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September 21, 2007

ScareGate Outed in Costa Rica

The Los Angeles TImes has a great story on Costa Rica's upcoming CAFTA referendum, as well as the ScareGate tactics that the anti-fair trade side is using.

But that was before a memo written by CAFTA advocates was leaked to the public this month, fueling outrage here. The document, dated July 29 and written by two high-level government officials with close ties to Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, outlined a campaign of dirty tricks intended to sway voters.

The authors proposed smearing CAFTA opponents by linking them to leftist firebrands such as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Cuban President Fidel Castro. They called for a public relations campaign to "stimulate fear" among citizens about the alleged dangers of snubbing the deal.

They also advocated punishing local officials -- by withholding funds for public programs in their regions -- if their constituents repudiated CAFTA.

CAFTA opponents have cried foul while supporters have suddenly found themselves on the defensive over a measure that appeared headed to victory. Prominent CAFTA backers, including Arias, have distanced themselves from the memo, which was addressed to him and his brother, Presidency Minister Rodrigo Arias.

One of the authors, Second Vice President Kevin Casas, has resigned from the "yes" campaign and temporarily stepped down from his Cabinet post as planning minister while election officials investigate whether any laws were broken.

"It's a bombshell," said Luis Guillermo Solis, a political science professor at the University of Costa Rica who opposes CAFTA. "It's Watergate."

Solis predicted that the memo would spark a backlash among undecided voters and citizens fed up with corruption scandals that have roiled Costa Rica in recent years.

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