FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

CAFTA’s Bloodtrails

by DAVID MACARAY

On Wednesday, April 23, U.S. and Guatemalan labor groups filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor,  changing the workers’ rights provisions of CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement) are being violated.  The petitioners allege that union members in Guatemala are not only being routinely harassed, threatened and intimidated, but that  union leaders have been assassinated.

Since 2006, when Guatemala became a trading partner in CAFTA (whose other signatories include the U.S., Dominican Republic, Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Nicaragua), eight trade unionists have been killed.  The most brazen murder occurred in January, 2007, when Pedro Zamora, the charismatic president of a port union, was gunned down in front of his home by a carload of assailants in broad daylight.

Five separate complaints were filed on Wednesday, alleging violations against members of six unions affiliated with agriculture, seaport shipping and textile industries.  The complaints seek punitive damages from the Guatemalan government—a remedy “guaranteed” by CAFTA’s workers’ protection language.  These fines can run as high as $15 million per year.  As to the prospect of the Guatemalan government actually being found guilty and having to fork over the money, no one is holding their breath.

There have been dozens of formal complaints filed by labor organizations and human rights groups since 1994 (when the first of these agreements was implemented). Not a single one has resulted in sanctions against the alleged offenders.  After conducting what they described as “thorough investigations,” the U.S. Department of Labor announced that it had found no violations.  None.  In other words, so far, every trading partner in the world has a perfect, unblemished human rights record.  What were the odds?

It’s time we asked ourselves, Which of those so-called “free trade” agreements have actually fulfilled their ambitious promises to recognize workers’ rights and protect the environment?  Which countries, if any, have made an effort to live up to the ambitious, idealistic language contained in those provisions?  By “live up to,” we mean provide evidence that the government is willing to vigorously prosecute businesses who are in violation.

It’s also time that we acknowledged a simple, discouraging fact:  In countries where labor unions are violently opposed by government and business interests, a treaty isn’t likely to make much difference.  Businesses and their government cronies will find a way to get around the wording.  Consider:  Have Mexican labor unions flourished under NAFTA?  Have Honduran labor unions flourished under CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement)?  Have Latin American workers at the bottom of the economic ladder benefited significantly from “free trade”?

In truth, whether NAFTA, CAFTA or the proposed U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, it was a consortium of financial and manufacturing interests who initially pushed for these deals, and who did so for reasons that were not only largely incompatible with workers’ rights and environmental protection, but, in many cases, in direct contradiction to them.

While we’re at it, we need to acknowledge another fact:  These trade agreements were glorified money grabs, plain and simple.  They were business deals.  As for the “human rights” and environmental provisions spelled out in their language, those were merely palliatives, a means of getting them approved by Congress.  Does anyone really believe that maintaining the viability of labor unions even entered into the equation?

Of course, what you hear from free trade proponents is that, imperfect as they may be, these trade agreements are the only means we have of fixing a bad situation.  Without them, the U.S. would have no legal right to intervene in a country’s commerce.  Indeed, without the existence of CAFTA, that formal complaint filed last Wednesday would not have been possible.  According to free trade advocates, these trade agreements offer the U.S. the “human rights” leverage it never before had.

While this argument may be true in theory, in the real world it’s not only false and misleading, it’s insulting.  If the respective governments (including the U.S.) are unwilling to enforce the provisions of the law — despite the “opportunity” for interested parties to file their petitions — those provisions are all but meaningless.

Worse, being on the books in the form it is, this language implies that the situation has improved and that the necessary steps are being taken, which is untrue.  This argument is also amusing, in that it exposes the ways in which American politicians and businessmen cherry-pick their positions.

Take the anti-Communist hard-liners, for instance.  They objected to the U.S. signing arms limitation treaties with the Soviet Union on the grounds that the Soviet leaders  couldn’t be trusted to uphold their end of the bargain.  But these are the same people who are falling over themselves trying to get these free-trade agreements ratified, even when there is zero evidence that the signatory governments have any intention of adhering to the human rights requirements.

Similarly, many of these free trade fundamentalists (“We need to engage these regimes, not snub them!”) are the same people, the very same zealous holdouts, who, for decades, have opposed lifting the trade embargo with Cuba.  Apparently, those snappy, “let’s engage these regimes” arguments didn’t apply when it came to Fidel Castro.  Go figure.

