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Opponents of CAFTA Say Victory is Within Reach

Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release March 21, 2005


Opponents of U.S. Ratification of Central American Free Trade Agreement Say Victory is Within Reach

Interview with Shane Stevens, of CISPES, the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, conducted by Melinda Tuhus


Listen in RealAudio

The North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, went into effect on Jan. 1, 1994. The pact eliminated trade barriers between the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Over the past decade, tens of thousands of U.S. jobs have been lost, mostly to Mexico. As a result of the treaty, economists say, local agriculture and the production of many industrial goods in both Mexico and Canada have been decimated.

For the past few years, the Bush administration has been negotiating another regional trade treaty between six nations and the U.S., known as the Central American Free Trade Agreement. The accord has been approved by all governments involved, but has been ratified, thus far, only by one.

Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus spoke with Shane Stevens of CISPES, the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, one of the groups spearheading a week of actions to persuade the U.S. Congress to defeat the ratification of CAFTA. He discusses some of the pressure the U.S. has exerted on Central American nations in advance of ratification of the agreement, and who stands to win and lose if CAFTA goes forward. Stevens also assesses how the outcome of the CAFTA fight may effect negotiations for the larger Free Trade Area of the Americas treaty (FTAA), covering every nation in the western hemisphere except for Cuba.

SHANE STEVENS: Six governments involved -- the five governments of Central America and also the Dominican Republic -- have all signed the agreement. But it still has to be ratified by their assemblies, by their congresses. And so far itís only been ratified in El Salvador. In Honduras and Nicaragua, itís been introduced; so far there hasnít been much movement as far as voting on it. In the DR, the U.S. has pressured the government of the DR to overturn a corn syrup tax that they placed on imports. The U.S. said this was in violation of CAFTA, so in order to pass this agreement, you have to overturn this law that your legislature has passed. And despite what that law was passed to do -- protect local sugar producers -- thatís irrelevant, because it goes against the dictates of CAFTA. In Guatemala, the same sort of thing also occurred, where the Guatemalan legislature passed a law allowing the production of cheap generic drugs in Guatemala, and this was from a lot of pressure within Guatemala to allow cheap drugs to provide for a poor population, which is much of Guatemalan society. In the U.S., they claimed the same as in the DR; they said it goes against the essence of CAFTA, and you must overturn this law if you were to be included. Both of these countries have expressed their desire to overturn these domestic laws in order to be included in CAFTA. In Costa Rica, there were large sectors of society that were opposed to including things like telecommunications and other public services in CAFTA; under CAFTA they would require opening those industries to foreign investment. And thatís the real prize as far as the Bush administration is concerned.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Two hundred fifty-six labor groups, human rights groups, solidarity groups and others are opposed to CAFTA. Why?

SHANE STEVENS: The reason why theyíre opposed is that CAFTA -- like NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement -- basically exists as a bill of rights for corporate investment overseas. And in every facet of the deal, itís clear what interests itís meant to serve. CAFTA isnít even about trade -- itís about opening markets to foreign investment. Itís about forcing every industry and service within a country to be placed up for sale to private corporations and then also to construct a legal framework to protect investments by private corporations and what they deem their right to profit.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Do all seven governments have to ratify CAFTA before it goes into effect?

SHANE STEVENS: It is a little unclear, but the way the opposition has been looking at it, is that CAFTA is basically a series of bilateral agreements between the U.S. and each of these countries. So as long as the U.S. passes it, then whatever other countries pass it, it will exist between the U.S. and each of those countries.

BETWEEN THE LINES: This is a week of action to oppose CAFTA. What are you trying to accomplish?

SHANE STEVENS: Well, what weíre trying to do is focus on swing representatives, those who havenít stated which way theyíre going to vote on CAFTA, and really try to pressure them to make public statements against CAFTA. That strategy is really aimed at sending the message to the Bush administration that CAFTA doesnít have the votes to pass and therefore the administration wonít even bring it up. In many ways, that will be the real measure of victory, whether or not the Bush administration even brings CAFTA to a vote.

BETWEEN THE LINES: CAFTA has already passed in the U.S. Senate. How do things look in the House?

SHANE STEVENS: It looks like thereís 50 to 60 Republicans who are firmly against CAFTA. They need a two-thirds majority to pass CAFTA in the House; that requires 290 votes. So just to be safe, weíve been saying that the opposition needs 90 percent of Democrats to oppose CAFTA. Itís very do-able. People are definitely looking at this as a real opportunity and it looks like representatives are lining up to oppose it.

BETWEEN THE LINES: CAFTA has been described as a building block to passing the Free Trade Area of the Americas, or FTAA. How do you see the connection?

SHANE STEVENS: The reason that the opposition is seeing this as a struggle that we can win is because the previous attempt to pass the FTAA failed. The administration failed to meet the deadline of Jan. 1, 2005. And because of that, CAFTA -- this smaller regional agreement -- has been brought up, and itís meant to build support for the FTAA. And in many ways if CAFTA fails to pass, or isnít even brought up, then it could really be seen as putting the nail in the coffin of the FTAA.

For more information, call (212) 465-8115. Visit the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador's website at or the Stop CAFTA Coalition site at


Melinda Tuhus is producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 35 radio stations and in RealAudio and MP3 on our website at This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines for the week ending March 4, 2005. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Melinda Tuhus and Anna Manzo.



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