This breaking news has the "no" campaign accusing the electoral authorities of collusion with the Arias administration, in particular by allowing campaigning in the media (including about the Bush threats) in violation of the media blackout:
Among the most serious violations: the "yes" campaign continued to distribute propaganda, organize rallies and placed a great number of TV ads within two days before the referendum, in violation of the Electoral Code (Art. 85(g)), which clearly establishes that "During the two days immediately before and the day of the referendum, it is prohibited to distribute propaganda of any kind related to the issue at hand," a requirement strictly adhered to by the "no" campaign...
Clearly, the national media became channels for the Arias administration and treaty promoters, openly distributing their propaganda; just one instance is the wide broadcast coverage given to [Bush's] U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab's statement, where she categorically denied the possibility of renegotiating the agreement, and also suggested that the country's Caribbean Basin Initiative benefits would be lost, if the Costa Ricans voted 'no' on the referendum.
All of the above violations were allowed to take place, without the TSE (the body responsible for organizing and enforcing the referendum rules) taking any steps to avoid their continuation. Costa Ricans are indignant over this attitude, and sees the tribunal as sharing the blame for the aforementioned abuses.
There are also accusations of other irregularities, including:
- The massive utilization of "robo-calls" sent via cellphone voice and text message near the time of the vote, with messages like, "I thought the FTA didn't affect me. But Ana is going to lose her job. Let's help her. Vote yes."
- "Yes" campaign material inside some polling stations.
- The "yes" campaign offering $52.89 for a "yes" vote (This is about 2-3 days' wages for the average Costa Rican, earned on one day when all the business are supposed to be closed.)
- Flower exporting firms told their workers not to show up to work on Monday if the "no" won, the implication being they would have to shut down.
- Some polling stations only had red pens, even though only ballots marked with black ink were considered valid by the electoral authorities.
Read the press release here. We'll have more as it develops.
UPDATE, 5:30 pm: The Washington Post puts the real story front and center, in a piece by Manuel Roig-Franzia entitled "Costa Ricans Vote on Trade Pact: White House Pressed for Approval as Heated Campaign Closed":
Costa Rica appeared headed late Sunday toward approval of a trade pact with the United States after a count of 88.7 percent of polling stations showed 51.6 percent of voters in favor of the trade deal. The balloting follows a contentious campaign marked by a scandal that toppled one of the country's vice presidents and a last-minute push for votes by the White House. (emphasis added)