Costa Rica: “FUD Mud Slung at Schwab Job”

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The Casas-Sánchez memo to Arias: “Some urgent actions to animated the Yes on CAFTA campaign. First and foremost: A media blitz based on “fear, uncertainty and doubt.” Kevin Casas is under investigation for illegal use of public funds to benefit the “Yes” campaign. His permanent replacement as Minister of Planning was announced yesterday.

La Nación also ran an interview with the Chamber of Commerce, who argued that the local textile industry would collapse if “no” won the day. At the same time, it omitted to report on insistent statements by congressional leaders and other lawmakers from the (U.S.) Democratic Party that called upon Schwab to desist, noting that it is Congress, not the president of the United States, that has authority over trade agreements, and that Costa Rica actually runs none of the risks announced by the Emperor’s envoy.

Vice-President and Minister of Planning Kevin Casas temporarily vacated his post due to an internal administrative investigation into whether he committed illegal acts to favor the “Yes” campaign. A close advisor to Arias, Casas is accused of using public funds to support the “Yes” campaign. –September 17

Just hours before Costa Ricans went to the polls in the world’s first ever popular referendum on a NAFTA expansion, the Bush administration intervened in the country’s sovereign election by threatening economic retaliation if citizens rejected CAFTA. Nonetheless, the super-close vote outcome there debunks Bush’s spin that Latin Americans are crying out for NAFTA-style deals * just as Bush trots out the same tired argument to gain support for NAFTA expansion to Peru, which is opposed by religious, labor and retiree groups there, and will be voted on by Congress in the coming weeks. Todd Tucker, Public Citizen (using the new comment feature on Google News)

Costa Rica: referendo espurio: “Spurious referendum” on CAFTA in Costa Rica, opines Ángel Guerra Cabrera in Mexico’s La Jornada.

A follow-up to

Whether the charges of fraud are valid or not, there are at least two warning signs that bear looking into:

  1. dueling opinion polls — including one commissioned from a market research firm that lists the Presidency of Costa Rica as a client, along with numerous business associations and firms like Dole and Chiquita, that indicated “a technical tie”; and
  2. a memorandum from government advisers to the Costa Rican head of state — Kevin Casas and Fernando Sánchez — outlining a “fear campaign” and “media blitz” to push through the “yes” option.

The quality of controls on the vote-tabulation process also needs careful looking at.

We saw a an astonishingly vacuous “happy talk” by-product of that same media blitz here in Brazil, I think, produced by a TV Globo reporter:

The memo recommends as follows (draft translation):

We must stimulate fear. This fear has four types:

Four headings for fear:

  1. Fear of loss of employment:
  2. Fear of an attack on democratic institutions:
  3. Fear of foreign meddling in the NO campaign:
  4. Fear of the effect of a NO vote on the government:

Under “fear of the effect on the government”:

All the polls show a great deal of satisfaction with the President and Government. Many people have simply not made the connection that the triumph of NO would leave the Government in a precarious position, with its effectiveness totally undermined, and the nation in a state of ungovernability. They have to be induced to make this connection.

More on that in a second.

Según diversas encuestas de opinión, los votantes en favor del no, que eran menos de 30 por ciento en diciembre de 2006, ascendían el pasado 4 de octubre, tres días antes del referendo, a 55 por ciento –12 puntos por encima del –, dato confirmado en un sondeo encargado por el ultraneoliberal diario La Nación.

According to various opinion polls, voters intending to vote “no,” who were less than 30 percent in December 2006, rose on October 4, three days before the referendum, to 55% — 12% more than “yes” — a datum confirmed by a poll commissioned by the ultraneoliberal daily La Nación.

There were eight accredited polling firms, including Unimer — used by La Nación, and predicting the 12-point triumph of “No” — and Demoscopia — used by Al Día, and predicting the technical tie. I am looking at TSE document on the subject here.

En esas 72 horas, cuando estaba prohibido hacer propaganda por cualquiera de las dos alternativas, La Nación y sus congéneres difundieron a bombo y platillo declaraciones de Susan Schawb, encargada de negociaciones comerciales del bushismo, en que amenazaba con privar a Costa Rica de las preferencias arancelarias provistas por la Iniciativa para la Cuenca del Caribe y negaba la posibilidad de cualquier renegociación del TLC si era rechazado.

