 07
FM AMEMBASSY SAN JOSE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7320
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA PRIORITY 3931
C O N F I D E N T I A L SAN JOSE 000361 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPT FOR WHA/CEN, WHA/EPSC AND DS/IP/WHA 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/14/2017 
TAGS: PGOV ELAB ASEC PINR CS
SUBJECT: COSTA RICA: NEXT ANTI-CAFTA PROTEST ON 26 FEB 
 
REF: A. 06 SAN JOSE 2431 
     B. SAN JOSE 175 
 
Classified By: CDA Russell Frisbie per reasons 1.4 (b & d) 
 
------- 
SUMMARY 
------- 
 
1. (C)  1. (C) The next anti-CAFTA protest is scheduled for 
Monday, February 26, with the locus of action likely to be 
San Jose.  Organizers promise a larger event than last 
October's protest, but predicting turnout is impossible in 
advance.  The GOCR has vowed to prevent disruption of 
essential services (not anticipated) and roadblocks 
(probable) while respecting the right of citizens to protest. 
 Costa Rican security officials are confident they can 
prevent major disturbances.  With assistance from Post 
(rented busses) as well as Colombia (Post-funded training) 
and Taiwan (vehicles and equipment), the police have improved 
their ability to respond to the protests.  On the other side, 
labor union leaders privately acknowledge that the event 
probably will not be a decisive blow against CAFTA 
ratification.  A less antagonistic but equally determined new 
leadership - the National Front - has become the public face 
of the CAFTA opposition, seeking a "time out" to develop a 
national consensus on the GOCR,s entire development agenda. 
PAC leader Otton Solis has urged CAFTA opponents to take to 
the streets in a celebration of Costa Rican democracy. 
Assuming no violence, both sides will likely declare victory, 
but momentum seems to favor the GOCR.  Anti-CAFTA forces may 
try to mount further (and perhaps more violent) protests 
later, especially around the ratification vote.  END SUMMARY. 
 
------------------------ 
ANOTHER ANTI-CAFTA MARCH 
------------------------ 
 
2. (U) Both sides are squaring off for the next anti-CAFTA 
protest, scheduled for February 26.  Led by the "National 
Front of Support for the Fight Against CAFTA," an umbrella 
group drawn from university students and faculty, labor 
unions, and members of various social organizations, the 
protesters plan to focus most of their action in San Jose. 
They plan to assemble at the old national soccer stadium and 
march through downtown to rally at the Legislative Assembly. 
The organizers hope to far exceed the 6-9,000 person crowd 
assembled for the last protest, October 23-24 (Ref A).  As in 
the October protests, a few additional marches and attempted 
road blockages may take place around the country.  The GOCR 
has made it clear, including in stern television 
advertisements featuring Minister of Presidency Rodrigo 
Arias, that the public's right to protest peacefully will be 
honored fully, but no disruption to essential services or 
roadblocks will be allowed. 
 
---------------------------- 
UNIONS: SIZE DOES NOT MATTER 
---------------------------- 
 
3.  (SBU) PolCouns and Poloff met with public employees, 
labor union leader and outspoken CAFTA critic Albino Vargas 
and two associates on February 7.  Vargas, as feisty as ever, 
repeated his familiar mantra:  Since the GOCR has refused a 
true national dialogue, CAFTA must be "decided in the 
streets."  The Agreement is illegitimate, anyway, because it 
was negotiated "in secret" by the former administration. 
And, the Arias Administration has no right to "impose" CAFTA 
on Costa Rica because a) Arias "stole" the 2006 election and 
b) Arias should not have been allowed to run again in the 
first place.  When asked why he continued to boycott meetings 
with Arias and other union leaders, Vargas insisted the 
President never listens to their concerns.  When asked about 
the impact if the protest turnout is lower than expected 
(based on just-published CID-Gallup data showing that only 
six percent of those polled supported the protests), Vargas 
insisted "numbers don't matter".  Although he dismissed the 
CID-Gallup figures as biased, Vargas acknowledge that the 
February 26 events probably will not b decisive.  He expects 
the GOCR will claim victoy no matter the tunout. 
 
