Two-Day Nationwide Strike Against U.S.Free Trade Agreement Rocks Peru, Reveals Broad Peruvian Opposition to NAFTA Expansion

July 12, 2007

Two-Day Nationwide Strike Against U.S.Free Trade Agreement Rocks Peru, Reveals Broad Peruvian Opposition to NAFTA Expansion

Mass Resistance in Peru Reinforces Announcement of Opposition to Peru, Panama FTAs by U.S. Latino Civil, Immigrant Rights Groups; CAFTA’s First Anniversary Also Protested in Dominican Republic

WASHINGTON, D.C. – While the Bush administration attempts to pressure Congress into quick consideration of a U.S. Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Peru, a nationwide strike in Peru against the controversial NAFTA expansion reveals the depth of opposition to the pact, which also has failed to garner support from a single U.S. union or environmental, consumer, health, anti-poverty, faith or family farm group, said Public Citizen.

Today’s strike is being led by teachers unions, peasant farm groups, indigenous organizations and unions representing mining and manufacturing workers. Conveagro, an organization composed of nine million farmers and rural workers of the coast, highlands and tropical forests of Peru, last Thursday launched a series of events to lead up to today’s national strike. Daily demonstrations in Lima and other cities across the country have culminated in the two-day strike in which numerous organizations are participating. Civil society leaders in Peru demanded that the Peruvian government cease the Peru FTA consideration and implementation process.

“It is a great irony that the Bush administration has once again fallen back on that desperate argument of last resort – that the deal is good foreign policy – just as public opposition to NAFTA expansion is intensifying in Peru, and the FTA is a source of growing resentment against the United States,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch division. “If the United States hopes to build a stronger relationship with Latin America, it needs a policy agenda that reaches across borders to the Peruvian people – not just the Peruvian counterpart of the U.S. elites who support the NAFTA model.”

Since NAFTA – which contains the same agriculture and foreign investor rules as the proposed Peru FTA – went into effect in 1994, 1.3 million Mexican peasant farmers have lost their livelihoods, Mexican industrial wages have declined, nearly 30,000 small independent businesses have collapsed, and annual immigration from Mexico to the United States increased 60 percent in the first six years of the pact alone. Additionally, scores of domestic, non-trade laws have been challenged before foreign tribunals established under the “trade” pacts, including laws on zoning, toxics and mining.

At the same time, the United States has seen its trade deficit balloon to nearly $800 billion, three million manufacturing jobs sent offshore and median real wages remain stuck at 1970s’ levels – even as U.S. worker productivity has soared.

“It is no surprise that protests in Peru are large. The Peru FTA threatens to displace millions of farmers, expose basic environmental, zoning and public health laws to challenge in foreign tribunals and lock Peru into an unpopular failed privatized social security system,” said Wallach.

Peruvian religious leaders have weighed in against the agreement. Monsignor Pedro R. Barreto Jimeno, S.J., Archbishop of Huancayo of Peru, said in a letter to the U.S. Congress, “To recall some words of Pope Benedict XVI, ‘We cannot remain passive before certain processes of globalization which not infrequently increase the gap between the rich and the poor worldwide. We must denounce those who squander the earth’s riches, provoking inequalities that cry out to heaven.’ We would be very much in your debt if, when you consider the U.S.-Peru FTA, you take into account the negative effects that [it]… could occasion on our poorest populations, for whom we as the Church have a special concern and pastoral preoccupation.”

Despite the demands by the archbishop, the congressional majority-making Democratic freshmen and others, the Peru FTA still contains most of the harmful, NAFTA-style provisions that have led to rural displacement in Mexico.

“Peruvians need greater access to health and retirement services, but the Peru FTA will restrict access to affordable medicines, hamper needed regulation of health and other service sectors and impede efforts to fix what has been done to privatize social security,” said Julio Castro Gómez, the National Coordinator of ForoSalud, a coalition of health advocacy organizations in Peru.    The Peru FTA grants foreign investors excessive rights that could chill efforts to reverse Peru’s failed social security privatization that is nearly identical to a proposal pushed unsuccessfully by the Bush administration for the United States.

In a demonstration of how widespread the rejection of the NAFTA model is throughout the hemisphere, the Peruvian strike comes on the eve of strikes in the Dominican Republic, which implemented the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) only one year ago. Strikers in the Dominican Republic demanded the repeal of CAFTA with 70 percent of Dominicans polled saying that the Dominican Republic’s economy is going in the wrong direction.

“Only two years after CAFTA squeezed through Congress on the narrowest margin for a trade deal ever – and only one year after implementation in the country – the Dominican Republic is seeing the devastating effects of the failed NAFTA model,” said Todd Tucker, research director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch division and author of the CAFTA Damage Report. “No more countries should be subjected to the damaging policies imposed by overreaching international trade agreements.”

The Peru FTA has been signed and awaits a vote in the U.S. Congress.

LEARN more about NAFTA expansions and the Peru FTA.

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