We need to drop the pretense and get real.  Why should we expect a coalition of big business and government to consider giving labor unions a fair shake, particularly in Latin American countries, where (as it once was in the U.S.) government-sanctioned violence against unions is standard procedure?

We have to stop feigning shock and disappointment when these treaty provisions are violated.  That certain countries continue to terrorize labor unions should not come as a surprise.  The only “surprise” is that an outside observer would honestly believe these governments ever had the slightest intention of complying . . . or that the U.S. would risk throwing a wrench in the works by punishing a valued trading partner.

DAVID MACARAY, a Los Angeles playwright and writer, was president and chief contract negotiator of the Assn. of Western Pulp and Paper Workers, Local 672, from 1989 to 2000. He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net

 

More articles by:

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

January 15, 2018
Rob Urie
Democrats and the End(s) of Politics
Paul Tritschler
Killing Floor: the Business of Animal Slaughter
Mike Garrity
In Targeting the Lynx, the Trump Administration Defies Facts, Law, and Science Once Again
Thomas Hon Wing Polin
Hong Kong Politics: a Never-Ending Farce
Uri Avnery
Bibi’s Son (Or Three Men in a Car)
Dave Lindorff
Yesterday’s ‘Shithole Countries’ Can Become Classy Places Donald, and Vice Versa
Jeff Mackler
Lesser Evil Politics in Alabama
Jonah Raskin
Typewriters Still Smoking? An Interview with Underground Press Maven John Campbell McMillan
Jose-Antonio Orosco
Trump’s Comments Recall a Racist Past in Immigration Policy
David Macaray
Everything Seems to Be Going South
Kathy Kelly
41 Hearts Beating in Guantanamo
Weekend Edition
January 12, 2018
Friday - Sunday
George Burchett
Wormwood and a Shocking Secret of War: How Errol Morris Vindicated My Father, Wilfred Burchett
Roberto J. González
Starting Them Young: Is Facebook Hooking Children on Social Media?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Between the Null and the Void
Andrew Levine
Trump After Bannon: What Next?
John Davis
Mud-Slide
Ajamu Baraka
The Responsibility to Protect the World … from the United States
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming Stirs the Methane Monster
Paul Street
Lazy Liberals and “the Trump Effect”
Carmen Rodriguez
Trump’s Attack on Salvadoran Migrants
Mike Whitney
Oprah for President, Really?
Francisco Cabanillas
The Hurricane After Maria
Luciana Bohne
World War I: Crime and Punishment
Steve Martinot
The Ideology of Pepper Spray: Force and Violence in a Can
Martin Billheimer
Beyond the 120 Days of the Silicon Valley Dolls
Patrick T. Hiller
An Olympic Glimmer on the Horizon – North Korea and South Korea Stepping Down the Escalation Ladder
Ron Jacobs
The Vietnamese War: a Different Take
Binoy Kampmark
Fuming in the White House: the Bannon-Trump Implosion
Joseph Natoli
What to Worry About and What Not to Worry About
Colin Todhunter
Monsanto, Bayer and Neoliberalism: A Case of Hobson’s Choice
Brian Cloughley
Trump’s Bullying of Cuba
Kenneth Surin
Bigger in Texas
Arturo Desimone
The Untouchable Leader Who Stood Up to Gandhi
Peter Crowley
To Cheerleaders of Iran Protests: Iran is Not Our Enemy, a Sponsor of Terror or a Tyranny
Michael McKinley
Australia and the Wars of the Alliance: History and Politics
Jim Goodman
Free Trade Should Benefit the People Not Corporations
David Mattson
The Sad Case of Grizzly Bear Recovery and Distinct Population Segments
Clark T. Scott
Confidentially and Corporately Conning
Amir Khafagy
How Liberals Depoliticized White Supremacy
John V. Walsh
Why Progressives Should Support the Trump-Putin Efforts at Rapprochement
Missy Comley Beattie
Election 2020 Foresight
Rev. John Dear
The Year of “Nonviolence or Non-Existence”
Graham Peebles
A Moment of Significance and Opportunity for Ethiopia
Matthew Stevenson
Into Africa: Shadows of War Over Mafeking and the Making of Winston Churchill
Pauline Murphy
The Irish At Teruel
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail