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Viewing cable 07SANJOSE1820, COSTA RICA: AMBASSADORQS LISTENING TOUR GENERATES

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07SANJOSE1820 2007-10-05 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
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHSJ #1820/01 2782028
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 052028Z OCT 07
FM AMEMBASSY SAN JOSE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8996
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC IMMEDIATE
UNCLAS SAN JOSE 001820 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE 
 
SIPDIS 
 
FOR WHA FO, WHA/CEN, WHA/PDA AND H 
 
E.O. 12958:  N/A 
TAGS: ETRD PGOV PREL CS
SUBJECT: COSTA RICA: AMBASSADORQS LISTENING TOUR GENERATES 
ONE-SIDED CRITICISM FROM CAFTA OPPONENTS 
 
 
1. (SBU) SUMMARY: From July to September, the Ambassador 
and Emboffs, accompanied by local media, visited companies 
and communities around the country to learn first hand how 
CAFTA will affect Costa Ricans.  These visits gave 
 
employers and employees the opportunity to describe, in 
their own words, the importance of, and benefits from 
CAFTA.  The positive media coverage of this "istening 
tour" quickly attracted criticism by radical CAFTA 
opponents, who filed a formal complaint with the Supreme 
Electoral Commission (TSE) on August 10, alleging foreign 
"interference".  The TSE's ruling on September 10 (which 
was publicized on September 20), effectively dismissed the 
matter by transferring the case to the Ministry of Foreign 
Affairs and suggesting that the Ambassador did not run 
afoul of Costa Rican law.  The issue dropped out of the 
public eye, until resurrected by visiting U.S. Members of 
Congress, and has not been a major factor in the debate 
leading to the October 7 CAFTA referendum.  See para 10 for 
details on the Ambassador's itinerary.  END SUMMARY. 
 
================================ 
THE TRIPS AND THE MEDIA COVERAGE 
================================ 
 
2. (U) The AmbassadorQs first stops were to visit small and 
medium enterprises (SMEs) and agricultural producers in 
Costa RicaQs central valley on July 25 and 26. The 
companies supply machined parts to larger exporting firms. 
The farmers grow vegetables for export. All depend heavily 
on reliable, low-cost access to international markets. 
These trips generated two articles in the widest- 
circulating national daily on July 27, one of which quoted 
an owner of a small chayote packaging plant who said that 
the decision to ratify CAFTA is "life or death" for his 
company.  During the same visits, the Ambassador told 
accompanying reporters what he had heard directly from 
Costa Ricans; "CAFTA is key to the future of our 
businesses". 
 
3. (SBU) On subsequent trips, reporters often asked the 
Ambassador and the entrepreneurs and community leaders he 
was visiting their opinions on CAFTA and the referendum. 
In response, the Ambassador described the clear benefits of 
free trade to Costa Rica and stressed that the U.S. is a 
party to CAFTA and thus hopes that Costa Rica will join. 
He consistently made clear, however, that the decision to 
ratify or not is up to the Costa Ricans, and he 
deliberately avoided mention of which way the electorate 
should vote.  The trips generated a number of news articles 
that provided additional perspectives from businesspeople 
on how CAFTA will benefit specific sectors of the Costa 
Rican economy (see septel on media reaction). 
 
============ 
THE REACTION 
============ 
 
4. (U) The early trips and initial press coverage generated 
quick reactions from well-known CAFTA opponents.  On July 
27, public worker's union (ANEP) leader Albino Vargas 
issued a press release accusing the Ambassador of becoming 
the "emergency chief" of the "si" campaign, in order to 
"stave off disaster" in the referendum, and of 
inappropriate interference in Costa Rican internal affairs. 
On August 10, Jorge Arguedas, head of the militant anti- 
CAFTA telecommunications workers' union (FIT,) issued a 
release lambasting the Ambassador for visiting companies in 
Costa Rica and answering questions from the press about 
CAFTA. 
 