------------------------------------------- 
NATIONAL FRONT: NEW FACE FO THE OPPOSITION? 
------------------------------------------- 
 
4.  (U) The National Front, led byEugenio Trejos, Dean of 
the Technology Instituteof Costa Rica at Cartago, has 
increasingly become the public face of the opposition, part 
of a clear effort to play down the role of the more 
antagonistic unions.  In a long meeting with PolCouns and 
Poloff on February 21, Trejos said he and other Front leaders 
had met with a wide range of protest organizers and GOCR 
officials, including Public Security Minister Fernando 
Berrocal, to urge that the events be peaceful.  Trejos was 
optimistic that ex-presidents Luis Alberto Monje (PLN) and 
Rodrigo Carazo (PUSC) would join the protests to lend them 
more gravitas.  Trejos was fairly confident that the San Jose 
events would remain peaceful, but he warned that the Front 
could not "guarantee" calm everywhere, especially in the 
hinterlands, and particularly if the police "provoked" 
violence. 
 
5.  (U) Trejos echoed the legitimacy concerns about the Arias 
Administration raised by Vargas.  Insisting that the GOCR,s 
38-seat working coalition in the Assembly was weak, he said 
the best case scenario for CAFTA opponents would be to peel 
away one or two of those legislators, so the GOCR would have 
to halt CAFTA, "listen to the people," and seek a new 
national "consensus," not only on CAFTA, but on the GOCR,s 
entire development agenda.  Trejos said a national referendum 
would be the ideal vehicle to help build the consensus, but 
admitted that it wasn't clear a referendum related to CAFTA 
was constitutionally feasible.  A team of opposition legal 
experts are studying the issue, he said.  For CAFTA 
opponents, the GOCR,s pushing ahead to ratification would be 
the worst case scenario, according to Trejos.  A ratification 
vote in April might provoke real violence, he warned.  The 
contest at hand, he maintained, is about the "60% of the 
population that has not really made up their minds" about 
CAFTA.  Like Vargas, Trejos also dismissed the recent 
CID-Gallup results (that 62% of those who are familiar with 
CAFTA support it.) 
 
-------------------------- 
GOVERNMENT: READY BUT WARY 
-------------------------- 
 
6.  (SBU) The GOCR seems ready for the protests.  The 
intelligence service is confident it knows who the real 
troublemakers will be, but is still wary.  In a detailed 
pre-protest strategy session convened by Minister Berrocal on 
February 3 (the first such planning session in our memory), 
police officials were worried that the February 26 events 
might be more disruptive than those of last October.  Radical 
elements outside of the organized anti-CAFTA groups, for 
example, might block roads in defiance of the GOCR,s 
warnings.  Alternatively, a group of students perhaps aided 
by opposition legislators - could "peacefully" take over the 
Assembly building, forcing the police to remove them, at the 
risk of looking "too aggressive."  Security and screening has 
been tightened at the building to prevent this.  NOTE: 
Poloff will also attend the final pre-protest strategy 
meeting on February 23. 
 
------------------------------ 
USG (AND COLOMBIAN) ASSISTANCE 
------------------------------ 
 
7.  (C) As in the case of the October protests, mobility is 
the chief concern of the police.  With approximately 450 riot 
police available in San Jose, but only 160 of those 
fully-equipped (and recently refresher-trained by 
Embassy-funded Colombian police instructors), the police may 
need to move resources quickly to potential traffic choke 
points and protest hot spots throughout the capital.  The 
Ministry of Public Security thus asked Post to rent buses for 
their use, using available INL funds.  Post will provide 10 
buses, for February 26 only.  (The police do not believe they 
will need the buses after that.)  Berrocal believes that 
managing the image of the demonstrations is crucial and that 
the government will win this showdown if security officials 
are not provoked into violence with protesters.  Berrocal is 
so determined that he told national police commanders that 
"if blood must be shed, let it be our blood first."  Berrocal 
has announced publicly that police will not be armed during 
the protests. 
 
