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Democrats for CAFTA | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

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Democrats for CAFTA

Organized labor is opposed to the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).

Progressive farm groups are opposed to CAFTA.

Environmental groups are opposed to CAFTA.

Civil rights groups are opposed to CAFTA.

Human rights groups are opposed to CAFTA.

Virtually all of the organizations that are associated with what is loosely defined as the Democratic coalition are opposed to the trade deal that Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin says "will hurt American workers, hurt the workers of Central America and create instability in Central America that will force more immigration into the United States."

So, of course, Senate Democrats must have been united in opposition to the Bush administration's proposal to expand on the failed model of the North American Free Trade Agreement -- which has wrecked havoc with the economies of the U.S., Mexico and Canada -- to create a free trade zone that extends from the Panama Canal to the Arctic Circle. Right?

Wrong?

Just before the July 4 Congressional break, when the Senate voted on CAFTA, a dozen Republicans abandoned the administration to vote "no." That meant that, if Democrats had been united in their opposition, the trade deal would have been easily defeated and the president's plan to make it easier for multinational corporations to exploit workers, communities and the environment throughout the hemisphere would have been dealt a fatal blow.

Instead, ten Democrats -- New Mexico's Jeff Bingaman, Washington's Maria Cantwell, Delaware's Tom Carper, California's Dianne Feinstein, Arkansas's Blanche Lincoln, Washington's Patty Murray, Florida's Bill Nelson, Nebraska's Ben Nelson, Arkansas's Mark Pryor and, Oregon's Ron Wyden, as well as Vermont Independent Jim Jeffords, who caucuses with the Democrats, voted for the president's proposal.

As a result, CAFTA won by a 55-45 margin.

Make no mistake, it was a failure of focus on the part of Democrats that gave Bush's trade policies Senate approval.

Fortunately, the fight is not done. Opposition to CAFTA is more widespread in the House of Representatives, which still must vote on the measure. More House Republicans have broken with the president on the issue and House Democrats appear to be more united in their opposition than ever before.

As U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, a steadfast foe of corporate-sponsored free trade deals notes, opposition to CAFTA has grown as members of both chambers "who (once) blindly accepted these agreements are now beginning to read the fine print."

Feingold's right. The trend is against CAFTA.

The sad thing is that, because 10 Democrats and Jeffords are still blindly accepting the flawed arguments of the Bush administration -- just as they did the flawed arguments of the Clinton administration before it – a trade pact that could do severe harm to workers, farmers and the environment in the U.S. and abroad cleared the Senate. Had those Bush Democrats bothered to read the fine print -- and to make a break with the corporate funders of so many of their campaigns -- the CAFTA fight would already be done.

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