TLC Does Not Mean Tender Loving Care
March 1, 2007, marked the first anniversary of the implementation of a free trade agreement between El Salvador and the United States of America. DR-CAFTA has been something many Salvadoraños have opposed from the very beginning of negotiations. After one year of experiencing the effects first-hand of Tratado de Libre Comercio, also commonly known as simply TLC, it is unsurprising the streets of San Salvador were not quiet. The innards of DR-CAFTA were hashed out behind closed doors by the elite power holders, in this specific case, the ARENA government and the Bush Administration. The TLC agreement passed all legislation necessary despite an immense amount of resistance against neo-liberal models of trade throughout the Americas.
TLC Does Not Mean Tender Loving Care:
At Least Not for Everyone
March 1, 2007: San Salvador, El Salvador
Today marked the first anniversary of the implementation of a free trade agreement between El Salvador and the United States of America. DR-CAFTA has been something many Salvadoraños have opposed from the very beginning of negotiations. After one year of experiencing the effects first-hand of Tratado de Libre Comercio, also commonly known as simply TLC, it is unsurprising the streets of San Salvador were not quiet. The innards of DR-CAFTA were hashed out behind closed doors by the elite power holders, in this specific case, the ARENA government and the Bush Administration. The TLC agreement passed all legislation necessary despite an immense amount of resistance against neo-liberal models of trade throughout the Americas.
Seeing as El Salvador was the first of the Central American nations to "sign-on" to this deal, they are most likely to have the most visible repercussions of such a pact. In fact, by June 2006, El Salvador had been the most negatively effected country according to trade statistics in Central America. "In 2006 exportation to the U.S. fell by 2.5% while importation increased 5.3%. El Salvador sold less and bought more. In the case of agricultural products, sales to the U.S. dropped 3.7% and purchases from the U.S. grew by 17%. The purchase of red meat increased 378%, milk products 37%, grains 28% and rice 18%."
Many people that I spoke with during the rally proclaimed that even within the first year of CAFTA's existence, there has been an incredible amount of adjustment occurring within the economic and political sectors of El Salvador. Antonio Saca, El Salvador's president, promised many things to the people of El Salvador. These included price reductions of imported goods, an increase of foreign investment within El Salvador, an increase of exported goods to the states and a boost of employment. By the end of 2006, none of these claims had become a reality. Before the creation of this free trade zone in 2005, foreign investment in El Salvador was at $300 million - in 2006 it declined to $222 million. Also in 2006, the inflation rate of El Salvador grew from 4.3% to 4.9%, the second quickest growth of inflation in the last 10 years for the country. As for the employment sector, a manuscript released by the United Nations' Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean claimed that in El Salvador, "in spite of economic growth, the unemployment rate has increased."
The statistics often used to defend free trade, deny and discredit the reality of job losses in the informal work sector. Many agriculturalists in the countryside (campesinos) are forced to migrate where the work is, effectively destroying their culture and way of life. In addition, this search for money is often a reason people increase their tactics for border jumping.
DR-CAFTA has done little to improve the standard-of-living for most, what it has actually accomplished is an even more polarized economy and an increase of underemployment that is sure to continue as the free market continues. The demonstrators included student movement groups, human rights and solidarity organizations, campesinos and trabajadores (workers) from all sectors whom voiced their opposition today.
As the people gathered at one entrance of the Universidad de El Salvador, one man with a mega-phone stood out from the crowd. On the other side of the street, traffic was passing with normalcy. Two busses slowed to a stop to gain more passengers. The man with the amplified voice was calling on the people to get off the bus and join him in the street. A loose translation of what he said is as follows: "If you love this country and know CAFTA is the instrument of imperialism, join me in solidarity". After some brief discussion on the bus, all but two people had spilled out and into the streets. With this, the march began. With an estimated 5 to 10 thousand people marching on Boulevard de los Heros, the police attempted no arrests even as masked demonstrators sprayed messages on everything they could fit a phrase. Instead, they acted as protection from the busy metropolis streets.
There were 3 small explosives detonated during the march and an incident with a vehicle trying to pass through the crowd when emotions intensified and it got a bit heated. Other than these few incidents the mass was very calm and poised. The march ended at the Supreme Court of Justice building when a petition was presented to its members. The petition claimed DR-CAFTA to be unconstitutional and therefore illegal on 8 counts. Some shared their opposition, some shared their experiences and some promised that the resistance against TLC in El Salvador will not be subdued.
As I followed the demonstration route back, the walls were littered with slogans reading: ARENA=Terrorismo, Revolución o Muerte, others with FMLN front man Schafik Handal's name scattered in the messages, as well as countless others. Although not unruly but far from tame, these people expressed their disappointments and have much to be irritated about.
With promises from both governments failing to manifest, this abundant deception is only continuing and furthering the economic polarization of these nations. Coming from a country well seasoned to foreign economic intervention, the voice of these people in El Salvador must be reckoned with. Resistance will continue until their complaints have been legitimized - No al TLC!
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