Wed Jul 24, 2024
July 24, 2024

In Costa Rica, the “Jaguar Law” is neither Democracy nor Development

By Working Class Party (Partido de la Clase Trabajadora) – Costa Rica

The facts

On Wednesday, June 5, in the middle of a television spectacle, the government of Rodrigo Chaves presented before the Legislative Assembly the proposal N.º 24 364, pretentiously titled: “Jaguar Law: to promote the development of Costa Rica”.

In a Bank of America document, Costa Rica was referred to as a “jaguar economy” (in comparison to the “tiger economies” of Asia) and since then the image of the jaguar has been used as a political symbol to support the government. The idea that Costa Rica is a “jaguar economy” is a farce however you cut it, and yet the government has decided to use this same slogan in the law promoting the referendum.

What did the government do?

Chaves’s government has been threatening since May to call a referendum on a series of proposals that were at a standstill in the Legislative Assembly. These proposals included the 4-3 work week, the sale of the BCR (Bank of Costa Rica), opening up the electricity market, etc.. Finally on June, Chaves administration “made a move” and sent the proposed legislation to the Legislative Assembly.

The government was, in reality, carrying out a two-pronged maneuver that presented proposal N.º 24 364, which required 29 votes to implement, in a moment when the governing party only had eight votes. This was clearly a proposal aimed at pressuring the remaining political parties; if they did not approve the proposal, they could be accused of being “unpatriotic” and “enemies of the people and democracy.”

The second prong of the maneuver was set into motion through Edgar Espinoza, an ex-journalist and the husband of Pilar Cisneros, spokesperson for the government in parliament. Espinoza presented to the Supreme Electoral Court a request for authorization to collect the necessary signatures to hold the referendum.

The government is gambling that the referendum will pass either through parliamentary agreement or through signatures from the population. If it succeeds, the government gets what it wants; if it fails, the government can continue its campaign claiming parliamentary “obstructionism” and that these “institutions” are what is preventing the country from development.

What does the proposed law say?

File N.º 24 364 does not contain any of the projects that the government said they would put to a vote; it does not contain the sale of the BCR, or the 4-3 work week, or the opening of the electricity market.

The proposal instead contains articles that modify the function of the Comptroller General, the Public Expenditure Law, and JAPDEVA (Board of Port Administration and Economic Development of the Atlantic Coast). According to the government, the objective of the proposal is: “so that the Comptroller General of the Republic cannot substitute, encompass, interfere in, order, interpret, caution, remind, or recommend matters that correspond exclusively to the jurisdiction of a fully active public administration, nor replace the powers of an active public administration in its decision-making, executive, resolutory, directive or operational function, nor be able to evaluate in advance the administrative management of an active public administration. The Comptroller’s Office is also prohibited from suspending the execution of acts and contracts of the State or its institutions. In addition, it modifies article 5 of the Organic Law of JAPDEVA, Law No. 3091 of February 18, 1963 and its reforms to indicate in a timely manner the activities in which JAPDEVA can develop Strategic Alliances.”

In short, the focus of the proposal is a modification of the jurisdiction and powers of the Comptroller’s Office, of the Budget Law, and of the JAPDEVA — far from what the government promised to do.

Why did the government make this move?

Naturally then, the question arises as to why the government would hold a referendum to modify a minor state institution.

To those of us militating in the Partido de la Clase Trabajadora (the Working Class Party), it is clear that the government’s move can only be understood within the framework of the inter-bourgeois political crisis that is ongoing in the country.

As the political parties of the bourgeoisie become more discredited than ever before, the bourgeoisie has needed improvised parties to be able to sustain its political power. This was seen first with the PAC (Partido Acción Ciudadano or Citizen Action Party in English) and then the PPSD (Partido Progreso Social Democrático or Social Democratic Progress Party), the party with which Rodrigo Chaves came to power, after which the bourgeoisie distanced itself from it.

