Following Storm, Guatemalans Seek Delay of CAFTA

October 21, 2005

GUATEMALA CITY (EFE) – Groups representing Guatemala’s mainly indigenous campesinos this week called on the government to delay adherence to the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA) due to the tremendous damage done here earlier this month by rains associated with Hurricane Stan.Activist leader Reynaldo González said at a press conference that the “onslaught” of storm-related flooding and mudslides left Guatemala’s farmers in no condition to face unfettered competition from imports beginning Jan. 1.While Guatemalan authorities have resigned themselves to never knowing precisely how many people were killed by Stan, the figure is estimated at over 2,000. “The infrastructure was badly damaged,” González said. “There are two bridges on the border with Mexico that are completely destroyed and that will hurt the import and export of products.”According to the latest official report, floods washed out parts of 55 highways and destroyed 31 bridges, while 91 others sustained significant damage. Authorities estimated the number of people affected by the storm at 3.5 million, the majority of them indigenous, living in the south and west.“The farmers lost all their crops and are now in a difficult crisis,” said Carlos Arreaga, speaking for a national federation of campesino organizations.Implementing CAFTA on Jan. 1 “will further aggravate the situation of suffering by the affected population,” he said. Arreaga also complained that relief supplies were taking too long to reach some of the hardest-hit communities, especially in the western province of Sololá.The activists who spoke at the press conference announced plans for a peaceful march in Guatemala City this week to express solidarity with the storm victims and raise funds to help them.Thousands of Guatemalans took to the streets in March to protest against the CAFTA agreement, and several were killed in clashes with police.

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