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CAFTA: Widespread Harm to Workers in the US, Central America

Common Dreams | August 8, 2005

Citing CAFTA's NAFTA-like provisions, Greens warn of damage from water privatization, lost jobs and depressed wages, and blocked access to medicine.

Green Party leaders called the House's recent passage of the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) a disaster for working people in the U.S., Central America, and the Dominican Republic and the environmental health and safety in the signatory nations.

"CAFTA will extend NAFTA's job loss, workers' rights abuses, and environmental damage throughout Central America," said Nan Garrett, Georgia Green and Spokesperson for the National Women's Caucus of the Green Party. "It will prohibit governments in the region from ensuring that foreign investment serves national development goals. Instead, it'll enable further schemes for the profit of U.S.-based corporations."

CAFTA encourages nations to privatize and deregulate services such as education, health care, postal service, construction, transportation, and the provision of water.

"Privatization and deregulation have proved particularly devastating for families living in poverty," said Julia Willebrand, co-chair of the Green Party's International Committee. "In Bolivia, forced water privatization resulted in an economic breakdown when poor families were forced to pay exorbitant fees to Bechtel, a U.S.-based corporation. CAFTA will require the officials in more than a third of Nicaragua's municipalities to open water management to bidding by transnational companies."

Greens note that CAFTA contains a provision similar to NAFTA's Chapter 11, which allows foreign corporations to sue national, state, and local governments that pass strong labor, public health, or environmental protections. Under the provision, companies can bypass domestic courts and sue a government directly for cash compensation if they think an environmental or public health law might interfere with their ability to profit.

CAFTA's "data exclusivity" provisions and monopoly protections for brand-name drug manufactureres threaten access to affordable life-saving medicines in a region where half the population live in poverty. According to the World Health Organization and UNAIDS, more than 78,000 Guatemalans are HIV-infected; annual AIDS-related deaths totaled 5,800 in 2003.

"CAFTA is modeled on NAFTA and other failed trade policies, under which the U.S. trade deficit reached a record $600 billion last year after American companies relocated to take advantage of lower wages and weaker worker and environmental protections," said Jill Bussiere, Co-chair of the Wisconsin Green Party. "The NAFTA-related trade deficit cost U.S. workers nearly 900,000 net jobs through 2002. Companies that stayed in the U.S. used the threat of leaving the country as a means of breaking union organizing drives, and to win concessions at the bargaining table."

"Despite rosy predictions from supporters about new jobs, NAFTA continues to harm workers in the U.S. and Latin America. CAFTA will compound the damage," added Jody Grage Haug, who lives in Seattle, Washington and serves as co-chair of the Green Party of the United States. "Protests similar to Seattle in 1999 may be necessary to show widespread opposition to CAFTA, but it's equally urgent that we remove the Republicans and Democrats who voted for it from public office."

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