On July 27, near the witching hour, administration arm twisting finally brought passage of the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) by two votes in the House.
As you might expect, our Congressman Don Manzullo (R-16), who never met a trade agreement he didnt like, ran true to his go-along-to-get-along form and voted with the Republican majority. Manzullo once again turned his back on his constituents and opted for his own best interests.
To their credit, Senators Dick Durbin and Barack Obama cast no votes on this globalist turkey.
C-Span provided a view of the machinations and manipulations of Tom DeLay and his henchmen. To begin with, they held the vote open for 47 minutes past the close, according to Liza Grandia, writing in CommonDreams.org.
House rules on Fast-Track legislation require 20 hours of debate on trade agreements. The Rules Committee cut that to two hours which meant each representative got exactly 16-1/2 seconds to express his or her opinion on this complicated piece of legislation.
Grandia reported Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana declared the Congress should support CAFTA to aid fledgling democracies in Central America who sent soldiers to stand with our soldiers in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Apparently, no one told Pence the reason these dirt poor residents of some of the poorest countries on the planet are willing to risk death in Iraq is because the U.S. offers them citizenship if they live through service in Iraq.
California Republican Bill Thomas perhaps did not mean to be so open when he said: Let us protect intellectual property rights, let us protect our exporters, let us protect the multinationals, let us protect the big farm corporations.
Some Republicans from agricultural states were upset that the agreement will not allow their states to dump cheap corn and factory-farmed chicken on Central America. They spoke of breaking down barriers to trade. This is an area where a majority earn less than $2 a day.
A few of the Congress members have realized that this agreement is designed to benefit the big international corporations. Rep. Dennis Kucinich stressed that CAFTA is about institutionalizing cheap labor.
More of the Democratic bloc is coming to realize that these trade agreements are written by and for the corporations.
The New York Times, on its editorial page, lionized the 15 Democrats whose support of the trade agreement made passage possible. The Times said their good judgment and independence would benefit the poor in Central America by stimulating economic growth.
Said the Times: CAFTA is a modest trade pact, hardly likely to lift the six countries economies into the 21st century. But it may be enough to lift them into the 20th century by lowering tariffs. CAFTA will benefit the most under-represented constituency in America: consumers, particularly the lower-income consumers who find that a 50-cent difference in the price of a T-shirt actually means something.
Steven Sherman, also writing in CommonDreams.org, declared: Both of these arguments are so silly as to barely require refuting.
He went on to point out that these countries economies are already in the 21st century although the hallmarks of their economies are export farming and low-wage manufacturing. They also are dependent on monies sent back by migrants working in this country.
The residents of these countries in the last century have lived through state violence and torture, ecological and cultural degradation, political dictatorship and the 20th century mode of forcing small farmers off their land to make way for big corporate agro-export industries.
CAFTA is an effort to further lock them into another such century so it will be more difficult for them to enact laws to protect their own industries, to resist the big multinational corporations or to work together to create other means of production or financial networks.
And the poor U.S. consumers? No hard evidence exists that if a manufacturer saves 50 cents on the production of a T-shirt that the savings will be passed on to consumers. It is ridiculous to think that a marginal saving in labor cost will appear in the price consumers pay.
Oxfam, an international aid and development agency based in Boston, said the agreement threatens to push many poor farmers in Central America and the Dominican Republic deeper into poverty.
Stephanie Weinberg, trade policy adviser with Oxfam America, commented: In forcing passage of an unpopular trade agreement, the administration chose to ignore widespread concerns raised by many members of Congress and their constituents, as well as by farmers, trade unions, and church and community groups in the U.S., Central America and the Dominican Republic.
Whatever the spin, DR-CAFTA will institutionalize an uneven playing field instead of establishing fair and equitable rules for trade.
Weinberg said the legislation is a bad agreement that will bring some serious effects to those who are already disadvantaged in these Latin countries where the poor mostly live in rural areas and rely on income from farming. They must pay for their medicines themselves.
Rather than setting out provisions that will foster broad-based economic growth and sustainable development, Weinberg said, DR-CAFTA will put millions of poor people at risk of losing their livelihood in Central America and the Dominican Republic, and creates further pressure on people to migrate to cities or to the United States. The rules set forth in DR-CAFTA on agriculture, intellectual property, and investment add up to a bad deal for farmers, workers and consumers in these developing countries. Her remarks were reported by CommonDreams.org.
The American Friends Service Committee condemned the way the agreement was passed. General Secretary Mary Ellen McNish said: With intense pressure from Republican leadership and back room deals, CAFTA was passed for political reasons rather than the merits of the agreement, according to Progressive Newswire.
She said the act will spur poverty and cause job loss and workplace discrimination.
From the Aug. 3-9, 2005, issue