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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

As the days grew fewer before the February 5 balloting date, the polls which had shown Oscar Arias with a comfortable lead began showing a dip in his percentages and a rise in those of third party candidate, Otton Solis. Arias had looked like a shoe-in. He was a popular former president and Nobel Peace Prize winner He is a Centrist and appeared likely to support Costa Rica's accepting the treaty with the United States called in Costa Rica the ?TLC? and in the USA ?CAFTA.? Otton Solis has been calling for major changes in the economy to provide more assistance to the most impoverished, to improve the country's infrastructure, system of medical care, and educational system. He has also called for re-negotiating the TLC to put into place specific guarantees and to remove some of the more unpopular provisions which were seen by most TICOS as attempts to turn Costa Rica into a banana republic for the benefit of the United States. As the weeks went on CAFTA became more and more an issue and public opinion began to swing against it.

At this moment the independent Elections Tribunal is making an exhaustive recount by hand of every ballot cast in every polling place across the country. The difference was so great between the pollsters' predictions and the results as they came in from the outlying areas that everything is now being double-checked to make sure there were absolutely no errors. One man, for instance, had been scratched from the voting rolls because he had been reported deceased. He complained (the reports of his death had been greatly exaggerated?) to the Tribunal and a careful examination of his documents proved him to be alive and well. He was allowed to vote belatedly and his vote will be counted in this new recount. Computers were used to tabulate the votes. This time around they will not be used for fear that they could have been tampered with or human errors or computer glitches could have occurred. Every vote will not only be counted by hand, but the tabulation of the votes will be done by the old fashioned method of addition, checked, and rechecked at every level. We don't expect a result for another week or so. Fortunately, Costa Rica did not chose to use electronic balloting. They didn't even want punch cards which were considered too prone to error. They have a very good paper trail and can make sure a recount is absolutely fair.

Despite all of this work, the Elections Tribunal may still come up with a situation calling for a second round of elections. The difference in the numbers of votes cast for each of the top two candidates was taken up by the candidate for the Libertarian Party. He isn't even close to being in the running, but he managed to siphon off enough votes to make a difference in final outcome between Arias and Solis. Furthermore, the country is becoming more and more polarized by the CAFTA issue and huge public demonstrations are taking place now. The very poor unemployed people think CAFTA will give them more jobs. The rest of the people seem to feel that Costa Rica's future is in high technology and World Class medical facilities and schools and teaching hospitals. CAFTA is seen as a Union busting measure that would take Costa Rica backwards. The trade unions here are very strong. They are called ?sindicatos.? All the workers for government institutions here are unionized. There are also unions for truck drivers, public transportation, and the like. In short, if all the unions call a general strike, the country would shut down. No electrical, water, or telephone service. No nurses, doctors, or support staff at the national hospitals and clinics. No buses or taxis. No police officers. No transportation of goods. No port workers. No airline workers. No teachers. And there is even a students' union. So all the schools and universities would be shut down. This power of the sindicatos acts as a check to executive excesses as it did a few years ago during the current Pacheco administration. First the truckers went on strike because the permit required by all vehicles showing them to be in good working status and meeting pollution guidelines was being run in a questionable manner by the French company contracted to handle the inspections. The truckers blocked the main roads leading into and out of the Capital. Pacheco called out the riot police to force the truckers back to work and to stop their blockade. Unfortunately for Pacheco, the riot police are dressed like Star Wars Darth Vaders and were filmed by television crews breaking truck windows and throwing tear gas grenades into the cabs. When the drivers came out doubled over and gasping for breath, the police were shown clubbing them. All of Costa Rica saw these scenes on television and the next day the major sindicatos joined the work stoppage in protest against such outrageous acts of violence against fellow Ticos. Students and teachers, electricians, and nurses all took to the streets. The taxi drivers and the bus drivers joined the blockade. Pacheco had to back down. The system of automobile inspections was changed and things returned to normal. The majority of Costa Ricans support the sindicatos and CAFTA would force them out of existence. Therein lies most of the difficulty.

Meanwhile, we can only wait to see what will happen next.

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I live on the Pacific slopes of the Talamanca mountain range in southern Costa Rica. My adult children live in the United States. I have a Masters Degree in Gerontology but have worked as a migrant laborer, chicken egg collector, radio broadcaster, secretary, social worker, research director, bureaucrat, writer, editor, political organizer, publicist, telephone operator, and more. My hobby of photography has garnered some awards.

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