Costa Rican Natives: Are They Being Considered In This Referendum Process?

Marta Sanchez

I’m not a native Costa Rican, so I am far from figuring out how our indigenous people should feel in face of this new violation against their inner nature. Let’s face it: forcing native Costa Ricans to decide YES or NO in a referendum process they don’t understand, in order to decide upon the fate of a law (CAFTA) nobody understands is nothing but a new violation against these people, whose world vision doesn’t even have room to see this vote as a human right. I wonder if indigenous people feel “equal” to the rest of Costa Rican citizens just because their vote also counts.

Referendum and electoral guarantees are two concepts that, as Rosa Diaz, a woman from Talamanca suggests, fall into a systematic reducto ad absurdum in the eyes of a population whose cosmology does not intersect with that of their white counterparts. The truth is our indigenous people are being induced, manipulated to make use of a constitutional right stated in a Carta Magna that is totally deprived of a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural view.

Again, I wonder, as Diaz does, if the government has ever read or heard about the International Labor Office (ILO) 169 Convention, ratified by Costa Rica in 1993. It explicitly declares that indigenous and tribal peoples can speak for themselves and are entitled to take part of the decision-making process of the country (Art.6). I also requires the government to provide the means for indigenous peoples to partake, like the rest of the citizens, of all decisions in elective and administrative issues, and stipulates that any measure must be brought to their consultation, very especially when this measure affects them directly.

In the case of CAFTA, the immediate question comes: have our native Costa Ricans been properly informed? We don’t need to get into so obvious matters such as language and literacy limitations, topographic obstacles, lack of enough resources by alternative movements to neutralize official manipulation, or access to the Media (either “official” or alternative) by all the indigenous nations, to conclude that no, the native Costa Ricans have never been, even barely, informed or consulted, as the 169 ILO Convention states.

The fact is, once more, Costa Rican natives are being disrespected and discriminated against whenever they are forced to decide under pressure and fear. President Arias’ recent and probably only visit to the most remote of these villages has this connotation, but this visit should not surprise us: CAFTA ratification is worth the effort…

All this is sad when we remember that it was precisely a few members of the Bribri nation, along with other ADELA (Actions against Oil Development) members, the ones who could momentarily stop the Harken oil corporation from doing explorations in their territories. This fight took them six years. However, CAFTA was in the way. Now the Harken is patiently awaiting for its eventually ratification in the referendum…

All we expect now is that, at least, the votes of indigenous communities be well-protected. Unfortunately this cannot be guaranteed either, since nobody can assure that all voting centers will count on a proper supervision. As it occurred in the past elections, some of these centers will be left under the control of just one TSE (Election Supreme Court) representative. Unfortunately, we have learned that this is not quite a sufficient guarantee.

(By the way, according to CAFTA Annex I,the hydrocarbons law can only be modified if favorable to the terms and not limiting the oil companies' free access --Art.10.13.1.c and 11.6.c.)

Marta Sánchez is a recently retired professor from the University of Costa Rica (UCR) where she taught English composition, reading and Nietzchean aesthetics applied to literature at the School of Modern Languages. Currently, she still devotes part of her time to the academy, doing pro bono work at the UCR as a member of the editorial board of Revista Kanina, an academic journal publishing articles on language, literature, and the arts. Through leading delegations across some of Costa Rica's most beautiful natural settings, she expects to contribute with Global Exchange mission of promoting socially responsible traveling where dimensions of Costa Rican culture and sociopolitical struggles are brought into light.