“Chavism” as a phenomenon arises from the crisis of the two-party system and the failure of the PAC’s neoliberal progressivism, but to this day it has no organic political expression. While they have the government and popularity, they are left hanging without their own political party. They have tried with the PPSD, with Aqui Costa Rica Manda (Here Costa Rica is in Charge), with Unidos Podemos (United We Can) and still have not achieved stability.

To our party it is clear that the government’s proposal has nothing to do with democracy nor with the development of the country; instead it is a wild bet by Chavism to strengthen itself as a bourgeois and electoral project as well as to weaken the side of La Nación S.A.-PLN-Frente Amplio (The Nation-National Liberation Party-Broad Front).

The government is gambling on using the referendum and the collection of signatures as a mechanism that allows it to build its own party structure before the 2026 electoral process begins. Both the referendum and the collection of signatures would allow the government to build a territorial structure, which, as of now in this country, only the unions, the churches and the PLN have. That is the totality of their gamble.

As we have denounced in other articles, this referendum is a Bonapartist mechanism without a hint of democracy; a place where businessmen, imperialism and media companies can mobilize, with impunity, resources and forces to achieve their political objectives. The referendum would work as a specific moment for Chavism to mobilize, ahead of time, its donors, its media and its leaders; it would allow the direction of resources and advertising guidelines; it would allow the mobilization of the money of the parallel state, just as the PLN did in 2007 with its referendum against the Free Trade Agreement.

Chavism chooses to hold a referendum against the Comptroller’s Office, because in reality it wants to hold a referendum on the government, a referendum that reinforces the popularity of Chaves through “mass support,” that reinforces the face-to-face relations of the “caudillo with his people.” For this purpose, what better rival to the government than an unknown institution such as the Comptroller’s Office — an institution ignored but also hated, technocratic, and absolutely colonized by the old two-party system.

So if there is a referendum, Chavism stays within its own party structure, and if it loses the referendum, it is left with its own party. If it wins the referendum, in addition to being a party, it gains the possibility of increasing business deals with its cronies directly, something it has already been doing. 

What can we, the working class, do when faced with this situation?

The first thing we must do as the working class is to patiently explain in our workplaces the trap of the referendum. The referendum is nothing more than one of the strategies of the democracy of the rich, and it is a lie that has nothing to do with more participation or more choices. The rules come pre-written, the projects that interest the working class — such as the general increase in salaries, the prohibition of layoffs, the reduction of the working day, agrarian reform, universal social security and healthcare, the audit and non-payment of the external debt — will never be subject to election. The bourgeoisie only submits to the vote what interests it, and at this moment what interests Chavism is to build its own party.

At the moment, there are two bourgeois fractions in struggle: Chavism and the opposition (La Nación S.A.-PLN-FA). The opposition also wants to confuse the working class with “siren songs”: they have come out to defend the referendum as a model of “participatory democracy” for the institutions and the comptroller.

This bourgeois sector calls to defend “democratic institutions” against Chavism. But these institutions are all, without fail, enemies of the working class: the Comptroller’s Office has been a battering ram against collective labor agreements, one of the pillars of neoliberalism in the country; the TSE was the one that guaranteed the conditions for the approval of the Free Trade Agreement; the Fourth Chamber has been essential in the fight against unions and democratic rights.

The working class cannot allow itself to be divided between the two competing bourgeois factions — neither the referendum nor the institutions of the bourgeois state have anything to do with democracy or development.

This is the first thing we must do in all unions, associations and collectives: reject the referendum as a farce and continue fighting against the institutions of the bourgeois state. We must build a third, popular camp that fights for its own demands: freedom to unionize, an increase in wages, agrarian reform, auditing, the non-payment of foreign debt, and the nationalization of banking and industry.

To achieve this program of demands, we must establish a government of the working class and oppressed people, based on their own organizations of worker and popular democracy.

Translation by Haewon Cho

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