March 1 marked the first anniversary of the implementation of the U.S.-Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) in El Salvador. While Presidents Bush and Saca met in Washington DC and made statements about how beneficial CAFTA had been for "everyone," back in El Salvador the social movement, youth groups, economists, and the FMLN party all disputed those claims.
There were two protests marking the CAFTA anniversary and calling for a reversal in the agreement. On Wednesday, February 28, youth organizations shut down the Boulevard Constitución, one of the main roads into and through San Salvador, in a peaceful protest. The riot police moved in and broke up the protest, arresting 27 young people for "public disorder." The youth were held for over 24 hours, but had been released by Friday. Then on Thursday, another group of protestors marched to demand that CAFTA be repealed. Campesinos, students, informal vendors, and other social movement organizations went to the Supreme Court to demand that CAFTA be repealed. The FMLN echoed those criticisms, calling on the Supreme Court to declare the agreement unconstitutional. The CD/DVD vendors movement participated in the Thursday march, calling attention to the way the implementation of CAFTA has criminalized their only means of survival.
The year anniversary proved an important moment for debunking the government’s promises about the boon CAFTA would bring for all Salvadorans. Even the U.S. and Salvadoran governments’ official numbers show that El Salvador’s trade deficit with the U.S. has grown, with U.S. exports to El Salvador far outweighing Salvadoran exports to the U.S. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Salvadoran agricultural exports to the U.S. fell 3.7% in 2006, and U.S. imports to El Salvador grew by 17%, the greatest rate of growth since 1970. The Latin American economic think tank CEPAL reports that inflation went up slightly from 2005 to 2006 in El Salvador. Foreign investment in El Salvador went from $300 million in 2005 to $222 million in 2006, whereas in Costa Rica – where CAFTA has not been implemented – foreign investment is eight times higher. The protests and denouncements last week all pointed out these contradictions and called on the government to reverse this trend by seeking economic programs that diverge from the "free" trade model. Huge protests occurred in Costa Rica a few days prior to the anniversary (see www.stopcafta.org for more information.)