At the U.S. Embassy in San José, Costa Rica, we were lectured by three different personnel; David Hensen, a Ms. Martinez, and a third lady whose name I was unable to write down quickly.
Martinez started the group off by asking us to give our definitions of an Embassy, and what we think the U.S. Embassy’s main job is. We gave several answers, but Martinez clarified that the U.S. Embassy seeks to “protect the U.S. interests overseas by being U.S. representatives.” She admitted that many anti-United States feelings make her job harder. Also, because this Embassy is overseas, it is their unique job not to make the U.S. Foreign policy, but to implement it. She continued with a list/ratio of workers hired at that specific embassy who are U.S. citizens versus the number who are natives. She urged us to check the government website on this matter.
David was next, and he outlined the four pillars of the embassy: Security, Democracy, Opportunity, and Prosperity. He said the embassy was helping the Costa Rican government, but there were nuances in how to approach the ideals of the country. He said that the workers at the Embassy wanted deeper engagements with the region, but that they had very high expectations for Costa Rica and thought the country would stay cooperative with them.
He told us that Costa Rica wanted CAFTA, as was shown by the 51% vote positive. However, Costa Rica “does things differently”, and even though they were under a deadline, Costa Rica almost didn’t make it to passing CAFTA. However, “the voice of the people was heard” and Costa Rica accepted the trade agreement. He also felt that the economy was becoming more open with CAFTA, and that this trade agreement would really help Costa Rica in the long run. David felt that Costa Rica’s infrastructure was not as good, and cited that only 30% of Costa Rican roads are in good condition, which explains why the leading cause of death in the country is auto accidents. He also said that the ports on the coasts are very underdeveloped and need to be run by privatized companies. Also, at the ports, there is only 3% of water treated, which makes the beaches bad and spreads sickness–a negative effect on tourism.
David described the way that CAFTA was ratified in Costa Rica. It went through a 4 step process:
1) Negotiations–all the reps of the countries involved met in Aug 2004 to discuss “free trade” and the terms of such an agreement.
2) Ratification–all the reps returned to their countries with the skeleton of the agreement, and it was decided by a public vote. All citizens of age were shown both the pros and the cons and asked to vote on the agreement. CAFTA passed in Costa Rica 51% yes to 49% no.
3) Implementation–once it was passed by the public, the government of each country put it to a vote to pass legislation to allow it to proceed or not. All of the countries passed it.
4) Entry into Force–the agreement is now a law, and it is allowed to start in the countries that passed it.
According to David, the advantages of Costa Rica is that the country now has almost tariff-free access to U.S. exports. The U.S. is also able to help monitor and prepare the other countries to trade with each other, and it can improve labor standards. David told us that many blamed the U.S. for interfering before the public vote because one of the U.S. ambassadors went around giving his side of CAFTA. David felt that the U.S. was not using any illegal practices, but using the same methods as Costa Rica with Canada and Panama with their ambassador. He blamed Ottón Solís for the bad press, saying that when the U.S. ambassador came to do a press conference, the date was canceled. Instead the ambassador took his opinions to the people. When Solís wanted to reschedule, the ambassador was unable to make it at that time, but Solís insisted on that time anyway. When the ambassador didn’t show, but was replaced by another, Solís said that the first ambassador had hidden because he didn’t want the bad press. The “bad press” came anyway, according to David.
The third lady (and here, we shall name her Jill) reiterated the idea that the U.S. policy is designed to protect democratic space. She felt that Costa Rica could improve and learn how to opperate better in terms of democracy. She defined the difference between free trade and fair trade: free trade limits tarifs on imports and exports, while fair trade supports the equality of workers, responsible use of the environment, and responsible disposal of waste. Of course, she mentioned, you can always find stats that favor different ways. /Jill/ was unable to explain the difference between CAFTA and NAFTA (you’ll recall that Solís said they were exactly the same), but said that CAFTA would help Costa Rica with its exports. The two greatest exports at this time are not bananas and pineapples, they are microchips and medical equipment.
All three encouraged us that if we liked being abroad to go to work for the government as ambassadors who protect U.S. interests overseas. More information about jobs here.
Tomorrow, I will write about Democracy, since it seems to be a common theme here. Also, my group did our presentation with my political cartoons! I was honored. Hopefully after my rant about democracy, I will write a post about my reaction to the CAFTA/TLC thing.
Have a wonderful day!
P.S. Here is a link to my pictures from the Limón trip to present!!