El Salvador: protests as CAFTA starts

An estimated 4,000 Salvadoran street vendors, students and union members marched in San Salvador on Feb. 28 to protest the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR- CAFTA), one day before the accord took effect in the country.

Violence broke out when students and members of the Union of Salvadoran Social Security Institute Workers (STISSS), which includes many medical workers, attempted to enter the Rosales hospital to force out riot police, who had occupied two hospitals the night of Feb. 27. The police were reportedly trying to block a planned strike by hospital workers for higher wages. Masked students threw rocks at the police, who responded with rubber bullets and tear gas. At least five people were wounded by rubber bullets, including a cameraperson from the Hialeah, Florida-based Telemundo television network. Vendors of DVDs, cassettes and pirate goods burned tires and obstructed some streets leading into the capital to protest changes to the legal code intended to bring the country into line with DR-CAFTA’s “intellectual property” provisions. (El Diario-La Prensa, NY, March 1; Boston Globe, Feb. 28; El Nuevo Herald, Miami, March 1)

As of March 1, El Salvador and the US were the only countries complying with the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA), which was supposed to go in effect for seven countries on Jan. 1. The Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua have failed to enact legislation that the US insists is necessary for compliance with the accord. Some of the opposition now comes from business groups that feel the US is asking for more than was in the agreement. Guatemalan public health experts say the accord’s “intellectual property” requirements will make it harder for Guatemala to import or produce generic anti-AIDS drugs. US negotiators “are responding to the demands of the American pharmaceutical industry to protect their products,” Guatemalan deputy trade minister Enrique Lacs told the New York Times.

In Costa Rica the legislature has failed even to ratify the agreement. DR-CAFTA supporter Oscar Arias appears to have won the Feb. 5 presidential vote [see Update #839], but with a narrow victory in the balloting and without a majority in the legislature, he will have trouble pushing the accord through the Legislative Assembly. (NYT, March 2)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 5