Delegation to Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador
November 20th - November 27th, 2002
- Goals and Purpose of the Delegation
- Members and Staff
- Itinerary and List of Meetings
- Principle Issues Raised
- Migration Issues
- Free Trade Agreements
- Concluding Remarks
- Migration Issues
I. Goals and Purpose. The visit was conceived as one of several meetings and listening sessions following up on the concerns expressed during the major conference on the effects of globalization, "Humanizing the Global Economy," co-sponsored by CELAM, the CCCB and the USCCB, and held at the Catholic University of America in Washington, January 28-30, 2002. It was decided that a delegation of U.S. bishops and staff would visit three countries of Central America, both as an expression of ecclesial solidarity in the context of Ecclesia in America, and as a means of experiencing more directly some of the main concerns that our brothers and sisters in the Church in those countries have concerning the effects of globalization.
With the enthusiastic support of Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez of Honduras, of Bishops Alvaro Ramazzini and Gregorio Rosa Chávez, President and Secretary respectively of the Central American regional council of bishops (SEDAC), the delegation engaged with our counterparts and many others in a brief one-week visit. The assistance provided the delegation in each country by the country representatives and staff of Catholic Relief Services was exceptional. It was they who made all the contacts, facilitated meetings, and handled logistics, for which the delegation is deeply grateful.
II. Members and Staff. The delegation consisted of Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, Chairman of the Committee on Domestic Policy, Bishop John Ricard, SSJ of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Chairman of the Committee on International Policy, and Bishop Thomas G. Wenski, auxiliary of Miami, Chairman of the Committee on Migration and member of the Committee for the Church in Latin America.
Staffing the delegation were Gerry Flood (IJP), Ken Hackett (CRS), Jed Hoffman (CRS), Daniel Lizarraga (SCLA), Fr. Anthony McGuire (PCMR) and Tom Quigley (IJP).
III. Itinerary and List of Meetings. The group traveled first to Guatemala (11/20-23), then to Honduras (11/23-24), and finally to El Salvador (11/24-27). In each country, meetings were held with bishops and other church personnel, chiefly with leaders in social pastoral and migration ministries, with representatives of the host government, representatives of the U.S. embassies, and with a broad variety of informed persons from "civil society" organizations. These latter included research scholars, community activists, maquila workers, and representatives of other non-governmental organizations.
Bishops and Church Personnel. Separate meetings were held in Guatemala with Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini of San Marcos and Archbishop Victor Hugo Martínez of Quetzaltenango, and in Honduras with Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez of Tegucigalpa. In San Salvador, the bishops celebrated Mass and met for breakfast with Archbishop Fernando Sáenz Lacalle of San Salvador, and had Mass and breakfast with Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Giacinto Berloco.
The meeting on Tuesday, 11/16, with the entire SEDAC membership of over forty bishops, was of significance as a visible expression of ecclesial solidarity among the churches of North and Central America and as an opportunity for sharing perspectives on the issues under discussion. The gratitude of the SEDAC bishops is evident in the final message from their assembly. (See Attachment.)
In each country, there were substantial meetings with representatives of the national Caritas and Social Pastoral offices, and with persons in the fields of migration policy, pastoral care of migrants, and reception and aid to migrant returnees. Visits to the Scalabrini-directed Casa del Migrante in both Guatemala City and at the Toncontín Airport in Honduras were especially informative and impressive. Nery Rodinas of the Guatemalan Archdiocesan Human Rights Office (ODHAG) joined us for a luncheon meeting on 11/22.
Local Government Meetings. In Guatemala, the delegation met with officials directly involved in the areas of agriculture and trade: Bernardo López Figueroa, chief Economic Ministry negotiator for the Free Trade Agreement with the U.S., Minister of Agriculture Edin Barrientos and his aide Caryl Alonso, and Vinicio Martínez, assistant commissioner to the President for Plan Puebla Panama (PPP).
In Honduras, President Ricardo Maduro, Interior Minister Torre Ramón, and Presidential Advisor Dr. Luis Cosenza received the delegation at the Presidential House. A luncheon on 11/23 brought together a half-dozen prominent figures in government and civil society, including Minister Brennie Matute of the Secretariat for International Technical Cooperation and Congressman Olban Valladares.
