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Cablegate: The Politics of Resentment Impede Implementing Legislation

VZCZCXYZ0019
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHSJ #1975/01 3171451
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 131451Z NOV 07
FM AMEMBASSY SAN JOSE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9185
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHDG/AMEMBASSY SANTO DOMINGO PRIORITY 1569
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY

UNCLAS SAN JOSE 001975

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR WHA, WHA/CEN, WHA/EPSC, AND EEB
PLEASE PASS TO USTR: AMALITO

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR ETRD CS
SUBJECT: THE POLITICS OF RESENTMENT IMPEDE IMPLEMENTING LEGISLATION

REF: San Jose 1856

1. SUMMARY: The GOCR's victory in the October 7 CAFTA referendum
(reftel) did not translate into fast action by the national legislature
(Asamblea). After a brief post-referendum honeymoon, the opposition
all-too-quickly deployed familiar obstructionist tactics, asserting
that the public's vote for ratification was not automatically a vote
for the implementing legislation. The GOCR's fragile pro-CAFTA
coalition responded slowly, but with President Arias's return from
China on October 29 has now embarked on an ambitious track to pass the
implementing legislation by 15 January (Arias's stated deadline) in
order to allow sufficient time for review by the constitutional court
and USTR before the entry-into-force deadline. Caught in the middle is
the Ministry of Foreign Trade (COMEX), simultaneously drafting
technical legislation, lobbying the Asamblea, consulting with USTR, and
negotiating with the EU. Given this backdrop, we believe the prospects
are not good for the GOCR to complete the CAFTA-DR implementing
legislation and regulations before March 1. We recommend that the USG
begin a strictly internal discussion on the mechanics of an extension
and how such a move for Costa Rica would play out in the other CAFTA-DR
countries. END SUMMARY.

=======================
A SHORT-LIVED HONEYMOON
=======================

2. The political afterglow from the referendum did not last very long.
The week after the vote, Arias invited the leaders of all the factions
in the Asamblea to discuss the way forward. There were media reports
of a possible wider national dialogue, based on meshing the GOCR's
agenda (with CAFTA at the top) with development initiatives favored by
coalition partner PUSC and perhaps elements of a "mitigation agenda"
proposed by PAC leader Otton Solis. Miffed that Arias rejected Solis'
agenda as duplicative and largely covered by the GOCR's plans, the PAC-
led opposition went back to its old habits. By October 26, they had
dumped over 1000 motions on one piece of implementing legislation and
demanded that a second item be sent to the Constitutional Chamber (Sala
IV) for a 30-day review. The PAC was emboldened by small, but vocal
groups of anti-CAFTA protestors, who jammed the visitor galleries to
cheer them on. (Once the Asamblea staff installed smoked glass in the
galleries to diminish the distractions, the entire building was emptied
by a bomb threat on November 7, so that protestors could confront
legislators directly.) COMEX contacts have told us that in their
meetings at the Asamblea, CAFTA-DR opponents have harassed and intimidated them as well.

=========================================
IS DEMOCRACY ABOUT VICTORY FOR EVERYBODY?
=========================================

3. The return to divisive obstructionism was a clear signal that the
opposition refused to accept the referendum results. PAC leader Otton
Solis told us that his party "recognizes" the result, but would still
oppose implementing legislation in order to "improve" it, or at least
to make PAC's voice heard. He and PAC faction chief Elizabeth Fonseca
insist their party "owes" that much to the 757,000 voters who voted
"no" in the referendum. Meanwhile, PAC members and other CAFTA
opponents continue to insist that the playing field for campaign
support, media time, and media coverage were all tilted in favor of the
"Si" alliance, aided by alleged interference in the referendum process
by the USG. As one leading political commentator told us, this ongoing
refusal by the hardened opposition to acknowledge the results points to
a politics of resentment directed toward the GOCR, independent
institutions in the government such as the TSE, and business. In this
consensus-obsessed mindset, if everyone doesn't win, then no one wins.

4. With the entrenched (and resentful) opposition ready to block
progress on the implementing legislation, the GOCR has to rely on its
unpredictable coalition of 38 (the "G38") of the 57 Diputados in the
Asamblea. Although this two-thirds majority should be sufficient to
overcome PAC intransigence, success requires that all 38 members play
their part, all the time. Thirty-eight is the minimum number required
for a quorum, for example, a fact gleefully exploited by PAC. If any
of the 38 are out sick or even late for a session, the PAC-led
opposition has made sure their own members also walk out, blocking a
quorum. This is but one of a number of mechanisms in the labyrinth of
legislative rules the opposition has employed to delay progress.

