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Two die in Guatemala free trade protests

Indymedia San Francisco - 17 Mar 2005

Two die in Guatemala free trade protests

Christian Aid - UK

Two people were killed and many injured as violence broke out during protests in Guatemala on Tuesday 15 March when President Oscar Berge ratified the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).

The deaths in Huehuetenango follow days of violence as people across Guatemala joined the biggest demonstrations ever seen in the country. Protestors argue that the CAFTA will make Central American countries more dependent on the US.

As the anti-CAFTA rally ended, police and soldiers launched a violent attack on the crowd using batons and tear gas. Two protestors were fatally shot.

Police surrounded the headquarters of Guatemala’s trade unions under orders to capture trade union leaders.

The violence followed similar protests in neighbouring Honduras when anti-CAFTA campaigners stormed congress when the government signed CAFTA on 4 March a month ahead of schedule.

Honduras was the second country to sign up to the agreement following El Salvador which signed in December 2004 and now Guatemala is the third. Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua are still under negotiation.

Trinidad Sanchez, Director of Comal, a Christian Aid partner in Honduras, said: ‘We have raised our voice to denounce the danger that comes with this free trade agreement.

‘This is going to increase unemployment, it is going to increase the crisis of food security in the country, and it is going to make health and education less accessible for the people in Honduras. And this is not only for Honduras, but for the whole of Central America.’

CAFTA follows the North American Free Trade Agreement signed in 1996 between Canada, US and Mexico

As part of a coalition of organisations campaigning against CAFTA, Comal has logged the impact of NAFTA on Mexico. It has argued that overall NAFTA has increased inequality and reduced incomes for the vast majority of Mexican workers.

Comal argues free trade with the US is going to bring misery to the poor of Central America who will be forced to compete in an unfair market. Agriculture will be the worst hit and peasant farmers are at risk of not being able to grow and sell beans and maize - Central America’s staple diet.

As the world gears up for the Global Week of Action against unfair trade, Central America will continue pressing against CAFTA. Trinidad Sanchez was one of at the World Social Forum in Delhi in 2004 when the idea of a week of solidarity campaigning was born.

Señor Sanchez said: ‘We have been opposing the CAFTA treaty for many years. What we wanted from the international campaign was the linking of movements. We had not predicted though that the Global Week of Action would coincide with the singing of the treat in Central America, it’s a good coincidence.’

 source: Indybay (with photos)