Central America Theater


No Business as Usual as CAFTA Takes Effect

by Paul Pollack

SAN SALVADOR, March 1 -- There was little fanfare and much protest today as the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) went into effect in El Salvador. The country is the first Central American nation to honor CAFTA and for the second straight day, thousands marched and traffic was snarled throughout San Salvador. Five other signatory nations have failed to meet US requirements necessary to join the agreement.

The day before, Salvadoran President Tony Saca proclaimed the start of CAFTA by announcing to George Bush (who was not present), "Come with your basket empty and take it home full."


The New Corporate Agenda for Central America

by Tom Ricker and Burke Stansbury

What does tightening intellectual property laws have to do with "free" trade? That's the question many people in Central American and the Dominican Republic are asking as the United States trade representative continues to insist on dramatic changes to constitutional laws in the six countries involved in the US-Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (otherwise known as CAFTA).

As if the agreement itself weren't bad enough for the region—critics say CAFTA will hurt small farmers, worsen workers rights, and lead to environmental degradation, among other negative effects—the US is manipulating the implementation process to demand even further concessions by the six countries involved.


from Weekly News Update on the Americas


On Dec. 30 Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) spokesperson Stephen Norton announced that the US was postponing implementation of the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA), which was scheduled to go into effect on Jan. 1. Although "various countries are almost ready for their startup, none have completed their internal procedures," he said, referring to enabling legislation the participating countries have to pass for DR-CAFTA to go into effect. The trade pact will be implemented progressively, according to Norton, "to the extent that the countries make sufficient progress to comply with the promises set in the accord." Until then, the countries will continue to benefit from tariff reductions under the Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act (CBTPA).


from Weekly News Update on the Americas


Thousands of Salvadorans participated in a nationwide day of protest on Nov. 30 against the neoliberal economic policies of President Antonio Saca. The demonstrations, organized by the Popular Social Bloc (BPS) and backed by the leftist Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation (FMLN), consisted of 17 different actions, including the blocking of major highways, rallies in front of government offices and the distribution of literature on the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA), a trade pact set to go into effect on Jan. 1 between five Central American countries, the Dominican Republic and the US.

Nicaragua-Costa Rica tensions over strategic canal route

This Dec.1 report (condensed here) from the Tico Times, Costa Rica's English-language newspaper, notes a World Court case between the Central American country and its northern neighbor Nicaragua over the strategic San Juan River that forms the border:

With historical tensions again flaring between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, Rodrigo Carreras, Costa Rica 's ambassador to Nicaragua, is calling for understanding and tolerance between the neighboring nations.

20,000 protest School of the Americas

On Nov. 19 and 20, some 19,000 people gathered outside the gates of Fort Benning, Georgia to demand a dramatic shift in US foreign policy and the closure of the US Defense Department's Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly called the US Army School of the Americas (SOA), a combat- training school for Latin American soldiers. The protest, organized by SOA Watch, is held each November at Fort Benning to commemorate the 1989 murders in El Salvador of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter; some of the killers were SOA graduates. Last year 16,000 people attended. Organizers cited reports of torture by US soldiers and the ongoing war on Iraq as motivating factors for this year's record turnout.

Guatemalan drug czar busted

Guatemala's anti-drug chief and two of his senior officials were arrested Nov. 16 on charges of conspiring to import and distribute cocaine in the United States. The Guatemalan government assisted in the investigation but the arrests were an embarrassment for President Oscar Berger, who has tried to clean up the country's image as corrupt.


from Weekly News Update on the Americas


More than a thousand people are feared dead in flooding and mudslides in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas as a result of Hurricane Stan, which hit the region on Oct. 4. Heavy rains continued in some areas at least until Oct. 8. The worst destruction was in western Guatemala, where at least 652 people were reported dead and 384 missing as of Oct. 10; whole indigenous communities were buried by mudslides in Solola and San Marcos departments. Another 133 people died in Mexico and the rest of Central America. Observers attributed much of the devastation to deforestation, and noted that poverty forces poor campesinos to live in vulnerable areas.

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