5. (U) The same day, union leaders from two of the 
government-owned monopolies (Fabio Chaves of ICE and Luis 
Chavarria of INSS) joined Vargas in filing a formal 
complaint against the Ambassador with the TSE for 
"interfering" in the CAFTA campaign.  This was not an 
unusual move.  Both sides have deluged the TSE with 
complaints as a campaign tactic, with political parties, 
private individuals, companies, and public officials, 
including President Arias, as the targets.  Opposition PAC 
legislator Francisco Molina joined in by writing on August 
10 to complain about the Ambassador's "proselytizing" in 
favor of the "yes" vote and "interference" in domestic 
politics.  Molina was the only one of 57 legislators to 
send such a letter.  (Text of his letter and our response, 
dated 10 September, were emailed to WHA/CEN.) 
 
============= 
THE COMPLAINT 
 
============= 
 
6. (U) The complaint contained several factual errors.  It 
alleged that the Ambassador intended to visit companies in 
order to speak to their employees about CAFTA in an 
environment where employees were compelled to listen.  It 
also stated that the Ambassador's visits were "obviously" 
meant to encourage people to vote in favor of CAFTA in the 
referendum.  Neither assertion reflected what actually took 
place, nor our two-fold intent, which was: 1) to hear 
first-hand from those potentially affected by CAFTA, and 2) 
to provide Costa Rican entrepreneurs and community leaders 
an opportunity to speak to a wider audience via the local 
and national media.  The unions' denuncia also overlooked 
the fact that the Ambassador used these trips to conduct 
routine diplomatic business, such as donating English- 
language books and baseball equipment to needy communities, 
meeting with local officials and political leaders, and 
thanking Peace Corps Volunteers for their important work 
around the country. 
 
7. (U) The core of the complaint focused on the legality of 
a foreigner becoming involved in an internal political 
issue.  On September 10, the TSE responded.  The Tribunal's 
ruling went into detail to suggest that the Ambassador had 
done nothing wrong, since foreigners enjoy the same rights 
as Costa Ricans to exercise free speech but are prohibited 
from taking part in political campaigns.  The TSE 
interpreted this to include collecting signatures for a 
referendum, paying for campaign costs (including for 
propaganda), or conducting surveys.  Obviously, none of 
these applied to the AmbassadorQs travels.  After offering 
their critique of the union's denuncia, the TSE then punted 
to the MFA, pointing out that the Ambassador enjoyed 
diplomatic immunities outside the purview of the Tribunal. 
The MFA accepted action on September 21. 
 
=================== 
COMMENT: THE IMPACT 
=================== 
 
8. (SBU) This was a one-sided complaint, by the "usual 
anti-American suspects," filed as a partisan campaign 
tactic.  In fact, even with the "denuncia," the alleged 
Embassy's or USG's role has not been an issue at all in the 
referendum campaign, to the surprise (and consternation) of 
some of our opposition contacts.  No GOCR or "si" campaign 
official has viewed the Embassy's role as "interference" 
nor have any respected media outlets expressed this view 
(beyond reporting the complaints from the "no" campaign.) 
That the TSE used so many pages to undercut the union 
leadersQ complaint makes clear the Tribunal did not believe 
it had merit.  TSE staff acknowledged to us that as far as 
they can recall, no foreigner has ever been sanctioned for 
the activities alleged in the complaint against the 
Ambassador. 
 
9. (SBU) The issue was fading from public view until 
resurrected as the result of a private visit to Costa Rica 
by two U.S. Members of Congress September 21-24.  A press 
conference, held at PAC leader Otton Solis' home on 
September 23, interviews granted by the two Members, and 
media reporting since, have helped keep the "interference" 
story alive.  Opposition press releases also stirred the 
pot.  On October 3, for example, the PAC party printed, 
verbatim, a letter from Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA) to the 
Secretary questioning the Embassy's role in the referendum 
 
SIPDIS 
campaign. The Sanchez letter received wide local press 
coverage on October 4. 
 
