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Passage of CAFTA-DR: A Case of Political Amnesia

Friday, July 1, 2005


This was distributed by the Inter Press Service. If anyone wants to reprint it, please contact the IPS Columnist Service at [email protected]


Passage of CAFTA-DR: A Case of Political Amnesia

by Anuradha Mittal*

With the passage of Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR ) on July 27, 2005 with a final vote of 217 to 215, held well-past the normal 15-minute voting time and closing after midnight, the most disenfranchised in the region - the working poor, immigrants, family farmers, small businesses, women and children - were once again shafted by the U.S. Congress.

The debate before the rounding up of votes was rooted in the political amnesia of the elected officials in the U.S. Congress. For example:

- Proponents of CAFTA-DR claimed that it will eradicate poverty by eliminating trade barriers between the United States and five Central American countries -- Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica along with the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean. However such claims fall apart when one examines the evidence from CAFTA-DR’s predecessor, NAFTA, which resulted in hundreds of thousands of Mexicans, Americans and Canadians losing their jobs, thousands of family farms facing foreclosure and public interest laws taking a back seat to secret NAFTA court negotiations and rulings. CAFTA- DR will further eradicate livelihoods, dignity, and basic rights of the poor. Not surprisingly then, labor rights, human rights and environmental rights groups were just some of the organizations at the forefront of the resistance movement against the ratification of CAFTA-DR.

- Brandishing words like freedom" and "democracy," the proponents claimed that CAFTA-DR is good for national security while Jim Kolbe, a Republican from Arizona, was quoted as vowing to win its passage by twisting some arms until they break in a thousand pieces. And as the CAFTA-DR supporters were busy stirring up hysteria against popular Latin American leaders such as Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, they failed to acknowledge that the referendum results in Venezuela last year -- the turn out being the most impressive of any election in the Venezuelan history -- were a lesson in democracy for the whole world. Even President Carter who effusively supported CAFTA, had declared that there was no evidence of fraud in the referendum which returned Chavez to power with an overwhelming support from the Venezuelans.

Without batting an eyelid, CAFTA-DR supporters lied to the whole nation, not once recognizing that the referendum in Venezuela followed the unsuccessful coup by the opposition, who instead of doing systematic political work to unseat Chávez through elections, had been busy scheming for a coup with support from the United States.

- While the proponents made extensive claims about the benefits of CAFTA-DR for the poor in the region, their spurious claims amounted to nothing more than poor-washing. The truth is that the Central American-wide coalition of trade unions, peasant and indigenous organizations, women’s and environmental groups, and non-governmental organizations joined forces to declare that Central America Is Not For Sale and have been demanding their right to defend alternative models of social and economic development which would benefit the majority of people in their countries and not multinational corporations. They have fearlessly faced riot police whether it is El Salvador or Guatemala, where this past March, two protestors were killed and at least 25 injured when the Guatemalan military fired into a crowd of workers, teachers and farmers demonstrating for human rights.These protests were spurred by the ratification of CAFTA-DR by the Guatemalan Congress on March 10, 2005.

Given the ugly reality of CAFTA-DR, its passage does not contribute to the United States credibility in global trade negotiations. In fact it is a temporary victory for the forces interested in subverting the interests of the poor that form the majority of the humanity in the region.

The combination of resentments inflamed by the undemocratic process, corporate assaults on the livelihoods and dignity of the working poor, indiscriminate locking together of unequal economies, will only reinvigorate civil society's resistance to corporate driven globalization. If the proponents of CAFTA-DR had moved beyond their myopic corporate interests, they would have learnt from the political phenomenon sweeping Latin America.

In addition to the disfranchised in Venezuela who voted in favor of President Chavez, supporting his economic policies which are bringing education and health care to the poor, Tabare Vazquez of Uruguay was swept into power for challenging the 'Washington consensus,' which has pushed the poor further into poverty while profiting the rich. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the leftist mayor of Mexico City, jammed the streets with thousand of supporters earlier this year.

This is what democracy looks like when the poor, the indigenous, and the voiceless topple governments to elect leaders who can govern with integrity and can actually represent their aspirations.

* Anuradha Mittal is the director of the Oakland Institute, an Oakland-based policy think tank which is bringing dynamic new voices into policy debates and promoting public participation and fair debate on critical economic and social policy issues. (

This was distributed by the Inter Press Service. If anyone wants to reprint it, please contact the IPS Columnist Service at [email protected]