Feminist International Radio Endeavour- FIRE
President of the Republic, Minister of the Presidency
Some urgent actions to activate the YES campaign for CAFTA
Dear Don Oscar and Don Rodrigo:
After a long conversation Friday, the 27th following a debate about CAFTA in San Isidro de Heredia, an activity that turned out to be very revealing, we decided to send you this memorandum that details some actions that we judge useful to activate immediately the campaign in favor of CAFTA. Obviously, these are not the only actions that need to be done but we think they are important.
This is possibly the most urgent of all. Right now there is no clear orientation about what we must do to win, how to do it and with whom. Worse yet, there is no established mechanism to make these decisions. What we have now is only an operating structure and tactical responses but no strategy. This vacuum has been filled with the decisions, or lack of them, taken by the communications group, which is clearly insufficient. It is essential that the President of the Republic and the Minister of the Presidency be part of that committee.
Here we repeat what one of us wrote almost three years ago in a memo addressed to Marco Vinicio Ruiz: “Neither the Government nor the businessmen alone can win this debate but a coalition can win it.” One of the grave mistakes that the sectors in favor of CAFTA have committed is to delegate its defense to the ones who negotiated the agreement and, in general to the government. Even before the recent scandals that have undermined the trust in the political establishment, the level of credibility of the government was very low and probably insufficient to confer legitimacy to such a controversial project. At this time, no one believes a word coming from either the government or the politicians and for this reason; it is madness to delegate to them the role of defending the treaty. It is crucial to form a coalition and make the defense of CAFTA a collective work not only to gain legitimacy, but also to avoid the imbalance in the discussion that was so obvious during the conflict about the “Combo” in the year 2000, when the organization of the opposition had only the solitary voice of the government as counterweight. It is vital to demonstrate that in discussing CAFTA, there are two large interest blocks, and this presupposes that the sectors in favor, whose interests are just as intense and clear as those of the opposition, must be organized and articulate. This is essential so that the discussion about CAFTA does not meet the same fate as the “Combo.”
The importance of this point cannot be understated. The campaign against CAFTA is turning into what we should never have let it become: a struggle between rich and poor, between the people and the government. The coalition we have against us is powerful: universities, the Church, the trade unions, the environmentalists, etc. And, on the other side, in favor of CAFTA, we only have the government with big business. It cannot be won that way. It is extremely urgent to include in the campaign the small businesses, the solidarists and whatever is left of cooperativism. And, when we say include into the campaign, what we mean is that the faces of some of their leaders “appear” all over the place. Obviously, if these leaders can also control effectively these social movements, so much the better. It is certain that in solidarism in particular, no strong national leaders exist. If that’s the case, we’ll have to create them. We’ll have to give media presence to some faces of solidarism and this in itself will turn them into leaders. Who was Eugenio Trejos in the country 6 months ago? The media exposure turned him into a national leader.
The campaign urgently needs a presence in all the communities of the country. Calling for a recess in Congress is key so we can send our congresspeople – of whom we have greater numbers than the opposition and who have no limitations on how much they can campaign- to the communities where they can organize the campaign “on the ground.” It is clear that this will slow the advancement of the legislative agenda but right now, the agenda is a lower priority problem. The top priority is, of course, to win the referendum. Right now, in any case, Congress is not advancing for lack of a quorum. This leaves us in the worst of all worlds: the press makes the PNL (National Liberation Party) responsible for the lack of a quorum while the opposition (and some of our “allies”) is not perceived as responsible and continues campaigning. Moreover, the continuation of the negotiations in congress, exposes us to constant blackmailing by our legislative “allies” which ends up being reflected in the YES campaign.
This is critical for the same reasons as before: we need a presence in the whole country. There is a letter signed by 72 mayors, which is not entirely despicable. In this letter they offer their support to CAFTA, asking, as can be expected, for certain things in exchange.
The content of this letter has elements that can be discarded, others that are entirely negotiable and others that are frankly positive for the government (for example, they explicitly offer their support to the tax reform.) It is vital to respond properly, promptly and with a grand public gesture to this letter.
But there is more to do, particularly with the 59 PLN mayors. They must be held responsible for the campaign in each municipality and we need to transmit bluntly a very simple idea: the mayor who does not win his municipality Oct.7th will not receive a nickel from the government in the next three years. The same reasoning can be applied to other public officers who can be made responsible for specific districts. In that case, we must remind them of their personal aspirations: winning the referendum is key to their continuing as public officers or to becoming mayors or congresspeople. This is so, not only because the performance of the PNL in the next election will be greatly affected by the result of the referendum, but also because this vote will be used by the leadership of the PNL to assess who has the caliber of a leader and who doesn’t. Many local leaders have not gotten involved in the campaign for fear of getting “burned” before the next election. The reasoning has to be exactly the opposite: the one who does not get involved will be “burned.”
What is at the core of this is a more profound and important point: It is urgent to extend the circle of the people who will be “risking their neck” in this referendum. At this time, there is an attitude in our allies of indifference, as if they thought that the only one affected by a defeat would be the President. It is vital that they understand that they would come out of it very seriously and directly damaged.
