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More thoughts on Argentina & Brazil's demonstrations

by aden Mon Nov 7th, 2005 at 04:16:12 AM EST

I would like to throw some thoughts into the discussion about the various trade agreements in the Americas and the demonstrations that are occurring during President Bush's visit to Argentina and Brazil.

My hunch is that when most people in the US saw the front pages of this past weekend's newspapers with pictures of the demonstrations in Argentina or Brazil, they saw an anti-US, anti-Bush, anti-Iraqi war demonstration devoid of the context of 10 years of trade negotiations, IMF monetary policies, and possible US involvement in human rights abuses in Argentina.

Several months ago I conducted an interview with members of Catholic Relief Services that looked at the potential for the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) to contribute to the conditions that could lead to an increase in human trafficking in Central America.

In this interview one of the discussion points was the lack of a democratic process and the amount of US imposed secrecy surrounding the negotiation process. Another item discussed was how CAFTA was a bargaining chip for the larger Free Trade of the Americas (FTAA) process, as well as a tool to counter the progress of the Common Market of the Southern Cone agreement (MERCOSUR).

Most importantly, and more relevant to the topic of the interview, was the deep concern that CAFTA was structured in such a way that an extremely large number of small farmers and farming families would not be able to compete against the highly subsidized US farming industry.

This inability to compete would lead to displacement and large-scale migration; some of those pushed onto the migration trail would most likely fall into human trafficking networks.

There was significant civil unrest in Central America during the negotiation process of CAFTA. On the day the parlimentary vote on CAFTA took place in Guatemala, security forces killed two protestors.

In his testimony before Congress -pdf, in an attempt to stop the passing of CAFTA, the Bishop of San Marcos Guatemala, Bishop Alvaro Ramizzini stated

"In Latin America, two-thirds of those who live in rural areas are poor. In Guatemala, 56 percent of the population is poor and 16 percent is extremely poor with 93 percent of those living in extreme poverty living in rural areas in my country. Almost one quarter of Guatemala's GDP comes from the agricultural sector. Our farmers are hardworking and will continue to find ways to compete with their northern neighbors. But they cannot compete against the United States Treasury and the $170 billion subsidies granted in your Farm Bill of 2002.

And when they can no longer farm and support their families, because of cheap commodity imports or restricted access to seeds and fertilizers because of stringent intellectual property restrictions, where do my people go? What do they do when they are no longer on the land, growing corn, rearing cattle, raising their family, going to church and building communities? The older people mostly stay on the land, while our young head to industrial centers in search of jobs... Some call them "illegals." But according to our market model, they are better described as entrepreneurs without assets, pursuing the American dream. They are not free-loaders."

I will soon be posting a collection of interviews on the tradio21 site with people who have migrated into the US through irregular means; by foot, cargo train, and/ or in the backs of semi-trucks. All have risked their lives to get into the US. All paid large sums of money to be smuggled in; many mortgaging their homes to pay for the smuggling fees.

One man I interviewed worked in a US owned factory in El Salvador running the machines that created the pre-washed look for pre-washed jeans -six different machines needed, for anyone interested. He had one of the best labor jobs one could get, but according to him it was not enough to provide for a better future for his family. He migrated into the US, and a year later his two eldest sons followed.

In the tradio21 audio interview on CAFTA the human trafficking expert from Catholic Relief Services discussed how many of the factory jobs created by NAFTA are moving to cheaper labor markets like China. Now, people without land, who had low paying jobs that only allowed them to live week to week, find themselves with nothing.

Where will they go? In search of jobs that will help them feed themselves and their families.

What is one of the US' responses to the growing wave of migration?

"A senior US Republican is pushing for the construction of a 2,000-mile (3,200km) fence along the entire length of the US-Mexico border." - from BBC website

So many in the US demand tighter borders, yet do not look at some of the causes behind this mass migration flow that seems to only be getting worse. There is an increasing number of migrants coming to the US from South America, particularly Brazil and Peru.

Many in the US human trafficking and prostitution abolitionist camp frame trafficking in the context of growing organized crime networks, heavy handed pimping, and an increasingly violent and perverted demand that captures or abducts women. However, virtually no discussion occurs in these camps about how trade policies contribute to this phenomenon.

There is a growing recognition of the disproportionate affect poverty has on women and children; sometimes referred to as the "feminization of poverty". This disproportionate affect pushes women and children more readily into the already existing societal vulnerabilities making them easy prey to the aforementioned characters.

