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Public Citizen Joins Challenge to Bush Administration: Bring CAFTA to a Vote When Congress Returns So It Can Be Rejected or Just Withdraw It; It’s Time to Negotiate a New Kind of Agreement

On One-Year Anniversary of CAFTA Signing, Public and Congressional Opposition to This NAFTA Expansion Grows

Statement of Lori M. Wallach, Director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch

That a majority in Congress do not support the proposed CAFTA expansion of NAFTA to six additional nations despite a year of campaigning by CAFTA’s corporate sponsors and the Bush administration sends a clear signal: CAFTA is a moldering corpse that needs burial. The administration should submit CAFTA to a vote when Congress returns in June so lawmakers can reject it, or the administration should withdraw the pact.

The fact that Congress is less likely to approve CAFTA today than when it was signed signals a broad rejection – by Republicans and Democrats alike and by the U.S. public – of any expansion of the NAFTA model.

CAFTA’s text is 90 percent identical to NAFTA, and the other 10 percent of CAFTA is worse than NAFTA, yet NAFTA has an 11-year record of failure. During the NAFTA era, the U.S. lost millions of manufacturing jobs, real median wages flattened, farm trade volumes increased but commodity prices and farm income plummeted, and a small trade surplus turned into a big deficit with NAFTA nations, which now contributes significantly to the $637 billion deficit threatening future U.S. economic growth and the dollar’s stability. Meanwhile, many in Mexico also lost out; some 1.5 million campesino farmers lost their farms and livelihoods, real median wages in Mexico dropped 20 percent since NAFTA and food prices jumped. Hunger in Mexico increased, as has the number of people pushed to make the dangerous journey to the United States to seek work here. Thus, Latino groups, including the League of United Latin American Citizens, the nation’s largest Hispanic membership organization, the Central American Resource Center, the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement and the Salvadoran American National Network all oppose CAFTA, calling it anti-Latino and exclusionary.

NAFTA’s track record is such that while 110 House Democrats voted for NAFTA in 1993, those who remain in Congress today oppose CAFTA, and only three House Democrats now are on record as supporting CAFTA, while perhaps 10 House Democrats total might support the pact if it were brought for a vote. Since the signing of CAFTA one year ago, opposition has swelled throughout the United States. Rural, labor, environment, immigrants’ rights and faith-based groups have elevated the debate over the expansion of NAFTA through CAFTA into a referendum on the future of U.S. trade policy, forcing members of Congress to take sides on whether future U.S. policy will benefit the middle class, create jobs and promote accountability and fairness, or continue with a reckless status quo narrowly benefiting large multinational corporations.

CAFTA opposition is not confined to the United States. Public opposition to CAFTA in Central America is generating massive public demonstrations. In El Salvador, 250,000 citizens joined large protests. Prolonged protests against CAFTA in Guatemala resulted in the military breaching the civil war peace accords and firing on protestors, killing at least two civilians. While the elite in Central America push the deal, associations representing the public interest – 18 separate Central American labor federations, indigenous peoples groups and health groups – oppose CAFTA. More than 160 civil society groups in Central America have signed declarations opposing CAFTA. Their message has been clear: CAFTA will increase political and social instability in our region.


For information about the failures of NAFTA, click here.