The TLC Referendum – the International Observers

Our International Observers mission, organized by the UPEACE professor Tatiana Benevidas, counted some 27 people. Given my unique “non-official” status as I was just going along, I was allowed walking around the election areas asking political questions and given how I looked as official as anyone else in the group I was allowed to go everywhere they went, including the evening reception where the preliminary results of the Referendum were presented by the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones to the ministers, media, some international parties and us. I found the different voting sites very interesting and will hopefully, if I ever get past the technical complexities, be posting my favorite video clips from this day.

In many ways the Costa Rican people seemed to regard the whole Referendum as a sort of national celebration of democracy and people were just hanging around in and around the voting places… like for the presidential elections, there was a children´s vote in primary and high schools on whether to adopt the TLC or not. While I´m not sure what was their result, I hear they did not elect the same president as the grown-ups but one of his competitors. Costa Rica really does have a beautiful democratic culture and like Iceland they don´t have an army. Still, democratic participation has suffered a lot in recent years according to Tatiana. Before, the abstinance rates used be around 20%, for the last elections and for the Referendum some 60% participated.

The bus of International Observers opened up for bets regarding the results of the Referendum after visiting the fourth polling station. I put my money on 51% for the SI… but the Quarter-Icelander Shawn got the prize with his 52% for the SI when the results came in. The TLC was accepted by the national majority of 51.6%. Quite interesting given how the Catholic Church vocally supported the NO side together with all the consciously leftist political parties and student groups… but maybe not surprising given how much better funded the SI side was taking over television prime time with emotional pro-SI celebrities and distributing half the amazon forest in the form of ‘SI’ pamplets and flags. Half the crowd wore SI and NO t-shirts… so it wasn´t exactly a ‘blind’ guess when I made my prediction about the results!

While my host-family wanted to make the decision easy by just asking me for whom to vote, things got complicated when I could by no means make up my mind – I would answer their questions by debating myself on the issue coming to a different decision every day leading to the elections. In the end I felt like the Referendum had less to do with the economic pros and cons of the treaty than picking sides on whether to align with the capialist US or the Latin American Axis of Evil & Socialism.

The day before the Referendum, the White House released a press statement saying that if the Costa Ricans rejected the treaty, there would be no second chance. “The politics of Fear” the leftists called it and I agree that the SI campaign went a little over the line… and that´s not the only reason why I was leaning towards the ‘NO’. Given my own political stance, it was amusing how the ‘SI t-shirts’ celebrated my arrival at every polling station clapping and shouting “God bless America”…

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