San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Bush Sends CAFTA to Divided U.S. Congress

U.S. President George W. Bush sent thecontroversial Central American Free-TradeAgreement with the United States (CAFTA)to the U.S. Congress yesterday. Meanwhile,a dispute about whether individual states canrefuse to participate in certain aspects of thepact has not been resolved.The U.S. Embassy in San José forwardeda statement from the U.S. TradeRepresentative (USTR) late yesterday sayingBush had submitted the trade pact. Atpress time, Costa Rican officials had notreacted publicly.Now that Bush has submitted CAFTA,Congress will have 90 business days to discussand vote on the agreement. Legislatorsmay not make amendments to the text of thepact, signed last year by the United States,Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras,Nicaragua, Costa Rica and the DominicanRepublic. Only the legislatures of Guatemala,El Salvador and Honduras have ratified theagreement to date.Meanwhile, leaders in the U.S. state ofMaryland are pressuring their governor,Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., to withdraw the statefrom a section of the pact that would allowany CAFTA member country to bid on statecontracts.The state legislators maintain a law theypassed earlier this year requires thatMaryland be removed as a signatory on thisaspect of the pact, and prohibits the governorfrom entering into trade agreements withoutthe legislature’s permission, according toMaryland daily The Baltimore Sun.FOLLOWING pressure from CongressmanBen Cardin, a Maryland Democrat,the USTR promised it would consultwith other CAFTA signatory countriesregarding whether Maryland could beremoved from the clause, Sun reporterAndrew Green told The Tico Times thisweek.USTR spokeswoman Neena Moorjanitold The Tico Times in a phone interviewTuesday that she could not comment onthe issue because representatives of theoffice were still discussing it with otherCAFTA countries.Last week, congressional “mockvotes” – which many said Bush would useto help determine whether, and how soon,to send CAFTA to Congress – producedvictories for CAFTA in the SenateFinance Committee (11-9) and the HouseWays & Means Committee (25-16), thetwo committees responsible for examiningCAFTA (TT, June 17).Legislators opposed to CAFTA continueto express their dissent, however, andthe votes required for its passage inCongress are far from assured.In a June 14 letter to the Presidents of allthe signatory countries, 23 U.S. legislators,along with one each from Honduras and Guatemalaand two each from El Salvador andNicaragua, called the agreement “seriouslyflawed” and demanded its renegotiation.“WE encourage and commit to aninter-parliamentary dialogue that wouldexplore trade options and economic relationstowards the goals of livable-wagejobs, sustainable development and CentralAmerican integration, environmental protections,and supporting democracy for allparties involved,” the letter said.Costa Rican presidential candidate andCAFTA opponent Ottón Solís, of the CitizenAction Party (PAC), got in on the letter-writing action this week by penning anepistle to U.S. Secretary of StateCondoleeza Rice.“CAFTA, Dr. Rice, must be renegotiated– among other reasons, because (the agreement)as it stands is a serious attack on thedemocratic system,” the letter said. “Theexcessive guarantees it gives to investors,beyond the absolute protection for propertyrights – which we all agree upon – willimpede putting into practice… developmentpolicies and regulations, no matter howdemocratically they are constructed.”Solís also said in the letter that CAFTAwould place severe restrictions on CostaRica’s ability to pass future laws. In CostaRica, unlike the United States, internationaltreaties such as CAFTA take precedenceover all other laws, with a power secondonly to that of the Constitution.PAC members also targeted pro-CAFTAlobbying group Por Costa Rica this week,criticizing the organization’s apparent slownessto disclose its funding sources.Legislators from PAC said they havenot received a response to their May 27request that Por Costa Rica, which has purchasedtelevision, radio and print ads toutingthe benefits of CAFTA and urging itsapproval, reveal the names of people andbusinesses that have contributed funds.“We’re sending a new request to thegroup inviting them to take the path of transparencyand clarify their financing,” PAClegislator Martha Zamora said in a statementJune 17. “CAFTA is too delicate an issue tobe hiding the identities of people interestedin promoting a certain tendency.”By press time, Por Costa Rica representativeshad not responded to Tico Times phonecalls regarding the criticisms from PAC.

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