Costa Rica approves CAFTA-DR

Yesterday, Costa Rica’s voters approved ratification of the Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR). This is good news for most Costa Rican consumers and workers, but not for the country’s radical trade unions. As my friend Juan Carlos Hidalgo noted in The Miami Herald on Friday (in an op ed which he called his final contribution to the debate prior to the vote):

Despite being one of the countries most open to trade in Latin America, Costa Rica is the only signatory nation that has not yet ratified this agreement — and may become the only one to reject it. But if the country continues on its current course, Costa Ricans may also reject an essential foundation of its liberal democracy: the peaceful resolution of internal debates…

CAFTA’s opponents have routinely threatened its supporters with violence, and supporters have often had to be escorted by police during community debates. In public universities, students who favor the agreement have been physically prevented from distributing literature. In one widely publicized case, a student was attacked.

The leader of the NO to CAFTA campaign, Eugenio Trejos, president of the state-owned Technological Institute, has repeatedly claimed that CAFTA will pass over his dead body.

And who outside was supporting CAFTA’s thuggish internal opponents?

The consequences of rejecting CAFTA go beyond the resulting loss of competitiveness to the Costa Rican economy. It would make Arias a lame duck president only 1 ½ years into his four-year term and embolden the hard left leading into the general elections of 2010. It comes as no surprise, then, that Fidel Castro, Hugo Chávez and Daniel Ortega have all publicly called for CAFTA’s defeat in the referendum.

Strangely, even as Ortega fulminated against CAFTA, Nicaragua remained a party to the agreement, and he had made no serious moves to withdraw from it — essentially asking Costa Rica to disadvantage itself opposite Nicaragua in terms of access to the U.S. market.

Of course, the treaty isn’t perfect, as Fran Smith noted in a paper on the agreement, but its rejection anywhere would have carried severe negative consequences. The rogues’ gallery of opponents should make clear that the treaty will help secure not only the region’s economic future — important as that is — but also its very security in the face of an authoritarian tide.