Tomorrow is the national referendum on the TLC – the free trade agreement between Costa Rica, the other Central American countries and the US. While I was very much on the ‘NO’ side from the minute I heard about the TLC three weeks ago, the day I arrived, but now I´m on both sides. Like many Ticos I was viewing the TLC more in ideological than economic terms, seeing the national referendum as an opportunity for the Ticos to choose whether to maintain their rather socialist system or embrace capitalism and in many ways I still believe this is the case.
There are several reasons the government failed to ratify the TLC, calling for the first national referendum in the history of Costa Rica. President Arias was elected into office by only a 0.5% margin and the governmental structure recently changed from a bipartisan to a multiparty system. The divided nature of the government and the disputed legitimacy of the president made a naional referendum seem like a feasible way out of an institutional deadlock. Then again, the President and some highlevel politicians are determined in passing the ‘SI’ and rumors around that the vote tomorrow will be rigged or ignored in the case of ‘NO’. Before I arrived there was this big scandal because some high level politican had been threathening regional governors that if the ‘SI’ didn´t pass in their regions they would lose much of their government funding. The ‘SI’ campaign here is also a lot better financed than the ‘NO’ with an overload of advertisements and emotional rhetoric.
Also adding to my negativity is US history of meddling with Latin American politics, creating puppet governments and exploiting Latin American labor and resources. As far as I know NAFTA was bad for Mexico but then again the Canadians seem to believe NAFTA is working out well for Canada. I am moving towards the ‘SI’ side little by little. The government here has monopolies on health care, education, social security, insurance, and telecommunications among other services. I think some of these services really need to be opened up to competition, especially insurance and telecommunication services that are offered at some ridiculous prices here… I was going to buy a cell phone despite the ridiculous prices at which they sell them but when I asked how much buying a line was, they replied that there were none available… I could maybe get a sim card sometime in January or buy it on the black market. When it comes to the free trade of goods, Costa Rica already has a sort of a free trade agreement with the US so this one hardly changes much – it´s more like an ideological statement.
Yesterday I went to the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights for an informational meeting for the Transparency International Observers of the election. I am not signed up as an official observer as the students signed up some 2 weeks before I arrived but I´m still going with them filming our whole adventure… starting at 6:45 tomorrow morning.