In El Salvador, an extensive meeting was held with Economic Minister Miguel Lacayo, and with San Salvador Mayor Dr. Héctor Silva.
U.S. Embassy Meetings. In Guatemala, Acting Ambassador Stephen McFarland and several of his staff participated in a broad exchange at the Embassy. In Honduras, principal contact was with Political Officer Francisco Barbieri, and in El Salvador, Ambassador Rose Likins and Economic Officer Matthew Rooney met with the delegation.
Civil Society Groups. Recent years have seen a dramatic increase in the number and type of non-governmental organizations throughout Central America, many of them effective advocates for policy change. In Guatemala, approximately a dozen representatives of civil society NGOs, ranging from established think tanks, policy institutes, human rights and indigenous advocacy groups engaged with the delegation on the issues of free trade agreements, specifically CAFTA and PPP.
In Honduras, as noted above, the 11/23 lunch included leaders from the National Association of Civil Society (Interforos) which numbers some 400 organizations throughout the country, the Association of Non-Governmental Organizations (ASONOG), and UNICEF.
In El Salvador, substantive meetings were held with Dr. Héctor Dada Hirezi, former director of the research institute FLACSO, Roberto Rubio of the Foundation for Economic Development (FUNDE), now responsible for the regional Central American Initiative for Trade and Development (CID), as well as representatives of The Migration Forum, the women"s maquila organization Las Mélidas, and CIDAR, the Civil Society/Workers Forum.
IV. Principal Issues.
A. Migration Issues
The issue of migration (emigration from the countries, transit migration through the countries, and returnees from other countries) was a major concern in all the places visited. Much of the migration derives from faltering economies, political instability, natural disasters and an increase in what is termed a "culture of migration." This culture of migration has become a very serious phenomenon in each of the countries. Families risk the little money they have to see that one member can be smuggled to the north, so as to be able to send money back home. The human costs for this have risen dramatically, both in risk to life and in disruptive social consequences. An estimated 800,000 Hondurans have come to the United States, a majority of them living and working without documents. Some 27,000 have been returned. Roughly one quarter of the entire population of El Salvador, nearly one and a half million, lives outside the country, most in the United States, with 700 to 1000 returned each month. In Guatemala almost 100,000 have been returned from January to November of 2002. Among all these groups, especially the Guatemalans, many of the returnees have been sent back from Mexico, never having gotten to the U.S.
One positive aspect of this migration phenomenon is that remittances are being sent back home, so much so that they constitute either the first or second largest source of foreign exchange for these countries. Families have been able to move out of poverty because of the remittances; housing construction has increased dramatically in many places. In some countries, notably El Salvador, people are beginning to use the remittances for social development and future investment. Dioceses are also beginning to develop outreach to migrants through houses of hospitality, reintegration programs, networks to search for the disappeared and to reach out to their families. In general, all note greater communication about the needs of migrants.
The negative aspects include the greater risks in migration, often leading to death. Along the U.S. border more than 2000 deaths have occurred from heat stroke, hypothermia, dehydration, and drowning. Human trafficking, especially of children, has increased, become more organized and more costly, and, at times, connected with prostitution and abuse. Many families risk their savings to have a son or daughter emigrate. The large number of migrants has led to family disintegration, youth gangs, and a greater emphasis on consumerism. Families often become dependent on remittances and striving for success has come to mean being successful outside the country. It has become particularly difficult for the large number of returnees, and especially for the deportees who are received as "failures" who let the family down, to reintegrate into the society, where jobs and job training programs are scarce. The growth of youth gangs (maras), largely modeled on those in Los Angeles and other U.S. urban centers, has become a major concern.
Many expressed the opinion that, unless the planned trade agreements build in subsidies for the farmer and development possibilities within the countries, emigration will increase. This is a significant pastoral challenge for the Church both in Central America and in the United States.
