san jose, costa rica -- About 100,000 Costa Ricans, some dressed as skeletons and holding banners, protested Sunday against a U.S. trade pact they said would flood the country with cheap farm goods and cause big job losses.
Chanting "No to the free-trade pact!" and "Costa Rica is not for sale!" protesters including farmers and housewives filled one of San Jose's main boulevards to demonstrate against the Central American Free Trade Agreement with the United States.
Costa Rica is the only country that has not ratified CAFTA. The seven-nation accord includes Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. On Sunday, voters will go to the polls to decide whether Costa Rica should join.
The referendum has split the nation, with Costa Rican President Oscar Arias and some businesses saying CAFTA would bring investment and jobs. Opponents say it will mean a flood of cheap agricultural imports and limit the country's sovereignty by taking investment disputes to international arbitration.
"The trade deal is putting at risk our workers' rights," said Juan Chacon, a 50-year-old computer technician. "We need an accord with the United States, but not this way."
An opinion poll last week by the daily newspaper La Nacion showed the "yes" side ahead in the referendum by a 50.6%-44.7% margin. The poll had a 3.8 percentage point margin of error.
A government official said more than 100,000 people turned out for the demonstration, a huge protest in a country of 4 million. A small contingent of free-trade advocates also turned out at the rally.