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As Congress discusses Peru FTA, grassroots opposition grows

Breaking News About Pro-CAFTA Electoral Manipulation

A very important document (PDF) just came over the wires that describes the dirty backroom politics of the "yes to CAFTA" campaign being run by President Oscar Arias. Costa Rica is the first country in the world to ever have a popular referendum on a trade agreement, scheduled for October. But while there have been innumerable restrictions put on the fair trade side of the campaign (the "no" campaign), the "yes" campaign is operating with the full resources and bully pulpit of the state. Says my colleague Stephanie Burgos from Oxfam about the document:

The document was published in Costa Rica by el Semanario Universidad (a weekly newspaper published a prestigious university) and both authors have accepted it as legitimate.  The authors are close advisors to the President: Casas is his vice-president and Minister of Planning and Sanchez is a cousin of the President and a Member of Congress.

Here are some key excerpts (my translation):

  • "The campaign around the FTA is becoming what it should never have been permitted: a fight between the rich and the poor, between the people and the government elites. Our opposition is formidable: universities, the church, unions, environmentalists, etc. And on the other side in favor of the FTA, there's only the government, the media, and big business. That's not a way to win."
  • The Congress needs to go into recess so that "our representatives" don't have to show up to work and can agitate for the "yes" campaign.
  • On local officials: "We have to make all of the mayors responsible for the campaign in their districts, and let them know, as crudely as possible, a very simple idea: the mayor that doesn't win their districts on October 7 is not going to receive a cent from the [central] government for the next 3 years."
  • Launching a media campaign, with the following tactics: "Get rid of the notion that this is a fight between the rich and the poor. This requires choosing the face in the mainstream media for the yes campaign and use almost exclusively the faces of workers and small businessmen."
  • And... "Stimulate fear. This fear is of four categories: 1. Fear of the loss of jobs... 2. Fear of the attacks on democratic institutions... 3. Fear of foreign intervention... and 4.Fear of the effect of a no triumph [on governability]."
  • "it's crucial that 'yes' be associated with democracy and stability... and that 'no' be equivalent to violence and disloyalty to democracy. Here's something very important: the campaign has stopped being rational and, as a consequence, about the actual content of the FTA. Thus, the argument of defending democracy is the only resource we have left to mobilize the emotion of the people."
  • "We must rub in all over the place the connection of the no campaign with Fidel, Chavez and Ortega, in very strident terms. It's possible that this kind of campaign will turn off some people, but it's almost sure that it will have a significant impact among the more simple people, which is where we have the biggest problems."

There's a lot more in the document, but what really grabs one's eye is how these kind of manipulations of public opinion and the truth of economic policy occur every single day all around the world, even in the United States.

[MONDAY UPDATE: Costa Rica's English language newspaper ran a story about this today, confirming the authenticity of the memo.]

Progressives are a special target for this kind of dirty campaign, where inside-the-Beltway operatives are constantly trying to marginalize hopeful and forward-looking progressive movements and candidates through lies, intimidation and name-calling.

Sure, there are some things that play differently in Costa Rica (their export orientation to a much larger market, their pride in being the longest running and strongest democracy in the region, etc.). The Bush administration and their allies have been trying to scare Costa Ricans into thinking that Chavez will invade (ludicrous - Chavez maintains good relations even with right-wing Colombia because of this nationalist stance) and their country will fall apart (not true - what they sell the U.S. is mostly duty-free anyway) if they reject NAFTA expansion.

But Arias' goons have identified that the reality of class interests in a different kind of trade model is one of the biggest threats to the "yes" campaign - and that the "yes" campaign's only weapons are bribery and threats of elected officials, tokenism in the media, and trying to scare the electorate. Kinda like here for the last few decades, eh?

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