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Partners in Central America and US unite to fight DR-CAFTA

By Andrea Perera

As civil society demonstrations against DR-CAFTA erupted in Central America in March 2005, Oxfam America's partners sent representatives to Washington, DC to lobby "face-to-face" against the trade agreement.

DR-CAFTA is a regional trade agreement between the US and Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic. If approved, the agreement would further open Central American economies to US exports and foreign investors. It would reduce local decision-making and fail to ensure international labor and environmental standards.

With Oxfam's support, representatives from El Salvador's FUNDE, Guatemala's CIDECA and Nicaragua's Centro Humboldt met with US Congresspeople and their staff.

Oxfam provides grants to the Central American partners, which lobby against DR-CAFTA and educate citizens about the consequences of the trade agreement, if ratified.

"Oxfam has allowed us to do a lot of research. And Oxfam has been instrumental in helping us come to the US to say, 'We really don't want CAFTA,' face-to-face," said Mario Rodriguez, 40, an economist specializing in intellectual property with CIDECA.

It's important for US citizens to lobby their Congressional representatives to make trade fair. But it also makes a big difference when Central American civil society representatives can speak directly to the US Congress to explain how their countries' development will be affected, said Stephanie Weinberg, Oxfam America policy advisor.

In addition to providing direct support to the Central American groups, Oxfam America also fosters connections between US farmers and farmers in other countries around policy debates like CAFTA. Working with US partners such as the National Family Farm Coalition, Oxfam has funded exchanges where American farmers from the National Family Farm Coalition meet with farmers in Mexico and Central America, and vice versa, with Mexican farmers touring US farms.

The exchanges help farmers from the North and South understand each other's situation and make tangible connections, farmer to farmer, about the impacts of agricultural and trade policies on their daily lives.

"My ability to explain to my fellow farmers why we should help didn't come naturally," said George Naylor, president of NFFC and a farmer from Iowa. "Meeting with farmers from other countries helped me understand."

After hearing the stories from the Central American and Mexican farmers he met, Naylor said he realized that CAFTA would further depress prices abroad and push more farmers off their land.

Any farmer can understand that threat.

"When everybody in the family ends up working off the farm, then what you used to think of as a 'family farm'—where everyone is involved in caring for the land and producing food—can't happen anymore," Naylor said.