Approval Sought for CAFTA in Salvadoran Assembly

On December 2, the Central American Free Trade Agreement ("CAFTA") was introduced in the Salvadoran legislature for approval. The government is calling for a vote within a week on the treaty. The treaty is opposed by the FMLN, but the ARENA and PNC parties support the trade pact and have sufficient votes for its passage. In introducing the treaty to the legislature, the government proclaimed it to be necessary for the economic progress of the country and to avoid El Salvador becoming isolated in the world economy. The treaty is opposed by a variety of nongovernmental organizations, activists and religious organizations in El Salvador. The Bush administration is expected to introduce the treaty in the US Congress for ratification in the spring.

The Washington Post drew the connections between the CAFTA ratification debate and the Gilberto Soto case in its most recent coverage. The Post writes that

Employers in the region have often been backed by governments desperate to attract foreign investment to their poor countries, which increasingly find themselves competing with nations such as China where workers are paid even less.

Debate over the trade pact in Congress, expected to begin early in 2005, will bring to the forefront the tensions between pro-business governments that want to create more jobs and rights groups demanding decent wages and working conditions. Seventy-two Republican and Democratic members of Congress recently signed a letter to Powell pressing for an investigation of Soto's killing.

The Post points out that unionization has dropped from 15% of the workforce after the 1992 peace accords were signed to 5% now. It quotes labor activists assertion that the pro-business governments of the past 15 years in El Salvador have systematically worked to crush unions.