B. Trade Issues
1. CAFTA and FTAA. Most trade-related discussions centered around the proposed Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) between the United States and the five Central American countries. The Central American Presidents have been pressing for CAFTA for more than a year, and for the Bush Administration, it is a priority primarily because it forms part of a strategy for expanding trade throughout the hemisphere through the proposed treaty for the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). The expectation of the Administration is that, with certain exceptions, CAFTA will be modeled along the lines of the 1994 free trade agreement with Mexico and Canada (NAFTA). Formal negotiations of CAFTA are to begin early in 2003, with the Administration aiming for conclusion of the broader FTAA by 2005.
Most civil society representatives and some Church officials in the three countries expressed strongly negative views about both CAFTA and the FTAA. Many said that their governments had provided little information about the proposed treaties, but they were nevertheless certain that that the agreements would serve only commercial interests. The inadequate commitment of their governments to protecting the interests of the poor combined with their unequal bargaining power vis-a-vis their powerful neighbor to the north suggested that human needs would not be taken into account.
2. Migration and Agriculture. The civil society groups are skeptical that migration issues would be on the CAFTA agenda, even though Central America's largest "export" by far is its people, and new trade deals might well lead to replacement of local production with imports, intensifying pressures to emigrate. They had major concerns about the rural sector which had been hard hit in recent years by a variety of natural and economic forces. Hurricanes, drought, soil erosion and lack of access to land were worsening the already difficult environment for the rural poor. Moreover, the coffee sector, long a major provider of income and employment in Central America, was experiencing an unprecedented decline as a result of extremely low international prices brought on to a large extent by the emergence of Vietnam as a major coffee producer. U.S. officials in Guatemala told the delegation that there were indications that it was no longer profitable to pick the coffee beans, which could cause thousands of poor Guatemalan farm workers to lose their only source of cash income. Other export crops were also suffering from a decline in world prices.
For their traditional export crops, such as coffee and sugar, CAFTA would not change the highly depressed status quo. Coffee is not subject to trade restrictions because it is not produced in the U.S. Those traditional exports which face competition from U.S. producers, such as sugar, are subject to U.S. import restrictions, which they believed would not be removed under CAFTA. Thus the deterioration in the lives of those dependent on the export sectors would continue.
Their most serious concern was about CAFTA's impact on production for the domestic market, mainly basic staples such as corn and beans. Central American producers could not compete with the highly subsidized U.S production, and they saw no chance that these subsidies would be reduced under CAFTA or the FTAA. Thus, if protection against U.S. imports were removed, it would undercut local production, leading to further impoverishment of the rural sector, and a loss of food security for the general population which would be forced to depend on imports for basic commodities.
Others who spoke to the delegation, mainly host government and U.S. embassy officials, agreed that there was no chance to affect U.S. farm subsidies through CAFTA. In fact, the U.S. has already taken the subject of farm subsidies off the table, arguing that the appropriate forum is the WTO. U.S. farm subsidies are large, but European and Japanese farm subsidies are larger, and the Administration argues that U.S. subsidies can be reduced only as part of a negotiation requiring a reduction of subsidies by Europe and Japan as well.
While government officials saw U.S. subsidies as precluding access to U.S. markets for most of the agricultural sector, most also argued that CAFTA would not do significant harm to the rural sector. This is because agriculture is already largely unprotected. Even basic grains have relatively low duties, and the officials' comments suggested that they intended to stand firm against any further reduction of duties on these products. The Salvadoran minister went further, telling the delegation that, even though it was quite difficult to do, they had to make trade agreements work for the benefit of small farmers. Later on in the conversation, and without linking it to small farmers, he said that opportunities exist for developing new markets in the U.S. for specialized farm-based products that are not produced in the U.S. and thus do not run up against U.S. subsidies. One idea was to promote certain "ethnic" crops which could take advantage of the large population of Salvadorans living in the U.S. One of their objectives under CAFTA would be to assure that such products do not become subject to duties or other obstacles such as excessive health safety standards.
