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Interview: Jose Angel Tolentino

By Andrea Perera

FUNDE articulates the problems of farmers and agriculture workers when lobbying against DR-CAFTA. It is part of CID (Initiative for Trade, Integration and Development). In this interview, Tolentino talks about DR-CAFTA and why he traveled to Washington, DC to tell US Congresspeople that he's against it.

How would you describe Oxfam's partnership with FUNDE?

Oxfam shares common interests with FUNDE, especially when it comes to civil society. For example, the Make Trade Fair campaign had a very strong reception in El Salvador. And FUNDE did a lot of research on the drop in coffee prices on the international market, which helps support Oxfam's work.

A lot of the work we do around CAFTA is with Oxfam's help. Oxfam has provided support, training and capacity building—everything related to organizational development.

How would DR-CAFTA affect your country?

The difference between El Salvador and the US—we don't have subsidies like US farmers have. On the one hand, there's a highly subsidized agriculture and on the other, there's a poor economy, which doesn't have subsidies.

CAFTA would basically open our economy up to the largest economies in the world, which is the US.

Whatever affects agriculture is going to translate into socioeconomic problems. My country's economy depends on agriculture. And our ability to produce our own food depends on agriculture.

You talked about your worries that the US will dump its exports on El Salvador if DR-CAFTA is approved. What other aspects of DR-CAFTA worry you?

CAFTA is about more than trade. Foreign investment for example. The agreement favors protecting foreign capital. This is an agreement that really takes away the flexibility of local governments to enact policies that meet their own objectives.

In addition, it creates a very damaging relationship between investors and the state. This relationship allows the investor to sue the state if things don't go the way they want.

What are you doing in El Salvador to try to defeat DR-CAFTA?

FUNDE works at two levels. One is the regional level in Central America, in which the CID initiative plays an important role. It allows us to coordinate actions like this one that brought us to Washington to influence Congress.

There's also the national level. There, we have a direct relationship with several organizations, unions, churches, local governments, environmental organizations, micro enterprises. We provide information to these different groups. At the same time, we try to craft proposals that reflect the interests of those sectors. For example, these organizations decided to reject CAFTA after we completed an analysis of each chapter of the agreement.

Also we have a relationship with US agencies where we present the negative effects of CAFTA. We basically demand actions to prevent, but also mitigate, what CAFTA would produce.

Every chapter of CAFTA, such as agriculture, environment, and intellectual property—basically every country has its own way of approaching these things. But, in general, we try to integrate the regional view. This allows us to work at two levels, international and national.

How do you feel your visits with the US Congresspeople and their staff went?

The problems that we face in our countries—there is just a superficial understanding. But there are differences between the Congress people. There is a lot of opposition, but many say they have not decided how they will vote.

Whatever happens, we have given them information. In the future, they cannot say that they didn't know. Because we told them.

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