============= 
THE ITINERARY 
============= 
 
10. (U) For the record, the following lists the date and 
background for each visit, and the entities visited: 
 
A. July 25 - Heredia 
The two SMEs visited in this trip participate in PROVEE, a 
program of the Costa Rican Ministry of Foreign Trade 
(COMEX) that links SME suppliers with larger multi-national 
businesses.  The owners of these small businesses told the 
media that that CAFTA will benefit SMEs much more than 
larger companies. 
 
-  Etipress Limitada - printer of product labels 
-  Serpimetal - metal finisher 
 
B. July 26 - Cartago 
On this trip independent agricultural producers spoke to 
the press about their dependence on trade for their 
livelihood and how they need CAFTA to ensure future access 
to the U.S. market. 
 
-  Chayote growers and exporters 
-  ADAPEX (mini-vegetable producers) 
-  PRETECSA (SME machine shop) 
 
C. August 30 - Grecia and Pavas 
During this visit the owners of two textile plants 
confirmed to the press that without CAFTA they would need 
to move operations to another Central American country. 
Likewise, the owners of the plants said that despite 
allegations by the "No" campaign that textiles were dead in 
Costa Rica with or without CAFTA, their enterprises could 
remain viable in the face of increasing Chinese competition 
in the sector. 
 
-  Rincon Grande S.A. (two separate plants - fabric and t- 
shirt producer) 
 
D. September 10 - Puntarenas 
One year ago the Caldera Port began operating under a 
concession; a private company now manages operations.  In 
the ensuing year, the port has realized substantial gains 
in productivity.  On this trip the manager of a tuna plant 
explained to the press that the Costa Rican tuna industry 
will essentially leave the country if CAFTA fails.  The 
Ambassador also visited a shelter for abused children where 
a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer has spent the last year 
working. 
 
-  Port of Caldera 
-  Sardimar (tuna and vegetable processing company) 
-  Peace Corps Volunteer project (PANI Children's Shelter) 
 
E. September 12-13 - Perez Zeledon 
During this trip, the Ambassador met with a wide range of 
entities to learn more about how SMEs are developing in the 
region, to visit with Peace Corps Volunteers, and to donate 
books to a local secondary school.  As this was the 
Ambassador's first official visit to this canton, it 
generated a great deal of attention in the region. 
 
- Casa de la Juventud (Center to assist at-risk youth 
complete school and develop job skills) 
- Courtesy call with local political leaders 
- Peace Corps Volunteer project (Tierra Prometida 
elementary school) 
- Peace Corps Volunteer project (Centro Biologico Quebradas 
- Conservation Center) 
- Meeting with heads of regional national parks and heads 
of local environmental organizations. 
- Meeting with PYMEs-Brunca project leader and participants 
(PYMEs-Brunca is a program that assists SMEs in developing 
business plans, finding markets, and navigating 
bureaucracy) 
- Glove manufacturer that participates in the PYMEs-Brunca 
program 
- Sports apparel manufacturer that participates in the 
PYMEs-Brunca program 
- Visit to local market to view micro and small 
entrepreneurs at point of sell, many of who are 
participants in the PYMEs-Brunca program 
- Townhall Meeting to discuss consular issues and answer 
questions on working in the U.S. 
- Courtesy call with local press outlet 
- Lunch with heads of Coopealianza and Coopeagri, two local 
financial institutions that work with SMEs 
- Donation of English language books at UNESCO school 
 
F. September 18 - Limon 
The Limon province is the poorest region in the country. 
On this visit to Limon, the Ambassador was able to visit an 
entrepreneur that is trying to start up one of the first 
service-sector companies in the region.  The Ambassador 
also donated little-league baseball equipment to the city. 
 
- Donation of baseball equipment at Big Boy Stadium 
- Courtesy call with local political leaders 
- Visit to Admire America (the only local call center) 
 
 
LANGDALE