The final vote on CAFTA, the free trade agreement between the US and Central America, rolled out in the wee hours of July 28. It was a tight vote in the House, a squeaking 217-215, where 15 Democrats crossed over to support the measure while 27 Republicans voted against it. Supporters CAFTA anticipate abolishing custom taxes and undermining labor and environmental laws over time among the countries involved, which will consist of the US, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, and Dominican Republic. CAFTA will eliminate tariffs on 80 percent of US exports to these countries.
CAFTA was first approved in the Senate a few weeks ago when 10 neoliberal Democrats crossed over to support Bush’s obtuse trade legislation, which slipped by with a 55-45 vote. Twelve Senate Republicans opposed the bill. It was California’s liberal Dianne Feinstein and Oregon’s Ron Wyden who led the way in Democratic support for the legislation. Had the Democrats opposed the agreement in the Senate, CAFTA would have been defeated. But the Dems support for CAFTA in the Senate and now the House of Representatives has handed Bush a major victory.
It’s way past due for progressives to hold the Democrats accountable for their failures. They have turned their backs on labor and the environmental community for decades. As President Bush lobbied Congress the day before the House vote, he made it clear that his administration believes CAFTA is more than a trade agreement, Bush claimed that it was more importantly a national security matter.
Bush and company believe CAFTA will pull countries out of poverty. He claims that without CAFTA these countries’ democracies will be undermined and the flow of illegal immigrants into the US will intensify along with terrorism. It’s just too bad that Bush and his Democratic enablers learned nothing from CAFTA’s ugly cousin, NAFTA, which was signed into law in 1994 by President Clinton. Talk about terrorism. Mexico’s economy has all but crumbled, while poverty and unemployment have increased dramatically.
“Had [the original promises] come true, NAFTA would have been an enormous boom, and we would all be cracking champagne,” says Lori Wallach, director of the consumer rights group Public Citizen. “But instead we have got the 10-year record, and it’s pretty damn grim. NAFTA’s 10-year record,” Wallach adds, “demonstrates that under the NAFTA model, most people in the three countries (Canada, US and Mexico) were losers, while only a few of the largest corporations who helped write NAFTA were the major winners.”
Perhaps the most frightening aspect of CAFTA is that it is the essential precursor to the neoliberal’s (and now the neo-con’s) grand vision of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), which would attempt to open all borders from Canada to Chile and undermine many labor and environmental laws along the way. Fortunately there are several countries in South America, including Lula’s Brazil and Chavez’s Venezuela, that are not in favor of such free trade agreements. CAFTA’s passage, however, is an essential component of FTAA’s future. When Bush signs CAFTA into law he may well be ensuring its implementation in the years to come.
So who is to stop this from happening? Not the Democrats. CAFTA could have been stopped had only three lowly Democrats in the House voted to squash Bush’s trade legislation. But they couldn’t even rouse themselves to do that.
JOSHUA FRANK is the author of the brand new book, Left Out!: How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush, which has just been published by Common Courage Press. You can order a copy at a discounted rate at www.brickburner.org. Joshua can be reached at Joshua@brickburner.org.