FMLN Legislators Walk Out in Protest to Assembly Vote on CAFTA Reforms

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On Wednesday, December 14, three right-wing political parties in El Salvador's National Assembly pushed through 200 changes to 10 existing laws, without taking any time to study their impacts, in order to ensure the January 1, 2006 implementation of CAFTA. The executive branch introduced the most substantial reforms just two days prior to the vote. All the modifications were put on the Assembly's fast track under pressure from the US Trade Representative. In protest, FMLN legislators abstained from voting and walked out of the Assembly session. "The right is giving our national legislation a coup de grace by putting it completely at the service of transnational corporations' commercial interests, to the detriment of the common good," said FMLN legislator, Salvador Arias.

ARENA party lawmakers have scrambled to pass the reforms ever since a visit by US Secretary of Commerce, Carlos Gutierrez, last October. It took less than two months to translate the reforms into a legislative proposal and bring it to the Assembly floor. FMLN lawmakers argued that it was irresponsible, if not impossible, to sufficiently debate the effects of 200 changes and two completely new laws with CAFTA's January 1st deadline looming. However, the changes were approved by the same political parties that pushed CAFTA through last December. Several opposition parties accused the National Assembly of no longer being a place for legislative deliberation since CAFTA's backers had pre-arranged the approval of the reforms.

El Salvador leads the race to implement the USTR-mandated reforms, which must also be approved by the Organization of American States (OAS). The governments of Guatemala and the Dominican Republic are fighting it out for second and third place, though roadblocks still remain in those countries. Meanwhile, Nicaragua's Supreme Court is reviewing CAFTA's constitutionality. Costa Rica's legislature has not yet debated the agreement and will likely hold off a contested vote until after the presidential elections in February of 2006. U.S. government trade officials have expressed that the U.S. may not want to go forward with the January deadline for implementation if more countries are not on board.

Recent polls also demonstrate that a vast majority of Salvadorans claim that their financial situation has worsened over the past year, and that few people believe that CAFTA will help their economic situation. The ARENA-led government and Salvadoran mass media have promoted CAFTA as a job-generator and vehicle for economic growth, and it is the centerpiece of President Tony Saca's economic policy. Despite the publicity campaign, however, most Salvadorans remain unconvinced by the propaganda and believe that only big business and the rich will benefit from CAFTA. Opposition to CAFTA continues to grow. Vendors of copied CDs and DVDs, who have been the targets of police repression to "clean up" the market place, claim the new pro-CAFTA reforms are equivalent to a criminalization of poverty. They protest that they have been forced into trading pirated goods due to a lack of formal employment. The Salvadoran social movement is planning a number of actions to continue resistance to CAFTA, and to defend the Salvadoran peoples' resources.

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