Obama Visits El Salvador Amid Calls for CAFTA Criticisms

March, 2011

President Obama’s visit to El Salvador in March of 2011 caught the attention of the international anti-mining movement. Over 140 international social organizations, including U.S.-El Salvador Sister Cities, the Institute for Policy Studies, the Sierra Club, Public Citizen, CISPES, and WOLA, signed a letter to President Obama highlighting the dangers of CAFTA and the investor rights protected in free trade agreements.   

The letter states that “rather than supporting El Salvador’s commitment to protecting its citizens and environment, the United States, through its current trade policy, is allowing companies to punish the people of El Salvador for pursing those objectives.”  The letter calls on President Obama to publicly state his opposition to the Pacific Rim case against the Salvadoran government. It also demands the President state his support for revising CAFTA and for the Salvadoran government’s investigations into the murders of anti-mining activists.  Lastly, the letter calls on the President to prevent making similar mistakes by eliminating investor-state private enforcement mechanism in pending free trade agreements with Korea, Panama and Colombia.

Social organizations weren’t the only ones to weigh in on the matter.  A similar letter was signed by 19 Congressional Representatives and reiterated the same main demands.  The letter was sponsored by Tammy Baldwin (WI), Michael Michaud (ME), Donald Payne (NJ) and Peter Defazio (OR).  Two of the four sponsors (Baldwin and Michaud) were contacted, cajoled and convinced by our very own Sister Cities committees.  The letters received attention in the U.S. and Salvadoran press and was published in a paid ad in one of the major Salvadoran newspapers.     

The National Roundtable Against Metallic Mining in El Salvador participated in the activities in San Salvador around Obama’s visit and issued their own statement. 

The International Coalition against Mining in El Salvador also organized a press conference which caught the attention of CNN en Español which arranged a special interview with Hector Berrios of the National Roundtable against Mineral Mining.  The interview was supposed to be 7 minutes long but was cut off after 4:30 minutes, when the journalists interviewing Berrios tired of his strong criticisms of CAFTA and the U.S. trade policy.  At the end of the interview one of the flustered journalists interrupted Berrios and declared that free trade agreements benefited Central America because they increase the most important export to the United States: undocumented immigrants.  When Berrios implied this was actually a negative result of right-wing government policies, the journalist cut off Berrios mid-sentence and concluded by saying  “I don’t know if they are from the right or from the left but I see [Salvadoran immigrants] working and producing in Miami, and so many more should come.” Clearly, these journalists have a lot to learn about free trade agreements, immigration and Central America. 

To watch the interview with Hector Berrios click here: CNN interview