As I mentioned earlier, the tradio21 audio interview describes the lack of a democratic process and US imposed secrecy used to bring CAFTA into being. Within this context, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's statement calling the free trade agenda an "imperialist" plan being foisted on the region by the United States, is not as outrageous a statement.

President Bush frames the issue as a matter of a fork in the road.

Bush said the plan he supports for the region would ensure social justice through representative government, open markets and "faith in the transformative power of freedom in individual lives."

The opposing vision, he said, "seeks to roll back the democratic progress of the past two decades by playing to fear, pitting neighbor against neighbor and blaming others for their own failures to provide for their people."

At his congressional testimony, Bishop Ramizzini voiced his disagreement that CAFTA would lead to social justice and democracy

 "Without a concerted effort to complement trade and development in a serious way, by putting our most talented trade experts with our most talented development experts in the same room, to solve the same problems with contributions from their own specific field of competence - then the rights of workers to decent wages, small farmers to a fair price, access to health care and education for the young will be cruelly denied and the promise of democratic reforms and a just participation in the global market will be frustrated. We can do better, and we must do better, in shaping a bold, comprehensive and integrated trade and development agenda that will guarantee positive results for the poor among us."

In Sunday's Post President Nestor Kirchner of Argentina agrees with Bishop Ramizzinni

 "We must create a kind of globalization that works for everyone, and not just for a few."

President Kirchner continues, putting this concept of social justice further into question

 "U.S. policy not only generated misery and poverty but also a great social tragedy that added to institutional instability in the region, provoking the fall of democratically elected governments," Kirchner said at the summit Friday.

Kirchner may be referring to the IMF policies during a financial crisis in which the IMF mandated Argentina's currency remain pegged to the dollar, as well as that Argentina be required to open up certain markets to the US.

He may also be referring to the US suspected involvement in Argentina's "Dirty War" in the mid-seventies  

 Washington, D.C., 4 December 2003 - Newly declassified State Department documents obtained by the National Security Archive under the Freedom of Information Act show that in October 1976, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and high ranking U.S. officials gave their full support to the Argentine military junta and urged them to hurry up and finish the "dirty war" before the U.S. Congress cut military aid. A post-junta truth commission found that the Argentine military had "disappeared" at least 10,000 Argentines in the so-called "dirty war" against "subversion" and "terrorists" between 1976 and 1983; human rights groups in Argentina put the number at closer to 30,000.

kcurie posted a diary using a poker game as an analogy to describe the trade negotiations. I will end with two excerpts from Global Policy papers that support this game playing analogy.

From the 2004 article, Nicaraguan perspective of CAFTA

"CAFTA can be understood in the context of a US strategy to divide opposition in negotiations for other larger trade agreements. After difficulties in furthering negotiations of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and in the World Trade Organization (WTO), the US embarked on a strategy of "divide and conquer," pursuing bilateral trade agreements to prevent poor states from forming alliances, such as the G20+ that formed in the WTO negotiations in Cancún in September 2003. (The Cancún negotiations collapsed after a group of more than 20 poor states refused to accept further trade liberalization without concessions from the rich countries on their agricultural subsidies.)

The huge power imbalance with the US leaves the Central American countries with little bargaining clout over CAFTA.

From a 2003 Global Policy paper MERCOSUR and the FTAA: New Tensions and New Options.  

"Many analysts and officials feel that the growth of MERCOSUR is precisely what worries Washington the most. Each time a step is taken in that direction, the United States counters with opposing measures. In the best-known case, just as Chile was going to join MERCOSUR as a full member, it received an invitation from the Clinton administration to begin negotiating a free trade agreement with the United States. This precedent is important to bear in mind, since it indicates that expanding free trade through new "associated" countries does not necessarily strengthen MERCOSUR. The U.S. seems to be applying the same tactic with Peru. When Brazil and MERCOSUR came closer to reaching an association agreement with Peru, Washington hinted at the possibility of a U.S.-Peru free trade agreement. The consequences of this enticement were seen immediately. Despite strong domestic debate, Alejandro Toledo's government quickly withdrew from the Group of 20 led by Brazil and others to counter the U.S.-EU proposal in the September World Trade Organization talks, and eagerly responded to Washington's invitation to negotiate."


Thank you for your post. It sure addresses a lot of the questions we have been kicking around here the last week...though I'm certain there will be more discussion, and should be. Like, what are our trade policies and how do these afeect the 3rd world? and what can we do to provide more fairness, while not seeling our farmers down the river?

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Mon Nov 7th, 2005 at 04:15:41 PM EST

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