- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 9, 2005

CAFTA saved jobs

The ambassador from Guatemala is relieved that the Central American Free Trade Agreement is now law because its defeat would have had an immediate impact on his impoverished nation.

CAFTA saved 25,000 jobs in Guatemala, Ambassador Jose Guillermo Castillo said yesterday, as he and other Central American envoys recovered from the grueling battle over the trade pact that won final passage in the House on July 27 by a two-vote margin. President Bush signed the agreement last week.

Mr. Castillo said those jobs are held by employees of Guatemalan companies that manufacture apparel under contracts with U.S. firms that were prepared to send the work to China if CAFTA failed.

“These are 25,000 jobs that we kept because someone [in Washington] voted ‘yes’ on the agreement,” the ambassador said.

The pact removes all tariffs on U.S. goods in Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. The ambassadors from those nations traveled to 20 U.S. cities in the past year to promote the treaty.

Mr. Castillo admitted being angered by CAFTA opponents who said the agreement failed to guarantee workers’ rights in Central America or challenged claims that the measure would create jobs.

“When I was listening to all the comments and all the lies, my blood was boiling,” he said.

Mr. Castillo cited news reports that said some Democrats opposed CAFTA only because they wanted to deliver a defeat to Mr. Bush.

The ambassador said he complained to one Democratic lawmaker, saying, “‘Look, if that is what you are trying to do, why don’t you pick something else and leave CAFTA alone?’” The House member, whom Mr. Castillo did not identify, had no answer.

Mr. Castillo said the agreement represents hope for a better future for Guatemalans of all income levels.

“From big producers to small producers to the poorest of the poor, they saw hope in this agreement,” he said. “When you can dream of a better future, you have something to strive for.”

Guatemalans also are under no illusions about the trade pact.

“This is not a magic wand,” he said, adding that his government knows it must adopt economic reforms, must guarantee the security of foreign investments and must improve the rule of law to attract more jobs.

Nicaraguan Ambassador Salvador E. Stadthagen agreed on the need for economic reform throughout the region.

“To fully realize the benefits, we have to do a lot of things ourselves,” he said. “It is going to be very challenging.”

Mr. Stadthagen said he was confident that the measure would pass, despite the heated debate on Capitol Hill.

“This sends a message that we are a valuable partner for the United States,” he said. “This gives us a permanent link to the U.S.”

A defeat of the treaty would have been a blow to Central America.

“It would have shown a lack of commitment from the United States to the region,” he said.

Arms for Haiti

The United States is providing arms to Haiti to help the interim government defend itself against militants intent on disrupting elections scheduled for this fall, said U.S. Ambassador James Foley.

Meanwhile, U.S. election observers are opening offices in the chaotic nation where violence and kidnappings are constant threats.

Mr. Foley told reporters in the capital, Port-au-Prince, last week that Washington is sending $1.9 million worth of arms that will include about 3,000 handguns, hundreds of rifles and tear gas.

“Given the state of insecurity in this country, the attempts to create chaos, we had to do our best to protect people from the forces of insecurity and criminality,” he said.

Haitian officials appealed for the weapons for a police force that is outgunned by supporters of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was overthrown in an armed rebellion last year. He fled to exile in South Africa.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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