Resistance in Central America

By Chris Hufstader

From the perspective of Central Americans, there were two major problems with the DR-CAFTA proposal. The trade agreement was going to impose unfair measures, primarily on agriculture trade and generic-brand pharmaceuticals, and would also encourage investments that would diminish opportunities in the region.

Then there was the way DR-CAFTA was negotiated. The US insisted that the entire agreement be developed in just one year, and that the Central American countries negotiate as a bloc. This was an ambitious request, and asked a lot of countries which had little capacity to negotiate trade agreements with an economic superpower.

As DR-CAFTA was being negotiated, the countries in the region had few meaningful democratic traditions in place. The poorest and least politically connected members of society were unable to influence the negotiations. And with elite business interests dominating the input to trade ministries, DR-CAFTA was less likely to really help the poor farmers and others who really needed to experience the benefits of increased trade.

"Most of the region's organized poor were skeptical that a free trade agreement with the United States could in any way help improve their situation," said Thea Gelbspan, Oxfam America's Program Manager for Latin America. "DR-CAFTA ignored the rural poverty so many Central American farmers live with, and its claims to guarantee economic growth for the region weren't backed up by the policies it contains."

To address this concern, Oxfam America gave grant funding to a coalition of economic research and advocacy organizations working to inform the public about the details of the agreement, and seek meaningful participation by all members of society. Called "Iniciativa CID," the group included organizations in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

Members of Iniciativa CID carried out research projects to inform legislators about the concerns of farmers and low-wage workers, provided training to farmers and farm workers about the DR-CAFTA proposal, and helped bring together citizens and their elected representatives to discuss international trade and poverty.

"The rules of the game really need to be changed... as well as the content of the agreements," said Rene Rivera, an economist at El Salvador's National Foundation for Development.