Dirty deals broker U.S. passage of CAFTA

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At three minutes past midnight on July 28, the U.S. House of Representatives passed CAFTA, the free trade agreement with Central America and the Dominican Republic that has been vociferously opposed in all seven affected countries by unionists, environmentalists, small farmers, indigenous people, women, students, and people with AIDS. The pact has now been approved by the U.S., Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. Next the governments of Costa Rica, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic will attempt to ram it through.

In the words of Deborah James of Global Exchange, the House of Representatives vote was bought by “an outrageous amount of pork barrel politics and fake side deals that don’t amount to a hill of beans.”

Earlier in the month, transportation and energy bills lavished millions of dollars on local projects in exchange for pro-CAFTA votes. Other concessions were negotiated on behalf of U.S. sugar and textile industries, and a bit of China-bashing was thrown in to simulate support for preserving U.S. jobs.

CAFTA backers also played the well-worn cards of anti-terrorism, anti-communism and national chauvinism.

Tom Delay announced, “It is good for our national security in supporting these fledgling democracies at our back door.” Representative Hoekstra of Michigan proclaimed: “We have an historic choice … to unite America and our partners in Central America and the Caribbean in the continued march for progress and democracy, or a choice that pushes them into the arms of Bolivarian socialism, the clutches of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and Cuba’s Fidel Castro” (Congressional Record). Others invoked the specter of brown-skinned immigrants clamoring at U.S. gates if Central America were to be denied the supposed prosperity and harmony of “free trade.”

The trade agreement’s true toll will be unemployment, agricultural displacement, escalating food and medical costs, and environmental destruction. U.S. workers and activists must continue to oppose the devastation wreaked by U.S. and transnational corporations on the peoples of the Americas, and stand with Central Americans who are still attempting to halt CAFTA’s forward roll.

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