July 15, 2005

Commentary:

CAFTA would be disastrous for natural resources

By Father Jose Andrés Tamayo Cortez

The U.S. Congress is preparing to vote on the ratification of the Dominican Republic - Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA). In their hands lies the destiny of the forests, the water, the air and the lives of millions of people from Alaska to Costa Rica. In Honduras, my native country, they have already ratified the agreement against the will of the people. Through marches we demanded that they listen to the opposition, but the government, instead of listening, responded with fierce repression. This agreement was approved in the same way it was written; behind closed doors, contradicting the democracy that they tell us exists in our country.

As well as a Priest, I am a representative of the “Movimiento Ambientalista de Olancho” (Olancho Environmental Movement), a coalition of various environmental groups in Honduras whose mission it is to conserve our natural resources. In spite of all our effort, no one took in to consideration our opinion that CAFTA would have disastrous consequences for our natural environment because of the lack of regulations on industry. It is clear that this Agreement was planned and created by the most dominant corporate interests. In fact, these transnational and national corporations have already spent years appropriating our resources and buying off successive governments. DR-CAFTA simply legalizes this plunder.

They tell us that CAFTA will help the economic and social development of Honduras, but by its inherently anti-democratic and exclusionary nature, it is very clear that we don’t need this type of development. We have seen the devastating effects the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has had on Mexico. NAFTA has restricted the Mexican government’s ability to set responsible agricultural, labor and environmental regulations, leading to 1.5 Million campesinos losing their land, falling wages, increasing erosion, air and water pollution. Without regulations built in to this agreement we run the risk of not being able to stop the devastating effects of the foreign corporations that are cutting down our forests, extracting our minerals, stealing our natural resources and exploiting our people in their insatiable thirst for profit.

We know the type of development that CAFTA offers; it is development that generates wealth for the largest corporations because the agreement was made by and for these very corporations. They look only for cheap labor and a flexible government that permits them to supercede labor rights and national laws in a “race to the bottom.” It might be true that CAFTA will generate employment, however these jobs, as well as being unstable, submit our people to inhuman conditions, with unjust salaries so that their products can be sold for high profits in other countries. The fruits of our sweat, labor and sacrifice will not remain in Honduras, nor will they be shared with the citizens of Honduras, but rather they will be taken by the large foreign corporations that do not respect the dignity, the rights nor the voice of our people.

In Honduras we are already seeing how this “development” is destroying the environment. In the state of Olancho, because of illegal and unregulated deforestation, erosion is spreading, the water levels are dangerously low and natural springs have completely dried up.

As was the case with NAFTA in Mexico, the chaos caused by CAFTA will increase levels of migration from Central America and the Dominican Republic towards the United States. Taking in to account the increase of the repression on the US/Mexican border and the increase of racist laws affecting immigrants, the passing of this agreement is a crime against the people of Central America & the Dominican Republic.

Without concrete laws that protect the environment, CAFTA will be terribly destructive for Honduras and Central America. With CAFTA, profits for the largest corporations are given a higher value than human, animal or plant life. But life and natural resources are human rights; therefore, to destroy God’s creation is a crime against humanity, the last recourse that we have is to defend life with our own life. Therefore we must continue to struggle so that the people of North America understand that by passing CAFTA they are threatening the lives of thousands of brothers and sisters, and their ability to live with dignity and respect, as God wants for all of “America.”

I ask the people of the United States to write, call, yell and demonstrate in order to demand that your Congressional Representatives vote against CAFTA. In solidarity and in the name of God…

Father Jose Andrés Tamayo Cortez, winner of the 2005 Goldman Environmental Prize for Central & South America.

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