Honduras Ratifies CAFTA
Honduras on Thursday became the second Latin American country after El Salvador to ratify a free trade agreement with the United States.
"It was a decision that took awhile in Congress, but it brings Honduras into the global economy," congressional vice president Emil Hawit said after the vote.
The initiative was approved by 100 of 128 legislators, its strongest support coming from the ruling National Party and the opposition Liberal party.
Lawmakers immediately fled Congress following their decision, however, to avoid 1,000 government employees who were protesting the measure outside. The demonstrators later entered the building, breaking windows and chairs and occupying the legislators’ abandoned seats as left-leaning lawmakers delivered anti-CAFTA speeches.
Widescale opposition protests in neighboring Guatemala prompted the congress on Wednesday to delay CAFTA deliberations for a week, although a congressional commission was expected to give the plan its preliminary approval.
The United States signed the deal last May with Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. The Dominican Republic signed later. Each country’s legislative branch must ratify the deal before it can go into effect.
The measure would give U.S. manufacturers and farmers increased access to Central American markets while encouraging greater U.S imports of Central American textiles and sugar.
Both producers in the United States and Central America fear they would be hurt by the deal, however. Opposition from the sugar and textile industry in the United States have guaranteed that the measure, backed strongly by U.S. President George W. Bush, is in for a tough ride in the U.S. Congress.
Central American opponents to CAFTA say the deal will make their countries more dependent on the United States and hurt local producers.
El Salvador was the first Latin American country to ratify the pact in December, despite widespread opposition in that nation as well.
Legislators in Nicaragua currently are considering the measure for ratification. It has not yet been submitted to lawmakers in Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic.
"This agreement will only bring hunger and dependency to Honduras," said Salvador Zuniga, of the Committee of Indigenous Organizations, a private group that claims to have a membership of 500,000.
Zuniga said the organization was rallying union members, teachers and students to wage massive protests against the pact in the country’s principal cities.
The president of Honduras’ Private Business Council, Jose Maria Agurcia, congratulated the legislators, however, saying their vote showed they were looking out for "the future and the country’s progress."
President Ricardo Maduro, who presented the initiative to Congress in January, told a news conference later Thursday that "the deal with the United States represents a 2 percent growth in the Honduran economy over the next two years."
"I am happy and proud to establish the foundations for my nation’s progress."