To build the social coalition previously mentioned, we have unfortunately very little time. What we have right now is something less acceptable but nevertheless useful: a political coalition. And that implies involving fully the PLN, which is already, by a long shot, the most important actor of that coalition. With the exception of the legislative fraction, until now the role of the organs of the PLN in support of CAFTA have been excessively timid. There isn’t a single official pronouncement in favor of CAFTA, nor a clear directive from the party structure. This has created a great deal of confusion in the leadership that knows very well that a percentage of the party is against CAFTA. The official structure of the PLN (the Director, the Executive Committee) must speak unequivocally in defense of CAFTA, knowing fully well that one of the main winner or loser of the referendum will be the PLN.
Beyond what can be done in communities and businesses, time is so short that we must saturate the media with advertising. Precisely because of the short time frame, it is imperative that we direct the campaign in two directions:
- Fear of loosing jobs. Here we recommend using intensively the testimonies of very simple people in precarious situations who could loose their jobs or have already lost them due to the non-approval of CAFTA. This is crucial to reinforce the idea that this is not a fight between rich and poor. In the same way, it is possible that in specific regions, we can have a great impact highlighting concrete cases of companies that have postponed investments, have eliminated shifts or are considering leaving the country because of the non-approval of CAFTA.
- Fear of the attack on our democratic institutions. It is crucial to turn the YES into an equivalent of democracy, the rule of law and institutions (This is what Eduardo Ulibarri said: we must fill the Yes with values) and the NO into an equivalent of violence and betrayal of democracy. This is something very important: this campaign is no longer rational and not about the content of the Treaty. Thus, the argument about the defense of democracy is the only recourse that is left to mobilize the emotions of people for CAFTA. Right now the people in favor not only don’t have any motivation but they feel intimidated by the motivation demonstrated by the NO people. We have to understand something: no one is ready to “die” for free trade but maybe for democracy. We have to give an ethical motivation for the YES, not only an instrumental one.
- Fear of foreign interference in the NO. At every opportunity we must emphasize the connection between the No and Fidel, Chávez and Ortega in rather strident terms. It is possible that this type of campaigning might disturb some people but it is almost certain that it will have a considerable impact among the most “simple” population where we have the most problems.
- Fear of the effect of a triumph of the NO on the government. All the polls detect an important approval rating of the President and the Government. Many people have not made the link that a NO in the referendum would leave the Government in a very precarious position, mostly ineffective and the country in a situation of being ungovernable. We must make that link. This is an argument that might only work in some sectors but that could be very effective in spreading doubt. There are three questions we have to plant in the minds of the people, that will make their finger shake if they think of voting for the NO:
1. Are they ready to risk the economic stability that most people recognize as a success of the government?
2. Are they ready to go back to the time of Abel, when no one governed, when there was no sense of direction and nothing happened in the country?
3. Have they wondered who will lead the country if the No wins? (Response implied in the question: Albino, Merino or Carazo, etc will rule)
It is very important therefore to strengthen the presence on the radio (local and national), and in the written rural media where we have a big problem. We have to direct our attention to all the opinions programs and improve the publicity standard of the government in a series of radio programs conducted by people favorably disposed to help the government ( Javier Rojas, Jaime Peña, etc.) If the presence of the YES on the radio does not improve drastically, this will continue to manifest itself by our weakness in the rural areas. It is very possible that the problems that we have in the rural areas have less to do with the substance of the campaign (the issues are baldy addressed or not addressed at all) but more to do with the way in which people get informed in the rural areas where radio is a very powerful information tool.
Generate a great quantity of documentation and printed material
about CAFTA and about the opposition that can be easily disseminated
serious problem that we encounter when we want to proselytize for CAFTA
is the complete lack of easily digested material that can circulate
widely. As we already know, this is a point that the NO campaign has
developed particularly well. Right now, they have the country covered
with flyers. The documentation we need is of three types:
Organize a systematic program of visits to businesses by high
employees of the government
Right now, the space for proselytizing that is the easiest to access and offers the best opportunities are the businesses. There are more than a million employees reachable at work. We must organize a systematic effort of visits to the largest companies in the country, with talks in favor of the YES conducted by high-level individuals with documents in hand. No other proselytizing effort is potentially more effective than this. Ideally this supposes five steps:
If 30 officials visit 10 companies a week, we could cover 2500 companies in the next 8 weeks. We must prioritize the largest and the ones focused on exports. What matters is to make sure that the officials and the congresspeople do not go along with the President. It is an unjustifiable waste of time and effort.
There is a lack of motivation for those in favor of CAFTA, disorientation for lack of a campaign and, in many cases, fear to express an opinion. We must motivate the pro-YES people, make them feel that the campaign is doing something, that they are not alone, that there are many of us. We recommend organizing a public event or a massive festival (it could be a march but here we almost always have problems) but the people must feel accompanied and motivated.
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