The pressure is on for the survival intact of the Bush administration's larcenous "free trade" policies, at least in their most virulent form. Writing on the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) in the Washington Post last week (1), Robert Zoellick gave a good insight into the mindset of the imperial bootleggers currently struggling to maintain their choke-hold on Latin America. Zoellick's article starts with a succinct summary of 60 years of US intervention in Central America. He begins with one of his predecessors trying to recoup the defeat inflicted on the US armed forces by Augusto Sandino in Nicaragua.
"(Henry) Stimson negotiated a cease-fire and free elections. He was hailed as a peacemaker. But a Nicaraguan general named Sandino refused to accept the elections. Violence flared again, Sandino was killed and the Somoza family imposed a long dictatorship. Frustrated, Stimson later wrote that the people of Central America "were not fitted for popular self-government." The United States turned away while problems festered."
â€œ.... the US turned away while problems festered.â€ That's it then, for 60 years of US inspired mayhem and massacre. Now, Zoellick might say he is using a broad brush. Fine, let's put a big framework around the canvas.
Just forty years earlier, the US army at Wounded Knee put some finishing touches to the genocide of indigenous peoples in North America. Just twenty years earlier, US armed forces had masscred hundreds of thousands of people in the Philippines. From that time through the slaughter of millions of civilians in Vietnam to the current mass-murder in Iraq and Afghanistan, US governments have intervened ceaselessly around the world in order to advance the interests of the greedy, bloodthirsty ruling caste they represent.
Franklin D. Roosevelt â€“ the dictators' friend
Returning to the Central American foreground of Zoellick's picture, what was actually happening in those Roosevelt years? In 1932 the Salvadoran military under the military dictator General Hernandez Martinez ordered the massacre of tens of thousands of rural workers and their sympathisers who were agitating for reform, The United States supported that atrocity. In Guatemala in 1931 another general, Ubico Castaneda, an open admirer of Adolf Hitler, took over as the US proxy murderous dictator there. In Honduras, another repressive military dictator, General Carias Andino, held power under US supervision and tutelage.
Zoellick writes "Sandino was killed". But he omits the important detail. Sandino was murdered on the orders of Uncle Sam's hand-picked leader of the US-trained Nicaraguan National Guard, Anastasio Somoza. The US assisted Somoza in his take-over as military dictator in Nicaragua. Until the end of World War Two, Somoza and the other murderous Central American military dictators were all actively supported, aided and rewarded by Roosevelt's government and its corporate business partners, most famously, the United Fruit Company, now called Chiquita.
CAFTA â€“ welfare for plutocrats
Robert Zoellick sustains his cynical re-writing of history to the present day, "Now Central Americans are asking the United States to help secure democracy through a free-trade agreement known as CAFTA, building a closer economic relationship to provide a new foundation for growing opportunity." Most Central Americans are not asking anything of the kind.
CAFTA is a US government initiative. The negotiations were held in secret, rushed through on a US specified time-table, between unelected representatives of the Bush administration and unelected functionaries of the Central American governments. The deal was presented to legislatures as a fait accompli, take it or leave it - so much the worse for democracy.
Nicaragua and Costa Rica have yet to ratify the agreement and may well not do so. In those countries, most elected representatives are rightly unconvinced that CAFTA will benefit their countries. In Guatemala, the Bush administration's proxy there decided to "secure democracy" earlier this year during a final vote on the CAFTA legislation by unleashing security forces to club and gas a peaceful demonstration of thousands of workers and students protesting against the agreement. In Central America people opposed to CAFTA remember all too well the false US government promises of massive reconstruction aid in the early 1990s.
Crocodile tears for organized labor â€“ breakfast, lunch and supper too?
In his Washington Post article, Zoellick himself implicitly gives the best argument for rejecting CAFTA. Its main purpose is to provide investment opportunities for the US multinational corporations outside the United States. It is an interesting question when people in the US will wake up to their missing manufacturing industry which has been going AWOL since even before the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico in the 1990s.
That is the reason Zoellick focuses so relentlessly in his article on factitious nonsense about "democracy" in Central America. Unelected apparatchiks like Zoellick could hardly care less about the mass of people in the US, in Central America or anywhere else. That is why they are so ready to massacre people as they and their predecessora have done historically and continue to do right now in Afghanistan and Iraq. Robert Zoellick knows very well the effects of US policies. While in Iraq recently he visited Fallujah to see the wholesale destruction of that city and its inhabitants for himself.
So what is one to make of Zoellick's bogus words of consummate hypocrisy like these for trades union rights in Central America? "Others claim to be concerned about workers' rights in the region yet seem to ignore the devastation for those workers that would result from defeating CAFTA and sending jobs in apparel production and similar industries to China." Of course, the reality is that United States governments and corporations have worked for years to undermine labor in the US itself and, through the maquila system, labor rights in Central America.
Most employment law in Central America is relatively progressive since much of it was framed during the late 1950s and early 1960s. During those years relatively liberal governments in the region were trying to appease radical labor protest. CAFTA will accentuate existing trends in employment practices against the interests of ordinary workers to roll back labor rights won all those years ago.
