Major Mobilizations in El Salvador to Protest CAFTA and Honor Schafik Handal
Major anti-CAFTA protests yesterday in and around San Salvador shut down critical highways, while groups marched from various points in the city to converge on the National Assembly and still others marched toward the US Embassy. Since the recent CAFTA legal reforms that penalize selling pirated CD's and DVD's, vendors in the informal sector of the economy have held numerous protests and demonstrations throughout the month of January, but yesterday they were joined by many other sectors of the Salvadoran social movement in the streets. Student, unionists, teachers, religious groups, and the Popular Social Bloc (BPS) all protested the implementation of what they call an unfair, anti-democratic agreement that will only serve the interests of U.S.-based multinational corporations.
The march that was going toward the Embassy was followed by a police helicopter and was stopped by riot police, who set up a barrier so that protestors could not get near the embassy. Other groups that added their voices to the protest included public sector workers - teachers and health care workers specifically - who have also been protesting to demand a raise.
Yesterday's mobilization comes as implementation of CAFTA has once again been postponed. The original goal was January 1, then February 1; however, even after the Salvadoran Assembly rushed at the end of 2005 to pass the legal reforms the USTR claimed were necessary for CAFTA's implementation - on everything from tariff policies to intellectual property right protections - the US government and US business interests are not satisfied. Most recently the US has pushed for new sanitary regulations that go beyond what was originally agreed to during negotiations, stalling implementation even further. March 1 has been set as the new target date.
Meanwhile, protesters yesterday promised to be out in the streets again if ARENA doesn't stop the implementation of CAFTA. The FMLN continues to denounce CAFTA implementation, and came out again yesterday in support of the protestors. Salvador Sanchez Ceren, FMLN Deputy and historic leader, said that "the people have no other option than to take to the streets to protest since the government is not listening to their demands."