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Leaders Cannot Avoid the Skunk at Trinational Picnic: NAFTA’S 11-Year Record Is Uninvited Guest at NAFTA Meeting

NAFTA Meeting Shadowed by U.S.Congressional Opposition to CAFTA-NAFTA Expansion and Anti-CAFTA Protests in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras

WASHINGTON, D.C.   – The Bush administration, hosting leaders of Canada and Mexico today at a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) meeting in Texas, should focus on ameliorating the bleak economic reality of NAFTA at home and abroad rather than push to deepen that agreement or expand it to Central America, Public Citizen said today.

“Instead of the higher wages, more manufacturing jobs and balanced trade flows promised by NAFTA supporters a decade ago, we’ve seen a NAFTA decade in which the opposite has occurred,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. “Plus, an array of domestic health and environmental laws has been attacked in all three NAFTA countries, and 1.5 million Mexican farmers have lost their livelihoods to NAFTA.”

“Given that CAFTA is an expansion of NAFTA to six additional countries and is widely seen as a referendum on a decade of NAFTA, that CAFTA faces such stiff opposition in U.S. Congress demonstrates that the NAFTA model is in trouble,” Wallach said.

While bipartisan opposition to CAFTA mounts in Congress, the passage of the agreement by Guatemala’s Congress under unusual procedures has inspired massive public demonstrations. The government has involved the military and police, who have employed water cannons, tear gas, beatings with metal batons and other tactics to quash the demonstrations. Police in Huehuetenango fired into crowds of farmers last week. At least two Guatemalans have been killed by the government forces, several have been injured and many more have been declared missing.

The police violence promoted at least 11 members of the U.S. Congress to write Guatemalan Ambassador Guillermo Castillo on March 17, asking for Guatemalan authorities to respect basic rights of assembly and free speech. “We feel strongly that the Guatemalan Military should not be involved in internal security in general and in responding to the anti-CAFTA protests,” the letter states.

“The Bush administration has created a dangerous situation in Guatemala by pushing for harsh one-size-fits-all NAFTA-model rules that have proved after a decade in Mexico to threaten the futures of the poorest of the poor and will destabilize other countries in the hemisphere by pushing this agenda further,” said Wallach.