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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Costa Rica Approves Divisive CAFTA by Narrow Margins

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica -- Costa Rica's president said Sunday that his nation narrowly voted in favor of joining a free trade agreement with the United States, but opponents of the pact refused to recognize the results.

With 89 percent of the precincts reporting, nearly 52 percent of votes backed the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which sharply divided the country between those arguing it would bring continued economic development and critics who feared it could hurt farmers and small businesses.

"Costa Rica's people have said 'yes' to the treaty, and this is a sacred vote," President Oscar Arias said.

But Eugenio Trejos, the leader of opposition to the pact, said he would not recognize the results and vowed to wait for a manual recount scheduled to begin Tuesday. It could last up to 15 days.

Costa Rica was the only holdout in ratifying the deal, known as CAFTA, among six Latin American signatories. The pact is in effect in the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador.

"The treaty isn't what divides us," Arias said. "It's poverty that affects 900,000 Costa Ricans, a lack of work and violence. These are the things that separate us, and they will continue to be my priority."

The Costa Rican president says the pact is crucial to industries in this Central American nation of 4.5 million people, calling it an "important tool for generating wealth in the country."

But many Costa Ricans are skeptical of the pact, or downright hostile.

Lawyer Flor Vega said she feared the trade agreement would end up giving foreign interests the development rights to Costa Rica's natural resources.

"I'm going with 'no' because the treaty has a very broad definition of land," she said. "They can use the ground and underground, and this is a good reason to say 'no.'"