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October 7th, 2007
Today is the Big Day.
Today the citizens of Costa Rica go to the polls to vote for or against approval of the Tratado de Libre Comercio (TLC) or in English, the Free Trade Agreement with the USA.
Copies of the TLC are currently available online, but only the brave need download and read entirely this document. It is mammoth and confusing and requires a huge amount of cross referencing to other places within the document. I admit that I tried, got through maybe 30% of it, then spent a little more time looking only for certain things like the effect on ICE (communications) and insurance. Thus here is my disclaimer that I am not an expert.
This is the first public referendum in the history of Costa Rica, and I will say that I am very impressed! They did this right and all Costa Ricans should be very proud of themselves and their country.
There have been debates, presentations and countless meetings given almost daily by both sides in all parts of Costa Rica. What has to be clear to all who live here is that any Costa Rican who wanted to learn about this document has had almost unlimited resources at their disposal to do so. The point is… if you wanted to learn, you could.
Some did. Some did not. Here is what I found.
For the past month, I have talked with a LOT of Ticos and a fair number of North Americans about their feelings on the TLC. I have come to the conclusion that people generally fit into three categories only two of which can vote.
Category One – Ticos
They are currently employees of CAJA (Social Security), ICE (communications) or the INS (insurance) all groups currently enjoying a monopoly in their area. In general, few monopolies in history have worked for the benefit of those who use their services. The last and perhaps only monopoly that I remember in my life that seemed to work pretty well was the old AT&T / Bell Labs group.
ICE has a jillion employees and I know several well enough to get a what I think is a straight answer. The people I spoke with privately support the TLC while publicly they claim it is terrible. I believe this is due to pressure from the unions and a few co-workers. I have also noticed that the ICE employees who are most competent were almost 100% for the TLC, probably understanding that once Costa Rica opened up, the competent workers would be in demand and would receive higher pay and better benefits like those currently working at Intel, Merck, etc. I am sort of wondering if Intel will even stay here if the TLC does not pass. Its failure to pass last year was the main reason given why they did not build their second huge facility here that would have employees many hundreds of Ticos.
When I ask why they are against the TLC, they give some of the most outrageous responses you can imagine! I have heard about the US Army bases that will open here. How Costa Rica will now have factories making guns and munitions. How Coco Island will become part of the USA. You simply cannot believe the horsepucky some of these folks believe. Sadly, my wife, having worked for CAJA for 32 years brings home these yarns, and because these tales come from folks she has known forever and trusts, she believes (some of) that crap.
Category Two – Ticos
Encompasses all those not working in the above institutions and those not closely related to employees of those companies. The vasy majority are for the TLC. They either have read and debunked for themselves all the huge number of exaggerations or outright lies spread by the TLC contras, or they have actually gone the the meetings and forums to hear both sides.
Sadly, there may not be enough of these informed citizens to make an impact.
Asking why they are for or against gets a lot of replies. Most have reasons tied to their jobs or family businesses. Others are more pragmatic saying that while they are not thrilled with the TLC, it is probably best for the country and without it, Costa Rica may suffer irreparably. This is actually MY viewpoint on it.
Category Three – North Americans
Here I say North American but I really mean Gringos – US Expats.
There are really a fairly large number of US expats here who apparently just plain hate the United States. They think anything tied to the US government cannot be good, only serves business and that if the US is doing anything, it will be because they want to screw another country. The Bush administration has perhaps exacerbated the issue as his management of international relations is suspect, whether good or bad. This is probably deserved, but for some of these folks, it is clear that the sitting president is irrelevant. They just despise their country. Go figure.
When I ask them what part of the TLC offends them or they think is bad for CR, the answer is “ALL OF IT!”, which is of course nonsense. They have read not a word. There are also a fair number of ex-military but I only know one and he is pretty pro USA in all matters. He too admitted he had not read the document.
There are also a large number of liberals here, and they seem to fall into two groups.
Group One chants the mantra “we hate George Bush and so ANYTHING he is connected with is bad by default”. Group Two also hates Bush, but they sort of seem to take Bush out of the equation and form opinions that are at least based on some research. A couple actually KNEW what was in the TLC. Sadly, they too seldom can state exactly what it is they do not like (or like!) about the TLC. The good thing about both these groups is that they do not believe the malarkey spread by the TLC contras.
More liberals than conservatives have actually read ANY of the TLC document.
I also spoke to one two NON Costa Ricans (Latinos) who are praying CR does not approve TLC. Their countries might well enjoy a windfall if the TLC fails. One less competitor!
I guess tomorrow we will have an answer. If the TLC fails, I think a host of bad things could come to pass.
Most assuredly the US will soon abandon the Caribbean accord signed many years ago that protects the signatories from disastrous import duties and provides a lot of benefits. There is simply no reason I can see to have both accords … but who knows? If that happens, it could be disastrous to Costa Rican exports… though who knows what CR’s new relationship with communist China will bring. Those (6 billion or so?) Chinese can eat a lot of bananas and drink a ton of coffee I betcha.
If he TLC passes, it might also not go so good. Certainly heath care and insurance will improve greatly and costs will decrease while coverage may well increase.
ICE and communications though… UGH! This is what a lot of people want…changes in communications and utilities. Well that may not fair so well. Remember after AT&T was split up? They had to sell lines, space, service, routes… to MCI. It did NOT go smoothly as I recall and THAT was with the US federal court serving as a watchdog.
Here, there would be no such supervision. Ugh.
Tomorrow!Filed under Costa Rica, Free Trade Agreement, ICE, TLC | Comments (3)