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Central America Trade Vote Could Give Bush Defeat

by Cherrene Horazuk |
December 1, 2004
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On the same day that George W. Bush declared, “I have earned political capital in the campaign, and I intend to spend it,” high-ranking administration officials said that Bush’s second term would bring a refocusing of energies on Latin America. In the first year of his second term, Bush hopes to pass the U.S.-Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement, or DR-CAFTA, in an effort to gain passage of the full Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) by 2006.

The context of the attempts by the Bush administration to push these trade agreements is that of growing U.S. military intervention in the region, including efforts to overthrow the democratically elected Chavez government in Venezuela and increasing funding for Plan Colombia.

The focus on trade gives progressive activists the opportunity to hand Bush the first major defeat of his new administration.

The recent left victory in the Uruguayan presidential elections dealt a blow to the FTAA. The Chavez government in Venezuela, Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio ‘Lula’ da Silva and, now, the government of Uruguay have all lined up against the FTAA. This makes CAFTA much more important for the U.S.’s bid to gain economic control of the Americas. It also means that a defeat on CAFTA could derail the entire FTAA process.

The Bush administration began negotiating CAFTA two years ago, expecting little opposition in the U.S. or in Central America. However, they miscalculated. Workers, farmers, students, consumers and opposition political parties in Central America have come together with fair trade, labor and solidarity activists from the U.S. to organize resistance to the agreement. Sugar beet farmers in the upper Midwest and shrimpers in Louisiana have added their voices to this growing opposition.

Hundreds of thousands of people throughout Central America have repeatedly marched against CAFTA and broader neo-liberal economic policies of free trade and privatization. Though opposition has been strongest in Central America, the greatest possibility for stopping CAFTA will be in the U.S. Congress.

The Democratic Party has not historically opposed free trade agreements, unless they were seeking labor’s endorsement, and Kerry was very ambivalent in his statements about renegotiating CAFTA. This, along with the Republican victory, may cause some to think that the possibility of passing CAFTA has improved, but in fact a major fight remains. Many of the Democrats that are retiring or have been voted out were fierce free-traders - seven of the 21 Democrats that voted for Fast Track in 2001 will no longer be around. Also, Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN), a staunch opponent of CAFTA, will take over as the ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee. The anti-CAFTA movement in the U.S. is united in stopping the seriously flawed agreement and has forced the congressional Democratic leadership into vowing opposition. The battle lines have been clearly drawn.

The timing for a vote, however, remains in question. House Majority Leader Tom Delay (R-TX) stated last week that Republicans were still a few votes away and said, “It will be coming up when we have the votes to pass it.” To date, they do not have the votes. What is clear is that Bush is far from having a mandate, and that the growing movement against free trade now has the opportunity to mobilize the previously unorganized anti-Bush activists.

When CAFTA was first proposed, very few people in the U.S. thought the plan could be defeated. When told this, numerous organizers in the Salvadoran movement stated, “We do not choose our battles based on what can be won; we choose our battles based on what the needs of our people are. We know that our struggle is just, and if we continue to organize for what is right, we will one day be victorious.” Three years later, activists from throughout the U.S. and Central America are about to do what many thought impossible - hand Bush and his cronies a defeat on CAFTA, and a major blow for the trade agenda.

To get involved in the battle against CAFTA, contact the Stop CAFTA Coalition or the Committee In Solidarity with the People of El Salvador.

Cherrene Horazuk is an expert on Latin America and former national director of the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador.

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