During the 72 hours when it was prohibited from running advertising for either of the two alternatives, La Nación and like-minded news organization bombarded readers with statements from Susan Schwab, Bush’s trade negotiator, in which she threatened to deprive Costa Rica of preferential treatment under CAFTA and ruled out any renegotiation of the FTA if it were rejected.

I am reading that a major daily newspaper published a front-page letter from Susan Schwab to the nation. Is that true?

Publicaban también una entrevista del líder de la Cámara de Comercio arguyendo que de ganar el no colapsaría la industria textil local. Paralelamente, ocultaban insistentes pronunciamientos de los líderes parlamentarios y otros legisladores del Partido Demócrata desautorizando a Schawb, puntualizando que es el Congreso, y no la presidencia de Estados Unidos, el que tiene la autoridad sobre temas comerciales, y que Costa Rica no corría ninguno de los riesgos anunciados por la funcionaria del emperador. Ante estas graves trasgresiones legales, el Tribunal Electoral ni siquiera abrió la boca, excepto para felicitarse por la “ejemplaridad” del proceso.

It also ran an interview with the Chamber of Commerce, who argued that the local textile industry would collapse if “no” won the day. At the same time, it omitted insistent statements by congressional leaders and other lawmakers from the (U.S.) Democratic Party that called upon Schwab to desist, noting that it is Congress, not the president of the United States, that has authority over trade agreements, and that Costa Rica runs none of the risk announced by the Emperor’s envoy. Faced with these serious legal violations, the federal elections tribunal did not even open its mouth, except to congratulate itself for the “exemplary” job it had done running the elections.

Let me check on those purported warnings from Pelosi and Co. Ah, here we go, from the Washington Post

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrats sought to reassure Costa Rican voters on Friday their country would not lose U.S. trade benefits if they rejected a free-trade agreement with Washington, following a Bush administration warning they could be at risk.

“Congress is constitutionally responsible for regulating international commerce. As such, we reiterate our longstanding position that preference programs should not be conditioned on a country entering into a free trade agreement (FTA) with the United States,” two senior Democrats in the House of Representatives said.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel and Rep. Sander Levin, chairman of the Ways and Means’ trade subcommittee, also said the Bush administration had no power to revoke Costa Rica’s benefits if the pact were turned down.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent whose remarks during a recent trip to Costa Rica partly prompted Schwab’s statement, urged President George W. Bush in a letter on Friday to make clear Costa Rica would not face U.S. retaliation if the pact were rejected. Sen. Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, and Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, also wrote Bush.

On Kevin Casas, Brasil de Fato noted (September 17):

A campanha que antecede o plebiscito oficial sobre a entrada da Costa Rica no Tratado de Livre Comércio da América Central já provocou a primeira baixa no governo de Óscar Arias Sánchez, favorável ao acordo com os Estados Unidos. O vice-presidente e ministro do Planejamento, Kevin Casas, deixou temporariamente seu cargo em razão de uma investigação administrativa interna na qual é suspeito de praticar atos ilegais para favorecer o “SIM” no plebiscito. Homem de confiança do presidente Óscar Arias Sánchez, Kevin Casas é acusado de utilizar recursos públicos para apoiar a campanha que impulsiona a aprovação do TLC e ficará afastado do cargo enquanto o Tribunal Supremo Eleitoral (TSE) investiga a denúncia.

The campaign for the referendum over Costa Rica’s entry into CAFTA has claimed its first casualty in the Arias government, which favors the agreement with the United States. Vice-President and Minister of Planning Kevin Casas temporarily vacated his post due to an internal administrative investigation into whether he committed illegal acts to favor the “Yes” campaign. A close advisor to Arias, Casas is accused of using public funds to support the “Yes” campaign. The suspension will continue as the TSE investigates the charge.

The Jornada guy continues.

