- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 9, 2005

Counting on CAFTA

The ambassador from Nicaragua thinks he is fighting for a goal today that is just as important as the one that first brought him to Washington in the 1980s as a representative of the anti-communist Nicaraguan Resistance.

Ambassador Salvador Stadthagen told a forum at the Heritage Foundation yesterday that the struggle for a free-trade agreement with the United States is as important as the earlier fight for political freedom.

“Twenty years ago, there was a Marxist-Leninist government in Nicaragua. Thanks to President Reagan, we were able to turn back the leftist tide,” he said, referring to Mr. Reagan’s strong support for the armed resistance to the ruling Sandinista revolutionary movement.

However, Mr. Stadthagen warned that instability could return to the region if Congress rejects the Central American Free Trade Agreement.

“Without [the trade treaty], we run the risk of exacerbating the problems in the region,” he said, citing “pervasive poverty,” high unemployment among young people and drug trafficking from South America.

He appeared with Ambassadors Guillermo Castillo of Guatemala, Tomas Duenas of Costa Rica, Flavio Espinal of the Dominican Republic and Rene Leon of El Salvador.

Mr. Castillo held up a glass of water and used it as a symbol of the struggle for the trade agreement.

Noting the opposition from some members of Congress and anti-globalization groups, he recognized the difficulties facing the treaty.

“It’s like looking at this glass of water,” he said. “Is it half full or half empty? I like to say it is half full.”

A Heritage Foundation report said the Senate is expected to support the trade deal, but “the agreement’s fate in the House of Representatives is uncertain.”

Mr. Duenas challenged the opponents of the treaty who accuse the Central American nations of failing to abide by international labor standards.

“This is much more than just a trade issue,” he said.

Mr. Duenas said the trade agreement, which the Bush administration approved last year, would require the six countries covered by the deal to guarantee labor standards, trademark and copyright protection and the rights of foreign investors, among other issues he labeled as “government transparency.”

Mr. Leon said the International Labor Organization has certified that the six countries meet its standards.

“The accusations of low labor standards are false,” he said. “If we don’t observe these requirements, we would be subject to sanctions.”

The trade deal would eliminate most tariffs on trade between the United States and the Central American region, while others would be phased out over the next 20 years. The powerful U.S. sugar industry succeeded in exempting its product from the trade deal, and the American textile industry still would enjoy some measure of protection.

The pact would cover an area with a combined gross domestic product of $73 billion and with $32 billion in trade with the United States. The region, as a whole, is America’s 13th-largest trading partner.

Praising Kuwait

The U.S. ambassador to Kuwait yesterday praised the emirate for its “courageous actions” against suspected terrorists, who fought four separate gunfights with police last month.

“We applaud the courageous actions of the security forces,” Ambassador Richard LeBaron told Kuwait’s Al Qabas newspaper. “They have responded in my view appropriately to a threat that was quite clear.”

Police killed eight militants in shootouts that left four police officers dead. The crossfire also killed two civilians.

Mr. LeBaron said the militants were “terrorists … determined to attack both Kuwaiti and American targets … [and] change the very nature of the system here.”

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail [email protected]

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