Feminist International Radio Endeavour- FIRE





Women of the NO

The Struggle against CAFTA Continues


By Alda Facio

For Fire

October 17, 2007



Mujeres Contra el TLC was the name they gave themselves when joining thousands of others in an unequal struggle against the ratification of the free trade agreement with the U.S. known as CAFTA.  Unequal in so many respects that many organizations are now saying they will not accept the results of this referendum because the process was undemocratic. 


“Is not equality one of the pillars of a democratic process” said Roxana Arroyo, a feminist lawyer with Mujeres Contra el TLC.  How can a anyone say this process was democratic and therefore based on the principle of equality when the Yes campaign had millions of dollars to spend on propaganda “donated” by a few multinationals while the NO campaign was financed by the 48% of the voters who voted NO?  A  48% composed of a few rich, many middle class and ever so many more poor women, workers, farmers and indigenous peoples.”


Unequal also because the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) allowed all public servants, including the President, to campaign for the Yes.  Unequal because most of the public institutions had been taken over by the neoliberal machinery way before the referendum was even called.  And unequal because the Yes campaign had the political, economic and symbolic power to force thousands of Costa Ricans to vote yes out of fear.  Fear for their jobs, fear for their country and fear of being disloyal to their president.


The days before the referendum were tense. The mass media continued reporting mostly what was favorable to the Yes with the exception of the results of a poll which showed the NO wining by 12 points.   On Friday morning the Yes campaign continued the propaganda in the mayor newspapers flouting a Tribunal rule that prohibited propaganda beginning Thursday at midnight. Elections officials, in a last minute effort to seem impartial, issued a warning Friday night to both sides yet on Saturday, the presidential office called an “urgent” press conference to discuss a statement from the U.S. President George W. Bush's administration. 


The Bush administration made clear that the United States would not renegotiate CAFTA if the country voted “no.” The statement also expressed uncertainty over whether the United States would renew unilateral trade benefits for goods like tuna and textiles, set to expire in 2008. 


The U.S. Ambassador to Costa Rica, Mark Langdale, who has unashamedly worn a “yes” heart on his sleeve, said he asked the White House to issue that statement “so that the facts were on the table.” 


“That is simply propaganda disguised as information, said Citizen Action Party (PAC) faction head Elizabeth Fonseca.”  


This intromission in the affairs of a country that has graciously accepted him as the ambassador from the U.S. is shameful in so many ways.  “He should be ashamed to wear a symbol—the heart—that was stolen from the NO campaign and he should be ashamed of being such an ugly American and openly taking sides in an election where he is prohibited from participating as a non national” said a spokeswoman for Mujeres contra el TLC.


But he isn’t ashamed because he represents the Bush administration, which operates under the notion that the U.S. has the right to decide the future of this and any other country in Central America.  Ambassador Langdale knows that President Arias will not ask him to leave for breaching diplomatic rules because it was probably Arias himself who asked for his intervention in the first place.


So, some days after the referendum voted to ratify CAFTA, Mujeres Contra el TLC, made public their reasons for continuing the struggle against the implementation of this controversial treaty under a new name:  Mujeres del NO (Women for the NO) declaring that they do not agree with the president that the borders that divided Costa Ricans into those for the yes and those for the no have disappeared.  Instead, they proclaimed their intention of continuing to fight against any and all neoliberal policies.  Following is a free translation of some of the paragraphs of their declaration: 


“Because women were over half of the voters who voted NO, and because as feminists we have always opposed expanding the exploitation and discrimination against women to those men who are less powerful or to our natural resources, we are going to insist that the laws required to implement CAFTA will not be negotiated only in Congress.  They must be negotiated by all who have worked hard to make Costa Rica a democracy.


Furthermore, because as women we know inequality and because we have struggled against it for millenniums, we will not accept a referendum that was tainted by partial and even illegal decisions by the TSE and by an arrogant abuse of power by the president and other high officials, all of which are well documented.  For millenniums we have resisted the power men exercise over our bodies and our right to choose based on the unequal power relations between women and men, so too today we will not accept that those who have the economic and political power in this country, have for that reason alone, the power to violate the will of the majority of Costa Ricans who do not want this so called agreement.  


There is ample evidence that the rules made by the TSE did not guarantee equality or freedom of choice during the process leading up to the referendum.  Radio and television transmissions were not obligated to give equal time to both sides nor were citizens guaranteed a minimum of access to impartial information about the agreement.  Freedom of choice was not guaranteed when the president himself was allowed to freely campaign for the Yes.  


How can we accept that the people freely chose to ratify the agreement when the choice was tainted by threats made by the largest multinationals in the country of firing everyone if the NO won, or by threats of a collective suicide if the NO won made by the president himself, not to mention the threats by the U.S. Ambassador and even the White House?


As women we know about frustration when those who have raped our bodies are left unpunished, or worse still, when the crime is not even recognized and we are accused of meaning yes when we have said NO.  That is why we will not remain silent about the fact that there were no real sanctions made by the TSE when the Yes campaign violated the prohibition to campaign two days before the referendum after the polls showed that the NO was winning by 12 points.  We will insist that the process itself was tainted as tainted was the decision to vote yes by so many Costa Ricans.  As feminists we have always said NO to rape and therefore we cannot but say NO to this gang rape of our collective freedom to choose what treaties we accept.


From now on Mujeres contra el TLC will call itself Mujeres del NO (Women for the NO).  A NO that is not only directed at the implementation laws, but a NO to the abuse of power, whether in our homes or in the country.  And we will keep saying NO to public or private violence, whether it is exercised by the President of the Republic or by the Head of the Household.  We will continue to say NO to that which is blindly called “development”; NO to the overvaluation of production over reproduction; NO to capitalist greed as natural;  NO to discrimination against women;  NO to the disappearance of our millenary resistance.


The Banner of Our Dreams will continue to travel throughout Costa Rica and the whole world so that anyone can express in it what they have not been given the chance to say in the media.  The Banner will visit many more communities and cities so that women and men can demand, as thousands of Costa Ricans have already done, that they want a society were no one has too much or too little food, a society where goods are not produced for waste, a society centered on the nurturing of life and Mother Nature.


The Banner of Our Dreams will continue to safeguard the space for dreaming a world where every color of the human rainbow can have a voice to demand with dignity, without the slavery of unabated production and consumption of unnecessary and inert goods, a planet full of poetry, beauty and happiness.”


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