Ravaged environments and disappeared rural populations? OK by CAFTA.
Perhaps Zoellick could explain exactly which of CAFTA's provisions prohibits multinational corporations from moving their business to wherever their costs are cheapest. None do of course, or could, because big business dollars fly where the business climate is best, as swallows follow the summer. The advantage for them of Central America is its proximity to their markets in North America. Another advantage for big corporations is that - through the Inter-American Bank financed Plan Puebla-Panama - regional infrastructure is being geared and fine tuned precisely to serve corporate business interests rather than the interests of ordinary people.
Big corporations don't need a healthy natural environment to be able register their apparently limitless tax-free profits year after year. So Plan Puebla-Panama projects that will very likely damage the environment are being pushed through regardless. IMF enfeebled central governments have neither the programs nor the resources to save the huge areas around the Gulf of Fonseca that are steadily turning into desert. That is also why natural reserves throughout Nicaragua's Atlantic Coast and other precious areas of natural reserves in Central America are being degraded year by year.
Nor does corporate business need the small farmers and rural workers who until two decades ago made up the majority of Central America's population. What big business needs are large pools of vulnerable, impoverished, unskilled and semi-skilled labor concentrated in convenient urbanised belts. So it's no coincidence that US aid and trade programs have actively promoted migration from rural areas to urban centres. Dumped surplus grains from US markets have completely distorted basic grain production in the region since the early 1980s â€“ well, one might ask, so what?
In the 1980s PL480 aid legislation imposed restrictions on those program's US grain exports if they might distort local markets in recipient countries. Year after year through that period those restrictions were waived for countries in Central America. The resulting collapse in prices for producers in unprotected markets in countries like Nicaragua now means that basic grain production in many parts of the region is in chronic decline. Their traditional employment patterns wrecked, rural populations move en masse to the cities.
Terror is democracy, murder is progress, etc. etc......
Robert Zoellick writes, "The strategic choice on CAFTA should not be hard. The agreement is the logical culmination of 20 years of democratic and social progress in Central America, encouraged by the United States." Odd then that the United States was convicted in 1986 of unlawful aggression against Nicaragua by the International Court of Justice. In that same year, among many other atrocities, buses in Nicaragua carrying civilians were blown up by the US trained and funded Contra, near San Juan de Limay and near San Jose de Bocay. Over thirty civilians died in each of those US sponsored terrorist attacks with dozens more injured - â€œdemocratic and social progressâ€, presumably, Zoellick-style.
Successive US administrations from Jimmy Carter to George Bush Sr. overtly or covertly lavished support on military dominated regimes that systematically repressed dissent with unrestrained military terror. Massacres by government forces were commonplace in El Salvador and Guatemala throughout the 1980s. When the Guatemalan repression became too embarrassing even for the thick-skinned Reagan administration, Reagan's team relied on its Israeli allies to provide arms and training so the Guatemalan army could continue to kill its own people as efficiently as possible.
This is not surprising from a country that is currently protecting mass-terrorist Luis Posada Carriles, on the run from justice in countries throughout Latin America. Only the US offers him safe haven. For over twenty years, Posada Carriles planned terror attacks like the murder of Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffit in Washington and the bombing of a Cuban civilian airliner over the Caribbean. During a later Venezuelan interlude in his career, he tortured political prisoners for the regime of disgraced Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez, another fugitive from justice, also in Miami.
To cover up for criminals like him, Bush regime front men like Robert Zoellick twist and stretch language to obscure normal meaning. "Terror" in the mouths of these Bush regime loyalists means "anything that stops us getting what we want". By their definition, anyone who does what they want cannot be a terrorist. QED, Luis Posada Carriles and his accomplice Orlando Bosch both freely walk the streets of Miami, no need to smoke them out from bunkers in Tora Bora.
Terrorized servitude or self-determination?
The French diplomat Talleyrand is supposed to have remarked with satisfaction to Czar Alexander of Russia about Europe's 19th-century congress system of diplomatic summits, "We can change the very meaning of words from one Congress to the next...." In the case of CAFTA, it all depends what is meant by "democracy" or "progress". Zoellick wants to depict the agreement as something unquestionably beneficial to the general good of all.
But in his mouth "progress" really means "more efficient profit-skimming for the tiny elite of which I am a part" and "democracy" really means "fraud-ridden US-intervened electoral processes that return a result the elite that I represent finds acceptable". Available evidence suggests that Zoellick's first loyalty is not to the United States or its people. Rather his first loyalty appears to be a class loyalty to the multinational corporations he and his Bush regime colleagues work for when not in office. Their first concern is not promoting beneficial trade but creating prime investment conditions with enormous returns for corporate big business.
So Robert Zoellick is absolutely right about the strategic choice CAFTA represents. And he's right too that it should not be hard. The model of which CAFTA is the culmination has already caused enough social, environmental and economic damage for the huge majority of people in Central America and the United States. CAFTA should be thrown out.
toni solo is an activist based in Central America - contact via www.tonisolo.net
1. Washington Post. Tuesday, May 24, 2005; Page A17. (Thanks to Nicaragua Network for the reference.)