Dije en este espacio que lograr el referendo era una gran victoria de los opositores al tratado y también “ganen o pierdan en las urnas, Washington y su acólito Arias no cejarán en sus intenciones de sometimiento de Costa Rica, por lo que después de la consulta será aún más necesaria la actuación en el país de la formidable agrupación patriótica ciudadana surgida de la oposición al TLC”. El desafío ahora para el movimiento por el no es salvar la soberanía patria y sus objetivos antineoliberales con la voluntad inquebrantable de derrotar en una inteligente y audaz resistencia pacífica el resultado espurio del referendo. Talento y fuerza popular tiene para lograrlo.

I said in this space that winning the referendum was a major victory for opponents of the treaty, and I also predicted that “win or lose at the polls, Washington and its acolyte Arias will not stop trying to subject Costa Rica, for which reason after the vote it would be more necessary than ever for the formidable patriotic citizen alliance in opposition to the FTA to keep working.” The challenge now for the “no” movement is to …

This gets a little thorny and inspired, and anyway is outside the purview of our NMM editorial focus here. Which is (1) the automated bean-counting angle and (2) the technical political marketing angle.

On which the Jornada guy has these points for further fact-checking:

El Movimiento Patriótico por el No al TLC ha dicho que esperará el conteo de los votos y una consulta con los Comités Patrióticos de provincia antes de hacer un pronunciamiento definitivo. Advirtió de la compra de sufragios y llamó a que se le entregaran las denuncias de irregularidades: manipulación ilegal de la boletas, actos de intimidación a sus partidarios, exclusión de sus veedores en mesas de votación y el impedimento de entrada al país de observadores de los movimientos sociales. Pero sería ingenuo esperar que aquéllas sean investigadas y resueltas con apego a la ley, vistos la arrogancia y el desaliño con que desde un inicio se ha manejado este proceso por el poder y sus groseras violaciones a la normatividad del referendo justo en las 72 horas de la llamada “tregua electoral” .

The [“No” coalition] has said it will await the final vote-count and will consult with the Patriotic Committes from the provicinces before taking a definitive position. It warned of vote-buying and said irregularities had been denounced to it: illegal manipulation of ballots, exclusion of its election observers from the precincts, and the barring of election observers from social movements. It would, however, be ingenuous to expect that these charges will be investigated and resolved in strict compliance with the law, given the arrogance and shamelessness with which the entire process has been manipulated by the powers that be, and the gross violations of the referendum rules during the the 72 hours of the so-called “elections truce.”

Explain those rules to me.

These people: Their Mexico gambit shows signs of going in the crapper, and here they look like they are about to get caught at it again.

Are these people paid agents of Hugo Chávez?

Because if you really want to bolster the Boliviarian blowhard in the region, and screw the pooch on the Doha Round yet again, just keep this shit up.

The U.S. press may not cover this kind of thing for domestic readers — people like Larry Rohter prefer media-driven “hookers with hearts of gold” stories.

But you can bet that south of the Rio Bravo, word is going to get around.

And one day, there will come another one of those “why do they hate us?” moments and the Washington Post will try hard to look just as puzzled as everybody else.

I mean, really: Somebody explain to me why the art of the gabbling ratfink is a productive use of my taxpapayer dollars? Why are we spending money on bloggers for democracy when we could be spending it on the salaries of trade negotiators who actually know how to horse-trade?

You are supposed to take advantage of the other guy and leave him with the impression that he was the one got the better of you. Not that you have just mugged him.
Schwab: Late husband was a professional sleight-of-hand artist.

Has our national esteem fallen so low that we have to behave like Donald Segretti just to get a decent deal for our domestic constituents? Screwing the pooch in the process, what’s worse?

We’re freaking America! The smartest guys in the room! Best universities in the world! Our flag flies on the freaking Moon! Our national spirit is the motto of our Marine drill sergeants: “Adapt and overcome!” We totally rock! Our baseball umpires are well-paid and incorruptible and our products are virtually free of toxins!

It’s just freaking embarrassing. What kind of “free trade” agreement is it that gets ratified though beancounting processes that local academic observers have politely descibed as somewhat less than ISO 9000-certifiable — ahem — but that the Washington Times-Post and the OAS rush to certify before the beans are even counted?

In exchange for benefiting from the extradition of Bolivian marching-powder merchants of death, we should be extraditing the likes of Dick Morris to do time in the Tijuana jails. These people need to experience a little of how the other 95% lives.

All assuming there is no perfectly innocent explanation for all this, of course.


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