Feminist International Radio Endeavour

June 2007

By FIRE – Feminist International Radio Endeavour
Radio Internacional Feminista

June 23, 2007



By Margaret Thompson & María Suárez

Despite enormous pressure from the Costa Rican and US governments, Costa Rica is the only Central American country that has not ratified CAFTA -- the Central American Free Trade Agreement.  Heated debate and a growing social and popular grassroots movement, joined by former presidents, First Ladies, and former government officials in opposition to the treaty have resulted in a call for a public referendum in October of this year.  Broad resistance to CAFTA in Costa Rica is also evident in recent public opinion polls.

FIRE will be taking to the US Social Forum a Costa Rican women´s initiative calling for solidarity  in their resistance to CAFTA. The initiative will bring to the Forum the  “Quilt of our Dreams” where women from the U.S. can paint or  write their messages of solidarity with women in Central America. 

Women´s organizations in Costa Rica have created the coalition "Women Against CAFTA" (Mujeres Contra el TLC) to mobilize for the NO vote on the referendum. They reject CAFTA because of its impact in eroding the national Constitution, which is based on a social and political framework that emphasizes a State protector of human rights, a participatory democracy and a social services system involving the collective ownership of the commons (environment, water, electricity, airwaves and telecommunications).   If ratified, CAFTA would  override the Constitution and lead to privatization of the commons.

What YOU can do:

*Look for FIRE with the anti-CAFTA banner at the Social Forum and write a message

*Write to FIRE with a message of solidarity and we will add it to the banner

*Write to your US Congressional representatives and ask them to oppose CAFTA in its current form


Women contribute to banner
during rally at constitutional court

Banner by "Women Against CAFTA"

Costa Rica as an Endangered Species

"Our country is an endangered species," stated Maria Suárez and Guadalupe Urbina of Costa Rica, when they visited the Global Fund for Women in San Francisco last February. “We need a population that is engaged to save it. Much of what has made Costa Rica a role model for democracy could be placed at risk because of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and other economic policies.” 


BriBri indigenous women create
their part of the banner

Women Against CAFTA Coalition
creating banner


Sixty years ago, after a revolution to overthrow the dictatorship of Tinoco, Costa Rica made the decision to dismantle the army.  At that time, the leaders also created a social system dedicated to providing services for people and protecting human rights. In addition, Costa Rica safeguarded the “commons”, which includes the environment (of which 60 percent is protected), and the notion that electricity, telecommunications and water belong to the society, and should not be privatized. Costa Rica developed a constitution and political process that established a space for people to work together to improve their nation. This is what has allowed the women's movement to achieve constitutional amendments that protect women's rights.

Impact of CAFTA & Neoliberal Economic Policies on Women

Reports from Estado de la Nacion (State of the Nation), and on Human Development from the UNDP (UN Development Program) show women’s growing impoverishment or "feminization of poverty" as a result of neo-liberal policies, including those emphasized in CAFTA.  The reasons for this are that women have always been the "poorest of the poor," but increased privatization has led to higher health and education costs, such that a growing number of families cannot afford proper medical care, nor to send their children to school.  And it is the women who take on the extra tasks as substitute nurses, caretakers or teachers, often in addition to working at paid jobs.

Cuts in public spending have led to elimination of state jobs, particularly those held by women, and many end up in private sector service jobs with low pay, few benefits and no job security. Women are more likely to put themselves last,  focusing more on their families when it comes to limited availability of food, education, and health care, and so are far more likely to be malnourished, illiterate, and have chronic health problems left untreated. In addition, declines in economic prosperity have contributed to a deterioration of social conditions, with widespread increases in crime and also violence, particularly against women.

CAFTA and neoliberal economic policies also have a devastating impact on the environment, with greater emphasis on agricultural expert production which has provided jobs but has also led to greater pollution and environmental damage.  Bananas, vegetables and flowers, and coffee production all require enormous amounts of fertilizer and pesticides, all of which may contribute to health and fertility problems among workers and nearby residents, and particularly women. 

Growing Grassroots Opposition to CAFTA

CAFTA is a free trade agreement with the United States that according to Eva Carazo Vargas, a trade and agricultural analyst with the International Relations Center (IRC) Americas Program, is "part of the Bush Administration's strategy to bilaterally impose a dependent free-trade regime, given its failure to achieve its objectives in multilateral forums such as the World Trade Organization or the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA)."  But the negotiations were closed to the public, which has triggered demands for greater public involvement and dialogue as the Legislative Assembly debates a vote on whether to ratify CAFTA in order for it to take effect.

The struggle over CAFTA has generated an enormous grassroots social and popular movement with hundreds of forums and meetings organized to inform people and encourage dialogue and debate.  Likewise, tens of thousands of people have joined street demonstrations in opposition to CAFTA, representing a wide diversity of groups such as the coalition of "Women Against CAFTA", teachers, unions, indigenous, environmentalist, student, academic, religious and cultural groups, cooperatives, business and politicians. 

Opposition to CAFTA is growing, despite millions of dollars spent by the Arias administration in ongoing media campaigns funded by large corporations and private pro-CAFTA foundation money, that include tactics ranging from promises of great economic benefits and half a million new jobs, to fear tactics about the commercial repercussions against Costa Rican industries and trade by the United States should the treaty be rejected.   But according to Carazo, "The Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTA) offers Costa Rica practically no additional benefit aside from those it already has in terms of trade with the United States, and a positive impact on employment has been belied by technical projected impact models."  

The country is now awaiting the results of a constitutional challenge against CAFTA with the Sala IV (Constitutional Court), because the free trade agreement would override the Costa Rican constitution in application of trade regulations.   A legal decision is expected in mid-July.  In addition, the public will vote on the referendum on the treaty in October. 

Opposition to CAFTA has also found its way in the U.S. Congress and Democrat Majority disagrees with some of its clauses also. Both Costa Rican and USA citizens and opposing parties are calling for a total revision of the Treaty under discussion, in order to guarantee protection of rights in both countries.


Some of this report is based on the blog article, "Maria Suarez on FIRE" in the Global Fund for Women newsletter from April 2007 (http://www.globalfundforwomen.org/cms/content/blogcategory/106/272/) and also the article, "Why Costa Rica is Opposed to CAFTA" by Eva Carazo Vargas of the IRC Americas Program at: www.americas.irc-online.org .


For more information, contact María Suárez Toro of FIRE during the WSSF at maria@radiofeminista.net or call 720-333-9315 or Cindy Clark of Just Associates, Inc. at cac@justassociates.org.

To follow FIRE’s coverage of the USSF 2007, go to
www.radiofeminista.org/ (Spanish) or www.radiofeminista.org/indexeng.htm (English).  

For more information about the WSSF go to: www.wssf.org