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More CAFTA failures for the Bush administration - thousands protest free trade agreement in El Salvador

US Newswire

More CAFTA Failures for the Bush Administration; Thousands Protest Free Trade Agreement in El Salvador

Wed Feb 1, 2006

WASHINGTON, Feb. 1 /U.S. Newswire/ — As President Bush touted the benefits of free trade in his State of the Union address, protests filled the streets of San Salvador on Jan. 31 in the latest of a string of events demonstrating the continued failure of the U.S.-Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA). The Bush Administration had hoped to celebrate the implementation of CAFTA on Jan. 1, but was forced to delay the start date until at least February. Now, even hopes of a March 1 date seem remote, and social movements are reinvigorated in their struggles to continue mobilizing against the worst aspects of the agreement, and to ultimately thwart the implementation process.

In recent weeks the U.S. Trade Representative has been insisting that the six countries involved in the agreement go beyond the original provisions, especially in the areas intellectual property rights and sanitary regulations. In particular, U.S.-based pharmaceutical companies have demanded legal changes in the Central American countries that would prevent generic drug companies from manufacturing low-cost medicines. The government of Guatemala has been particularly adamant in opposing such measures, and the vice-president has gone as far as to threaten to pull the country out of CAFTA if the USTR does not let up. Then, in mid-January the Bush administration added plant and animal health reforms to the mix of changes they are demanding before implementation, pushing Central American countries to eliminate domestic health regulations for U.S. meat exports.

"Clearly the Administration believes they have these countries backed in to a corner and is taking advantage of the situation to leverage even more benefits for U.S. corporations," said Andrew de Sousa of the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA). "The costs for Central Americans will be very high, and thus people continue to resist"

In El Salvador, the controversial legal reforms have already been approved by the Legislative Assembly, reviving the anti- CAFTA movement that had grown in strength since the agreement was introduced in 2002.

"Any country negotiating with the Bush Administration right now should be wary of signing an agreement, given the example of consistently shifting the finish line for CAFTA in order to appease corporate supporters. There is no reason to believe they will not pull the same stunt with Peru, Panama, Colombia, or Ecuador," said Tom Ricker of the Quixote Center.

On Jan. 22 Presidents from the five Central American countries met to discuss CAFTA and also agreed to open a new regional facility for anti-terrorism and counter-narcotics monitoring in Guatemala. The facility would accompany a new U.S.-sponsored police school (the International Law Enforcement Academy or ILEA) that is expected to open this year in El Salvador. Said Burke Stansbury of the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES), "The rise in U.S. military aid and influence to Central America is clearly essential to the strategy of expanding corporate trade, and these new military facilities demonstrate a move towards combating increased popular resistance with force."

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 Fuente: US Newswire