The CAFTA fight is on fire in Costa Rica, which this Sunday is scheduled to have the world's first ever binding popular referendum on a trade deal. Last weekend, over 100,000 fair traders filled the streets of San Jose, the capital city, calling for a "no" vote on CAFTA. As Tasini reminds us, that would be the equivalent of 7.5 million Americans protesting, and scarcely covered at all by the U.S. press.
The "yes" campaign, as we've written here, has been increasingly resorting to scare tactics, including using the threat of Costa Rica's U.S. market access disappearing if CAFTA is not ratified. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) already traveled to Costa Rica to make it clear that such threats were baseless. Similarly, letters from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) of the House Foreign Affairs Committee make clear that this is a ridiculous threat not based on law, history, or the intention of Congress. Here's a great You Tube video on this series of events.
Boy, are the scaremongers upset now. First, the business groups in Costa Rica behind the anti-fair trade campaign started running attacks ads against Sanders and Michaud, in an editing style that would make Anton LaVey envious. (Click for the video, it's a hoot!) Second, the NAFTA-loving Wall Street Journal opinion page ripped into Democrats, accusing them of trying "to undermine the ... argument that might help get Cafta approved." (Too bad that "argument" was more like gloves-off foreign bullying based on lies.)
We've almost hit the trifecta. For the final act, the Bush administration, whose ambassador (a big time GOP fundraiser) has been making the false threat of preference expiration for nearly two years only to be caught in the act by Congress, concedes that "no one can say for sure" what will happen with Costa Rica's preferences.
The truth is, it's almost certain that Costa Rica will maintain its duty-free access, because the bulk of it was made permanent in 1990 or under the WTO in 1995, and the tiny part (less than 10% of its U.S. exports) first approved in 2000 that requires renewal will almost certainly be renewed next year, for reasons explained in this memo.