Immigration, EU fund expected to be hot topics at SICA meeting

May 15, 2009

MANAGUA, Nicaragua – The seven presidents of the Central American Integration System (SICA) are scheduled to arrive in Managua Wednesday afternoon for a summit to discuss issues of economy, immigration and the regional negotiation of an association agreement with the European Union.

Beleaguered Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom, embroiled in a murder scandal and facing loud calls for his ouster at home, has confirmed his presence at Wednesday´s meeting. His attendance here is expected to be a major subject of discussion, possibly leading to a joint resolution of support.

Colom missed the last SICA meeting in Managua in March due to a wave of violence in Guatemala and an alleged “destabilization plot” against his presidency. This prompted the other members of SICA to sign a declaration of support for his government.

In addition to the issue of Guatemala, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, president pro tempore of SICA, said one of the main issues that will be discussed is that of U.S. immigration policy and how it relates to the some five million Central American immigrants living in the United States.

The issue of U.S. immigration is a major concern for Central America, where governments fear that a massive wave of deportations during a time of economic hardship would put an explosive socio-economic strain on the already delicate situation in much of this region.

Central American leaders addressed the issue with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden during a meeting in Costa Rica last March, and again with U.S. President Barack Obama in Trinidad and Tobago in April.

“All of us (members of SICA) are bothered, and rightly so, when the United States grabs Central Americans, pursues them, grabs them and throws them on a plane to send them back to their own countries, as if they were animals being chased in the United States,” Ortega said during a political rally May 18. “This is not just, it´s not humane, it´s not Christian, and it´s not democratic. They are discriminating against us like they did against the blacks in the United States in the 1960s.”

Ortega said rights issues for Central Americans living in the U.S. is “always in first place” on the SICA agenda, which Ortega set as the temporary president. His six-month term expires in July.

Also on the summit agenda is the issue of Central America´s progress in negotiations of an association agreement with the European Union (EU).

In April, Nicaragua walked out on the seventh round of negotiations after the EU refused to agree to the Sandinista government´s demand for an $80 billion poverty relief fund for Central America as part of the association agreement. Nicaragua wants the EU to provide most of that money.

Nicaragua later agreed to return to the negotiating table when the EU said it would discuss the issue in more detail, though European diplomats maintain there´s no way a potential fund will be as large as Nicaragua would like.

Ortega admits the talks with the EU are “not easy.” He has said, “The Europeans want to go away (from the negotiations) with an advantage in their relations with Central American countries; they want all their products to enter into Central America without restrictions, but they don´t want all of our products to enter Europe freely – there they put restrictions.”

Mendel Goldstein, the European Commission´s ambassador to Central America, acknowledged during a press conference in Managua earlier this month that there are certain “sensitive” products for Central America that can´t enter into the EU freely. He said the EU has to balance Central America´s economic interests with competing interests from other agricultural economies in South America and Africa.

Still, Ortega insists that the association agreement with the EU has to be “one that is negotiated on terms that are favorable to Central American countries.”

And to level the playing field, Ortega continues to insist on the creation of an EU fund “that will allow us to compensate for the enormous differences that exist between the economies of Europe and the economies of Central America.”

The issue of the adjustment fund, as it was during the negotiation round in Honduras, is expected to be a hotly debated and potentially sticky issue at today´s SICA meeting in Managua.

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