To Starve Or To Smother: US Bad-Neighbor Trade Policies
DR-CAFTA & the Cuba Blockade
By Mike Fox, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark LaMalfa, email@example.com
& Taleigh Smith, firstname.lastname@example.org
The US government has blocked and seized humanitarian aid destined for hurricane-swept Cuba, even as Congress approved cementing Central America and the Dominican Republic with DR-CAFTA (Dominican Republic - Central America Free Trade Agreement.) It is time for the US public to consider what it means to be a good neighbor and demand that the US government comply.
The Bush Administration brokered sweetheart deals to convince representatives to approve the agreement, prioritizing multinational corporations over the needs of the majority. Bush claims that DR-CAFTA is essential for the region; that sweatshops and loose regulations are the only possible niche for these countries within the global economy.
One little country has threatened this assumption for over 40 years, provoking the US attempt to starve and bury it. Systematically prioritizing the good of the whole, Cuba has provided high quality education and health care for the entire island.
Homeland Security and the Commerce Department blocked Pastors for Peace from entering Mexico with over 100 volunteers carrying 140 tons of humanitarian aid destined for Cuba in it’s 16th challenge to the US economic, informational and travel blockade. The US “no-trade” policy on Cuba is designed to isolate and force the island into hardship and misery. A complex of regulations prohibit US trade partners and individuals from visiting or trading freely with Cuba. Shortages of antibiotics are common, power outages frequent and Cuba’s world-acclaimed education system often lacks the technology necessary to prepare its children for the modern world. Yet contrary to the US mantra that communism has failed, the sought-after doctors and scholarships that Cuba offers developing countries demonstrate the success of the Cuban model despite the world-denounced US blockade.
US prescriptions for development in Central America and the Dominican Republic have left millions without access to public education or affordable health care. DR-CAFTA opens remaining public education funding to multinationals who choose to set up local schools, and encourages privatization of water and other resources. It eliminates access to generic HIV and other drugs while patenting the use of traditional plants; a death sentence for many poor. While huge US-based corporate agricultural producers dump genetically modified crops into the region, undercutting local producers and threatening people’s health, Cuba’s organic, sustainable production is modeled world wide and NO ONE IN CUBA GOES HUNGRY.
As the Bush Administration cloaks Free Trade as “democracy” and “stability” in Central America and the Dominican Republic, a cursory examination screams the opposite. DR-CAFTA was negotiated between hand-picked advisors with zero civic participation. Legislators in all DR-CAFTA countries were denied the document until after it was negotiated. No revisions were allowed, and it was debated only two hours.
Guatemalan military fired upon its people as they marched toward the capital when President Oscar Berger side-stepped a promised public referendum and signed DR-CAFTA under pressure from US negotiators. Military repression of DR-CAFTA protests is not unique, but the two people killed forced media attention otherwise dedicated to the corporate party line.
The US threatened to eliminate the DR from the treaty for its protective agriculture subsidies (the island’s global and local lifeline), even as it guarantees yearly billion US agribusiness subsidies through 2008, a pattern repeatedly cited in the World Trade Organization. The DR subsequently revoked the law in a Saturday morning session without quorum under the watchful eyes of US negotiators, Commerce Department officials and Ambassador to the DR.
Popular leaders throughout the region who’ve spoken publicly against DR-CAFTA have been accused of terrorism and suffered threats to themselves and their families. Salvadoran students critical of President Saca’s policies have lost their scholarships, currently how the poor receive education. Nicaraguan president Bolaños was nearly run out of town when he rejected the preferential price on oil that Venezuela’s alternative development plan PetroCaribe offers the region, opting instead to increase public transportation costs. And Bush funneled million of Iraq reconstruction money into militarizing his brother’s city when activists from across the US came to Miami to protest negotiations of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) that excludes only Cuba.
Cuba’s response? To host “Hemispheric Encounters” for workers, farmers, students, indigenous, health care providers and others for discussions on development alternatives. Popular referendums on free trade launched in multiple countries as a result, with the unprecedented dual goals of educating the public on “free trade” and asking their opinion. Concrete alternative trade and development models such as PetroCaribe have been developed, encapsulated in ALBA, the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, cosponsored by the Cuban and Venezuelan governments. These encounters re-enforce conclusions from five MesoAmerican Forums- grassroots gatherings in Central America strategizing alternative development plans since talks of the FTAA began. By consensus they’ve rejected DR-CAFTA and the FTAA as flawed development models that serve the elite.
The border show-down encapsulates these trade hypocrisies. Since Mexico signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the US and Canada in 1994, over 1.5 million Mexicans have lost their land, tripling the number of undocumented immigrants in the US. Maquila industry waste has infested Mexico with asthma and water-bound illnesses as environmental regulations are disabled by NAFTA’s Chapter 11 (Chapter 10 of DR-CAFTA), which allows corporations to sue governments for perceived profits lost as a result of state protections. Children line the fields picking crops for multinational producers, while their parents face death threats or starvation when they organize to demand decent working conditions in sweatshops.
The caravanistas are not passive observers. Many represent US communities drained of between 800,000 and 2 million manufacturing jobs and 38,000 small farms. Some have recruited youth in their communities to study medicine in Cuba, where the only payback required is using the education to serve poor communities. This international “people to people” foreign policy has traversed Cuba, Mexico and Central America 36 times since 1987, building relationships between people from the US, Canada, Mexico, Central America, Europe, Africa and the Caribbean; exposing the true effects of US military and development policy.
People intent on exposing the truth will not be silenced: the end results of “free trade” and the Cuban Blockade are suffering, inequality and poverty. As Pastors for Peace refuses to compromise the right to be good neighbors, the US public must take an active role in designing and implementing friendly trade policies that reflect our true values and are based upon a democratic process like those already taking place in Cuba, Central and South America. The current discussions on ALBA in Brazil and the American Social Forum in Venezuela in January 2006 call the US public to participate in creating alternatives.
The struggle to defeat DR-CAFTA brought an alliance together that can answer that call. US workers, environmentalists, farmers, indigenous and students listened to each other and their southern neighbors, many for the first time. Battles are brewing in the trenches of the Mexican border, the streets of Central America and the depths of Congress. As we learn from the tenacity and dedication of a people long outweighed in traditional terms of power and influence, our perspective broadens and new solutions emerge. US creativity, resources and experience will enhance already evolving alternatives for the entire hemisphere.
Millions have demanded a rejection of “free trade” tyranny and a repeal of the cruel Cuba Blockade. Let the release of the donated aid for Cuban people signify our evolution to the good neighbor we want to believe ourselves to be.