=======================================
ENERGIZED FOR THE FINAL LAP? HOPEFULLY
=======================================

5. In the last ten days, the G38 has held together, and there have
even been glimmers of GOCR-PAC cooperation in committee on a few
issues. The President's public criticism of the opposition's ignoring
the results of the referendum (and the will of the people) may be
finding some resonance. (CID-Gallup data released on October 31 also
showed that voters expect legislators to get on with CAFTA, now that
the referendum is over.) To maintain the pressure, Minister of
Government Rodrigo Arias announced November 7 that the GOCR will not
seek an extension and plans to complete the legislative heavy lifting
by January 15. This target date accounts for a 30-day judicial review
of legislation in the Sala IV and allows for a subsequent two-week
review by USTR.

6. There is still a long way to go. Prospects for meeting a January 15
deadline are jeopardized by the crowded legislative calendar (requiring
the Asamblea to finalize the budget before the end of November) and
end-of-the-year holidays in December. The pro-CAFTA coalition is using
all the tools at its disposal, including unusual morning, evening and
weekend sessions, application of fast track procedures, some limits on
debate, and (if approved) a shorter (one-week) December recess, to make
full use of the time.

==================
LEGISLATION STATUS
==================

7. As of November 9, one piece of implementing legislation had gone
through its first vote and is now before the Sala IV. (Per Costa Rican
legislative proceedings, nearly all bills are voted on twice by the
full Asamblea before becoming law. The second vote will occur after
the constitutional review.) There are seven other bills that are out
of committee and waiting action in the plenary. The rest are either in
committee or waiting submission. In addition to the bills, the GOCR
must also draft and issue several regulations. COMEX reports that it
is working on the regulations, but it has been somewhat difficult as
various regulations depend on the outcomes of the not-yet-finalized
legislation. The regulation regarding bio-equivalency is especially
difficult since the opposition views bio-equivalency as an unnecessary
intervention. COMEX intends to discuss this regulation in Washington,
using the meeting with USTR to pressure the Ministry of Agriculture and
various diputados to allow the regulation to go forward.

=================
DON'T FORGET USTR
=================

8. In spite of the GOCR's renewed effort to use the legislative
calendar to the maximum, COMEX has yet to finish its consultations with
USTR. According to COMEX, consultations will continue during the weeks
of 12 November and 26 November. This remains a wild card in an already
complicated process. If differences between COMEX and USTR -- notably
in the areas of IPR and telecommunications -- remain after November,
resolving such differences while working with the Asamblea further
elevates the risk of what is already a political-technical high wire
act.

=================================
COMEX IS STRETCHING ITS RESOURCES
=================================

9. COMEX's resources are further stretched by its increasing political
role with the Asamblea. In order to shore up support for the
implementing legislation, COMEX has, in essence, been lobbying the 38
pro-CAFTA diputados. Private sector contacts more experienced in
"working" the legislature have told us COMEX's lack of political
gravitas has weakened this lobbying effort; the COMEX team are seen as
technicians, not political heavyweights. COMEX staff has used their
sessions with the diputados to stress that changes in the bills that
affect measures required by CAFTA-DR are unhelpful and would delay
entry into force. Now fully aware that COMEX is also consulting with
USTR on the draft legislation, some members of the GOCR's G38 have
complained that COMEX "is selling-out the country." If this new
lobbying role were not enough, COMEX was fully engaged by Costa Rica's
hosting the first round of the Central America-EU talks in October,
plus its daily responsibilities in international fora on a variety of
issues.

=======
COMMENT
=======

10. Had we written this analysis three weeks ago, we might have been
more pessimistic. Now, there is some call for what COMEX interlocutors
call "depressed optimism." The GOCR and nearly all of its G38 in the
Asamblea are clearly seized with the urgency of getting the CAFTA job
done. Even PAC leaders Solis and Fonseca acknowledge to us privately
that they expect CAFTA will enter into force for Costa Rica,
eventually. We do not discount the possibility of the GOCR crossing
the finish line in time, but we believe this is highly unlikely.
Hence, Post believes that a strictly internal USG discussion on the
mechanics of an extension needs to start in the near future.
Understanding the position of the other CAFTA-DR countries and their
own internal mechanisms for granting an extension would also be
important.

BRENNAN

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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