There was little fanfare and much protest on March 1 as The Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) went into effect in El Salvador. The country is the first Central American nation to honor CAFTA and for the second straight day, thousands marched and traffic was snarled throughout San Salvador. Five other signatory nations have failed to meet US requirements necessary to join the agreement.
The day before, Salvadoran President Tony Saca proclaimed the start of CAFTA by announcing to George Bush (who was not present), "Come with your basket empty and take it home full."
Today’s march started at the "Salvador del Mundo Plaza" and streamed for blocks to the Civic Plaza, in the heart of downtown San Salvador. Vendors of pirated CD’s and small farmers took to the streets next to unionists, students, and anarchists. All declared their opposition to CAFTA, or the "TLC," as it is known in Spanish.
The FMLN political party announced that it intended to repeal CAFTA legislation, based on its inconformity with the Salvadoran Constitution. The party submitted a lawsuit before the Supreme Court of Justice, but acknowledged that without a majority in the country’s Legislative Assembly, there was not much hope for success.
Many people are looking towards the March 12 elections to decide CAFTA’s fate. If CAFTA opponents can gather 43 votes in the Legislative Assembly, they will be able to repeal enacting laws that the US deems essential for CAFTA participation.
CAFTA regulates trade in goods, services and investment, and forces governments to extend "national treatment" to foreign corporations. The agreement creates special courts to adjudicate trade disputes. The courts allow corporations to sue governments for "anticipated lost profits" if they can prove that local laws impede business. Protesters say that CAFTA will destroy local agricultural production by allowing cheap, low quality produce and grain from the US to enter tariff free.
Perhaps the most heartening resistance to CAFTA in El Salvador has come from the informal sector. Months ago, the US demanded that El Salvador pass more stringent laws protecting copy write and brand name logos. National police immediately launched a campaign to eliminate vendors who sold copies of popular CD’s, DVD’s and other name brand merchandise. Instead of closing up shop however, vendors organized and fought back for their right to sell the counterfeit merchandise. These vendors were in the streets yesterday in full force. One sign read: "No to originals!"
Protesters vowed to continue the fight and very few in the crowd felt that CAFTA was permanent.
Photos and text by Paul Pollack, an UpsideDownWorld.org writer based in El Salvador.