Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

CAFTA Unites Unlikely Opponents in New Orleans: From Louisiana Fishermen to Pax Christi Members, a Motley Mix Turned out to Protest a Trade Agreement They Say Will Spell Disaster Stateside as Well as in Central America

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

CAFTA Unites Unlikely Opponents in New Orleans: From Louisiana Fishermen to Pax Christi Members, a Motley Mix Turned out to Protest a Trade Agreement They Say Will Spell Disaster Stateside as Well as in Central America

Article excerpt

Managua resident Magda Lanuza used to enjoy drinking fresh milk produced on local Nicaraguan farms. "Not any more," says Lanuza sadly. "People in the cities are now drinking powdered milk produced by an Italian transnational company. The indigenous food chain has been destroyed. We are eating imported rice, imported corn."

The company Lanuza is referring to is Parmalat, which began vending a combination of fresh and powdered milk in Nicaragua's capital in 2000.

The access to Nicaraguan markets that Parmalat and other multinationals now enjoy, according to Lanuza, can be directly attributed to free trade policies imposed on her country by the World Bank. But those policies are just a hint of what she fears will happen under the Central American Free Trade Agreement, CAFTA, currently being negotiated between the United States, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, El Salvador Guatemala and Honduras.

Last month Lanuza joined protesters in New Orleans during the sixth round of CAFTA negotiations, held in New Orleans July 28-Aug. 1. The negotiating text of the agreement has not been disclosed, even to the legislatures of the participating countries. But protesters say they assume it will be modeled after NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and the recently completed free trade agreement between the United States and Chile. And that's bad enough for them.

"Everywhere, local economies are being broken up in this international economy," says Brian Marks, spokesperson for the No CAFTA Coalition, which coordinated the New Orleans protest. "Increasingly 'trade' is being called cross-border operations within a corporation." He gestures in frustration. "If I take my watch off of this arm, and put it on this arm, is that trade?"

As Marks and other opponents see it, CAFTA and other free trade agreements unfairly benefit large corporations at the expense of small producers and rural populations. According to a list of talking points distributed by the No CAFTA Coalition, free trade policies like those imposed under NAFTA allow the dumping of imported agricultural products at prices below the cost of production. This, in turn, drives small local producers--like the corn farmers of Chiapas, Mexico--out of business. The coalition also maintains that CAFTA will limit the rights of member countries to regulate food safety and the environment within their own borders. Under NAFTA, such regulations can be deemed harmful to an investor by a tribunal of the World Trade Organization, which, though not popularly elected, has the power to levy steep damages against signatory governments. Further, coalition members fear that the pending agreement will force the privatization of vital public services such as water, electricity, education and health care under clauses forbidding unfair competition for contracts.

All this was speculation as nearly 100 protesters gathered in New Orleans' Armstrong Park for an anti-CAFTA protest and march July 26. But the concerns were concrete enough to call together a motley mix that included third-generation shrimp fishermen, Pax Christi activists and self-proclaimed anarchists.

About a dozen shrimp fishermen, outfitted in billed caps and T-shirts, marched with banners that promoted fresh wild shrimp. The fishermen hung toward the rear of a procession led by bike riders brandishing anarcho-syndicalist flags and a megaphone-toting announcer chanting, "What is CAFTA 'afta'? …

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