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Viewing cable 07SANJOSE428, ANTI-CAFTA MARCH STRATEGIC VICTORY FOR GOCR

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07SANJOSE428 2007-03-05 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
VZCZCXYZ0000
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHSJ #0428/01 0642030
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 052030Z MAR 07
FM AMEMBASSY SAN JOSE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7413
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
UNCLAS SAN JOSE 000428 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPT FOR WHA/CEN JASON MACK, WHA/EPSC AND DS/IP/WHA 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PGOV ELAB ASEC PINR CS
SUBJECT: ANTI-CAFTA MARCH STRATEGIC VICTORY FOR GOCR 
 
REF: A. 06 SAN JOSE 2431 
     B. SAN JOSE 361 
 
------- 
SUMMARY 
------- 
 
1. (SBU) The most recent, and probably the last large 
anti-CAFTA protest march took place without incident on 
February 26.  Participation was only slightly higher than a 
similar protest last October, and the event was generally 
peaceful.  We judge the event to have been a tactical draw, 
in that both sides can claim success, but a strategic victory 
for the GOCR, since the protest changed nothing.  CAFTA 
continues to wind its way through the torturous Costa Rican 
legislative process, which in itself presents challenges 
enough to ratification.  END SUMMARY. 
 
----------------------------- 
ANOTHER MONDAY, ANOTHER MARCH 
----------------------------- 
 
2. (U) On February 26, another anti-CAFTA march took place 
through the streets of San Jose, culminating with a rally in 
front of the national legislature. Various speakers, 
including ex-president Rodrigo Carazo (Unidad, 1978-1982), 
denounced the Agreement and called for the Arias 
administration to withdraw it from the legislative process 
and hold a full national dialogue on the issue.  An umbrella 
group of labor unions, university students and professors, 
small farmers, and various social organizations participated, 
although estimated union participation was lower than during 
last October,s protest (Ref A).  The colorful, carnival-like 
event even featured small children wearing red buttons 
stating "Venezuela is a friend, CAFTA is the enemy." 
Citizen's Action Party (PAC) president Otton Solis joined the 
marchers as did the 17 legislators from his party and the two 
others opposed to CAFTA. 
 
3. (SBU) Estimates of the crowd size varied, as the protest 
got off to a languid start.  The national police publicly 
estimated that 10,000 to 20,000 people eventually 
participated, while leading periodical "La Nacion" claimed 
23,500 were involved.  Our best sources in the security 
services estimated the crowd at 7,000, which puts this 
protest on par with, or only a little larger than, the 
October events, despite the use of buses by the opposition to 
bring in more protesters from outside San Jose.  Even the 
media estimate (exaggerated on our view) was far fewer than 
the 50,000 protesters organizers had predicted. 
 
--------------------- 
PEACEFUL, AS PROMISED 
--------------------- 
 
4. (U) Protest organizers, generally kept their promise to 
keep the event peaceful (Ref B).  The main highway between 
San Jose and Limon was blockaded briefly near Siquirres, but 
after the police arrived and a few arrests made (peacefully), 
the line of waiting tractor-trailers was moving again. Police 
had pre-positioned units at potential chokepoints around the 
country in anticipation of precisely this sort of action. 
Security was tight at the national legislature, with unarmed 
female police officers positioned along the metal barricades 
(politely but firmly) to discourage any attempt to enter the 
facility.  Some union leaders warned the media that 
heavily-armed, Colombian-trained riot police were ready 
to swoop in on innocent marchers, but this wild claim 
found no traction.  The legislature kept a regular schedule 
in the morning, but the afternoon plenary session was 
canceled due to the lack of a quorum.  (Between legislators 
traveling, locked out of the building or protesting, only 35 
were available.  A quorum is 38.)  The politicians quickly 
took advantage of their free afternoon, however, to work 
the crowd.  Even legislators aligned with the GOCR 
congratulated the protesters for keeping the peace, and 
defended their right to protest.  Public services were 
largely unaffected, and almost 80 percent of teachers were in 
class nationwide, about the same as during October's strike. 
There were no protests near the Embassy, nor were Embassy 
operations affected in any way. 
 
------------------- 
LAST OF THE MARCHES 
------------------- 
 
5. (U) As expected, both sides claimed victory and applauded 
Costa Rica,s "exemplary democracy."  As Minister of 
Government Arias made clear in a post-protest televised 
face-off with Eugenio Trejos (National Front for the Fight 
Against CAFTA), the GOCR has no intention of changing its 
plans.  The CAFTA ratification process would continue. Trejos 
and labor union leaders acknowledged that the February 26 
event likely ended the march-and-rally phase of the fight 
against CAFTA.  However, Trejos, voiced concerns of possible 
violence by radical elements if the government ignored 
the call of the street and proceeded anyway with CAFTA. 
Public sector union leader Albino Vargas was more blunt, 
repeating his (now familiar) refrain that only through 
national strikes and "a referendum in the streets," can the 
"unconstitutional" and "illegitimate" CAFTA ratification be 
halted. 
 
------- 
COMMENT 
------- 
 
6. (SBU) The February 26 events did soften the face of the 
anti-CAFTA protests, but that was all.  The GOCR emerged with 
the upper hand, and can concentrate now on overcoming the 
challenges and delays to CAFTA inside the legislature. 
Ironically, the anti-CAFTA bloc,s earlier constitutional 
challenge to CAFTA fast track rules probably absorbed some of 
the energy from this protest.  Instead of taking place with a 
ratification vote imminent, the march took place as CAFTA 
supporters and opponents were waiting for a Supreme Court 
decision on the proposed legislative rules.  The 
opposition,s hoped for best case scenario, a public display 
of overzealous police suppression of protesters, failed to 
materialize, due to foresight and planning by the Ministry of 
Security.  Call this a strategic victory for the Arias 
Administration. 
WEITZENKORN