US military conduct in Fallujah, murdering cvilians,
closing hospitals and deliberately targeting ambulances,
is the latest example of the barbarism of United States
official culture. The bluff flow of US government
propaganda about promoting economic progress, democracy
and human rights still gushes confidently. But US
government and corporate abuse of vulnerable communities
and peoples in Latin America has plenty of history
to gainsay official protestations of goodwill.
US is extending its military presence in Latin America
at the same time as it strips away national sovereignty
on basic issues of economic and environmental management
through coercive bilateral "free trade"
deals. Other channels of intervention, apart from
the well-documented interventions of the International
Monetary Fund and the World Bank, are multilateral
integration programs like Plan Puebla Panama and the
South American Regional Infrastructure Integration
initiative - run by US-dominated development banks.
It's worth looking at some realities about US corporate
and government behaviour to see how bankrupt the public
discourse about "democracy" and "free
markets" really is.
cynicism on trade - Zoellick spells it out
US Trade Representative's reports to Congress are
a great reality check for anyone who believes treaties
like the Central American Free Trade Agreement offer
a fair deal. Try this apparently innocuous quote,
"Over 99% of Central American agricultural exports
(on a trade-weighted basis) enter the United States
duty free already under MFN tariffs and CBI preferences.
The United States imported over $2 billion from Central
America in 2002. The vast majority of these imports
constitute non-competitive crops, such as coffee and
America's economies are overwhelmingly agricultural.
The US Trade Representative tells us that 99% of their
exports already entered the US duty free. So what
have the peoples of Central America gained from CAFTA?
Their agricultural economies will be dominated by
US agribusinesses, themselves the beneficiaries of
huge US farm subsidies. Central America will be a
wide open play area for US corporate investors. Meanwhile,
Central America's own small and medium farmers are
going out of business. They lack government support
and commercial credit to cope with low prices and
high input costs.
US Trade Representative's reports to Congress are
graphic testimony to US government cynicism in these
"free trade" deals. While they are good
for US agribusiness corporations, what they really
mean for ordinary people in the US is another story.
US corporations want to invest in Latin America because
in the US they still cannot get away with abuse of
labor rights, public health norms and the environment
as readily and extensively as they might in Latin
America under a "free trade" regime.
Nemagon to GM Round-up Ready soya
US government and multinational corporations are indifferent
to the well-being of peoples. Only dollars on the
bottom line hold their attention. The long saga of
tens of thousands of Central American banana workers
and their families in Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa
Rica affected during the 1960s and 1970s by the lethal
insectide Nemagon produced by Dow and other unscrupulous
chemical companies is a well-known example of corporate
deceit, bullying and foot dragging.2
Now other US agribusiness multinationals like Monsanto
and Dupont are using their huge economic power to
market GM crops as the panacea for world hunger.
in Argentina reveals these companies have learnt little
since the Nemagon scandal. Monsanto's Roundup Ready
soya seed which resists the herbicide glyphosate was
adopted wholesale in the late 1990s by Argentinean
farmers desperate for a lucrative cash crop. GM soya
has since been Argentina's biggest export earner -
it goes to feed cattle in Europe and Asia.
predictable results of monocultivation using a crop
dependent on massive overuse of herbicide are now
apparent. Glyphosate resistant weeds have appeared,
herbicide is being applied in ever greater quantities
and soils are being denatured and made sterile. Communities
are reporting widespread health problems related to
excessive herbicide use. Desertification is just a
question of time. Sustainability seems practically
to have been abandoned.3
cocktail deja vu
America offers another environmental warning coincidental
with the use of Nemagon. The desertification steadily
spreading outwards east and south of the Gulf of Fonseca
has its origins in the intensive cultivation of cotton
in the 1960s and 1970s. That cash crop too depended
on the use of huge quantities of pesticides and herbicides
produced by multinational US agribusinesses.
all these cases, the big multinational corporations
cut and run with the money. Behind them they leave
formerly fertile farming land rendered into desert
and populations battling to cope with the terrible
public health effects of indiscriminate chemical poisoning.
"Corporate responsibility" is as much a
bankrupt PR slogan for these companies as "democracy"
or "peacekeeping" is for the US military
in Iraq. Experience in Central America and Argentina
and elsewhere across the continent clearly shows what
"free trade" will mean in practice for the
but, but - the legal protections....the environmental
of bilateral "free trade" deals point to
the legal protections for labor rights and the environment
built into the agreements. But these legal protections,
far from being precise niceties are more like wishes
to the Tooth Fairy. Vaguely framed and subject to
differences in translation, they are wide open to
varied interpretation. In practice, big multinational
companies will have a free hand to do what they like.
agreements implicity sideline environmental protection.
Definitions of what constitutes investment, and thus
what is privileged and what is not, are left unclear.
Procedures are stipulated that put rule-making on
a multilateral rather than a national basis. Rules
on investment and on privatization are frozen, making
further national legislation impossible in those areas.
like "expropriation" and "discrimination"
appear with minimal definition. So multinational companies
like Monsanto or Occidental Petroleum, backed up by
the US government, will be able to bend the rules
to their interpretation in any legal action against
a foreign government. The Costa Rican government's
current conflict with US oil company Harken Energy
is an excellent example of the dilemmas facing countries
foolish enough to fall for the "free trade"
deliberate lack of detail derives from negotiations
rushed through against the clock behind closed doors
to a timetable dictated by the US Trade Representative.
But the deals will last for decades to come, affecting
almost everything basic in people's lives - from water,
mineral and energy resources and food to flora and
fauna. National governments are selling out their
peoples in exchange for corporate foreign investment
with a track record of unbridled rapacity.
change. Enter Same-Old-World Order (stage far right
look at Nicaragua or Argentina should put people in
Latin America on guard when the US Trade Representative
offers his Scheherezade tales of abracadabra trade
deals. These countries have already tried neo-Ali
Baba-ism for over a decade. Now country after country
is in economic crisis with levels of external debt
and poverty worse even than in the 1970s.
people realise they are being coerced into signing
up for another debilitating dose of the same failed
medicine, popular resistance is growing across the
continent. That is why the developing network of US
military bases and FOLs (Forward Operating Locations)
in the Andean region shadows the progress of the pending
US "free trade" deals with Colombia, Bolivia,
Ecuador and Peru. As its options for global economic
pre-eminence narrow, the US will resort more and more
to its habitual interventionist barbarism, vividly
evident in Iraq, against the peoples of Latin America.
Toni Solo is an activist based in Central America.
CAFTA - AGRICULTURE Overview Fact Sheet, Office
of the US Trade Representative, 6 February 2004
Recently another attempt has been made, this time
in the High Court in Los Angeles, to force these
US corporate mass poisoners to face up to their
obligations to the thousands of people whose lives
they destroyed in Nicaragua through the 1960s and
1970s. ?Abogado introduce juicio en Los Ángeles.
Otra esperanza para víctimas del Nemagón?
, Lucía Navas, El Nuevo Diario April 14th
"Argentina's bitter harvest", New Scientist,
17 April 2004.
"El Problema Ambiental y el Tratado de Libre
Comercio: Ahora Resulta que la Enfermedad, Cura",
Manuel F. López Corrales, 16 april 2004,
www.rebelion.org, originally from www.ecoportal.net
Harken Energy are seeking compensation after being
denied exploitation rights in environmentally sensitive
areas of Costa Rica.
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