The Central America-Dominican Republic-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), modeled after the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), was negotiated and signed during the George W. Bush administration, and entered into force on January 1, 2009.
Under the auspices of fostering commerce, CAFTA-DR is already putting communities at risk by strictly limiting the government's authority to protect public health and the environment. CAFTA-DR's impact will be felt in areas ranging from services, and intellectual property rights, to agriculture, food safety and natural resource extraction. The countries covered by CAFTA-DR include the U.S., Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.
CAFTA-DR not only gives foreign investors new powers to challenge community and environmental safeguards, but could also force governments to weaken environmental standards for fear of being sued. Like NAFTA, under CAFTA-DR's provisions governments could be barred from instituting protective environmental and public health measures, like requiring safe pesticide use by agribusinesses or limiting mining and logging activities in ecologically sensitive areas.
As an example of CAFTA-DR's sweeping power, Pacific Rim, a Canadian mining company with a U.S. subsidiary, is suing the government of El Salvador for $77 million because it has not yet approved the company's plans to open El Salvador's biggest mine to date. Salvadoran environmentalists, faith leaders and local communities oppose the mine due to the devastating effects the project could have on the country's main water source, the Lempa River. If Pacific Rim is successful, the government of El Salvador could essentially be fined $77 million for its efforts to protect the health of its citizens and the environment. Click here to learn more about the history of mining in El Salvador.
CAFTA-DR threatens more than the environment and public health; labor rights in the CAFTA-DR countries have not improved, and will likely deteriorate further in the global economic recession. A recent study by the Washington Office on Latin America found that, despite promises made and resources dedicated to improving labor laws in the CAFTA-DR countries, little progress has been made in terms of lessening union leader repression, child labor, gender discrimination, and illegal factory closures. Most troubling is the assassination of union leaders. Since January 2007, six union leaders have been killed in Guatemala, with four of those murders occurring in 2008.
·"Life Is Worth More than Gold" Say Anti-Mining Activists
·Three year study of the impact of CAFTA-DR on labor rights reveals precarious conditions, impunity, and the risk of decline due to the economic crisis