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  • Central American Free Trade Agreement Fueling Human Tragedy
    Posted On: Aug 03, 2016

    By JoAnne Powers, August 4, 2016

    The passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994 caused devastation to Mexico’s economy, fueling undocumented immigration from Mexico into the United States.  When NAFTA was followed by a similar trade agreement for Central American countries, Mexico began seeing the same issue at its southern border, with immigrants from Central America streaming northward due to economic hardship and violence.  Arthur Stamoulis is Executive Director of the Citizen’s Trade Campaign:

    [Arthur Stamoulis]: “After NAFTA was passed, CAFTA, the Central America Free Trade Agreement came next.  There was huge resistance in Central American Countries to CAFTA.  People saw what had happened to Mexican campesinos.  They did not want that happening to their countries.  Unfortunately, a lot of right-wing governments acquiesced to U.S. demand and CAFTA was enacted.  The same thing that happened to Mexicans happened to Central Americans where there was this flood of cheap corn, of cheap wheat, of cheap soy into the Central American market and farmers were pushed off their land.  People desperate for ways to survive moved increasingly to the drug trade and to gangs and a lot of people risked their lives on an even further journey across first the Southern Mexican border and then up into the U.S.  People probably remember from a couple of years ago the crisis of so many undocumented youth trying to get into the United States…children escaping the violence and escaping what was really the economic aftermath of CAFTA in Central America.”

    Manuel Perez-Rocha, an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C., says that the economic situation could get even worse if Central American countries and the U.S. ratify the similar Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement:

    [Manuel Perez-Rocha]: “CAFTA has been enacted for ten years, and in ten years the economic situation in those countries, above all Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, has only worsened.  Trade deficit, for example, with the United States has widened.  There are very few industries that have benefited from CAFTA, and those very few industries that have benefited are now at risk with the Trans Pacific Partnership.  For example, one industry that has benefitted is the textile industry, and now the Trans Pacific Partnership threatens that industry because producers like Vietnam can produce even cheaper than Central American countries.”

    Perez-Rocha says during the last ten years, there’s been not only worsening economic conditions in Central America, but also an increase in violence, further fueling emigration:  

    [Manuel Perez-Rocha]: “We need to understand that people are fleeing also because of violence, but this violence is also a product of economic insecurity.  When you don’t have enough jobs, when you don’t have any economic security, what you are actually creating is a climate of increased violence, which is what is making so many people flee those countries and risk their lives passing through Mexico towards the United States.  I think it’s a need to a very, very serious evaluation of what these agreements, NAFTA and CAFTA, have had in Central America, because what we’re seeing is the escalation of a human tragedy in those countries.”

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