8. (C) COMMENT:  The Colombian police instructors, provided 
with the very helpful assistance of Embassy Bogota and the 
Colombian Embassy here, greatly boosted the confidence of the 
police anti-riot personnel.  Poloffs observed this firsthand 
during a visit to the National Police training facility in 
Guanacaste.  Adding to the police's confidence was the first 
tranche of security assistance provided by Taiwan.  An array 
of 125 motorcycles, 60 pick-up trucks and other equipment was 
received in a public ceremony on February 22, deliberately 
timed to be a signal to protesters.  END COMMENT. 
 
----------------------- 
IMPACT ON THE ASAMBLEA? 
----------------------- 
 
9. (SBU) CAFTA opponents have maintained pressure on 
legislators, even in advance of the big day on February 26. 
On January 23 and February 12, union leaders including Vargas 
tried to disrupt proceedings in the Assembly by noisily and 
personally threatening legislators from the visitors, 
gallery.  After trying to reason with the protesters, 
Assembly President Fernando Pacheco called the police, 
leading to a brief, but well-publicized scuffle as the 
gallery was cleared.  CAFTA opponents, including Trejos, 
decried this use of "excessive force."  Meeting with the 
Ambassador on February 16, PLN faction chief Mayi Antillon 
said the noisy union leaders had overplayed their hands by 
being "too disrespectful."  She acknowledged, however, that 
some individual legislators - such as Jose Manuel Echandi of 
the PUN -- were concerned for their safety and would be 
allowed to be "absent" on February 26.  (Echandi also 
requested police protection near his residence.)  Antillon 
acknowledged that the protests, if widespread enough and 
violent at all, could make some members of the GOCR,s 
working coalition "waiver" a little.  She remains confident, 
however, that the Asamblea can complete the first 
ratification vote by April.  Once that is done, she predicts 
that the opposition will lose most of its steam. 
 
-------------------------------------------- 
THE PAC,S OTTON SOLIS:  WILL HE OR WON'T HE? 
-------------------------------------------- 
 
10.  (U) And what about PAC party leader Otton Solis, who 
vowed to join the protests when the CAFTA bill was voted out 
of committee last December, and who has taken a higher 
anti-CAFTA, pro-CBI profile since his January visit to 
Washington?  In a lengthy radio interview on February 6, 
Solis said his PAC party was not organizing anything, but 
would join the protests if they were convoked under "correct 
terms," i.e., as "day for Costa Rica." He has since been coy 
about his own participation, and whether PAC would take any 
responsibility for keeping the protests peaceful.  Minister 
of Government Arias insisted to the  media that if Solis 
joined the march, then his participation (as leader of the 
main opposition party) should be "a guarantee that the march 
will be peaceful."   In a TV commercial aired on February 22, 
however, Solis urged those concerned about CAFTA to take to 
the streets on Monday in a peaceful celebration of Costa 
Rican sovereignty. 
 
------- 
COMMENT 
------- 
 
11.  (SBU) Both sides seem ready and determined for Monday's 
events.  Assuming no violence, both sides are likely to claim 
victory.  Momentum seems to favor the GOCR, however, based on 
the increased discipline and confidence in the Assembly (Ref 
B), the better organization and higher confidence of the 
police, and the CID-Gallup polling data (generally in support 
of CAFTA, against the protests and unfavorable to the more 
notorious union leaders).  The opposition cannot keep holding 
"rehearsals."  But, if the GOCR does not blink in the 
Assembly (and we don't think it will), then the anti-CAFTA 
forces may try to mount further (and perhaps more violent) 
protests later, especially around the ratification vote.  The 
CID-Gallup data also shows that most Costa Ricans expect more 
turbulence before CAFTA is ratified. 
FRISBIE