If the Central American governments intended to stand firm against tariff reductions for basic grains in the CAFTA negotiations, the civil society representatives seemed unaware of it. Their sense (expressed most strongly in El Salvador) was that the government had abandoned the small farmers and farm workers. Even before CAFTA, at least in El Salvador, protection from imports of basic grains had been reduced and imports from neighboring countries and the U.S. were growing. Thus, a reversal of the deteriorating situation for small farmers and farm workers in El Salvador would require either increasing protective measures (not just refusing to reduce them) or providing other assistance to enable the rural poor to earn a decent living, such as helping them to convert to crops with better market potential with or without CAFTA.
The Salvadoran civil society representatives did not mention production of "ethnic" crops but did seem aware of other Government plans, e.g., for converting from coffee to tropical fruit. Reflecting similar views expressed in Guatemala, they saw all such government plans as "empty promises." The delegation mentioned the sense of abandonment felt by the rural poor to the U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador. She responded that there were "lots of government programs," but commented that what was requested most by small farmers was subsidized credit, "really grants," which the government couldn't afford. She said that what they should be asking for is more education for their children. She gave no answer as to how rural families were to survive while their children were being educated.
3. Environment and Industry
The civil society groups focused mainly on agricultural trade issues and, while not ignoring them, seemed less preoccupied with the environment and industrial worker rights, subjects which had been main issues in the NAFTA negotiations with Mexico. Environmental concerns were raised by several persons, but mostly in terms of the general relationship between poverty and environmental degradation. One representative did raise the connection to trade, expressing concerns about the import of toxic agents but also commenting on the opportunities to take advantage of the region's unique biodiversity, e.g., for pharmaceutical production. He also observed that some international companies, responding to consumer pressures particularly in Europe, showed more sensitivity to environmental and social conditions than did local firms. On worker rights, several expressed the view that U.S. investor interest in cheap sources of labor meant that CAFTA would lead to a lowering of labor standards in the region.
A leader of a maquila women's organization in El Salvador said that often, and particularly in factories run by Asian firms, workers were not shown proper respect. Treatment in factories run by Americans was generally much better. In the maquila industry as a whole, hours were long, there were few benefits, and government supervision of working conditions was poor. The long hours contributed to rising crime levels among urban youth because the workers, almost all of whom were women, were unable to spend adequate time with their children. There were also no training programs for workers wishing to transition to jobs outside the maquila sector. Unionization was legal in El Salvador, but was actively discouraged by employers and the government did not intervene. The leader maintained that workers suspected of trying to organize unions had been blacklisted. One bishop however, suggested that maquila workers had less reason to complain than workers in other sectors. He said that in his country wages in the maquilas were much higher than general wage levels, and that the large number of maquila job applicants suggested that worker conditions must not be too bad.
A Honduran government official saw the maquilas in terms of their contribution to the economy and employment. He said that his country had become the world's third largest supplier of clothing to the U.S., and that the textile and clothing industries were a major source of decent jobs, adding that they must be vigilant to prevent employer abuses. Most government officials cited as a primary reason for supporting CAFTA the opportunity to make permanent the trade preferences in textiles and clothing already available through unilateral action by the U.S. (under the Caribbean Basin Initiative). They did not appear to expect important new trade concessions, which may explain the Guatemalan official's characterization of the advantages of CAFTA overall as "tepid."
A somewhat different view was offered by a U.S. embassy official who said that CAFTA would extend preferential treatment to a broad range of activities, which would provide opportunities for Central America to develop new industries. This official added that the objective of the El Salvador government was to get a two or three year jump on China in the U.S. market, i.e., before the Chinese were able to take full advantage of their recent accession to the WTO. He seemed to agree that, given the likely Chinese price advantage, any "jump" on China would be short-lived unless Central America could demonstrate the ability to produce higher quality products than the Chinese.
4. Transparency and Participation
The biggest fear expressed by civil society groups was that the CAFTA negotiations would go forward rapidly and largely in secret, giving them little opportunity to air their views, and even less to have them taken into account. A major problem was the lack of information about the subjects to be discussed and their governments' negotiating objectives. Several groups were developing strategies to try to open up the process. Other problems which civil society was facing were limited capacity to engage in substantive discussions on trade and organizational weaknesses which made it difficult for any one group to speak on behalf of others. The Central American Initiative for Trade and Development (CID), a coalition of numerous non-governmental organizations in three countries, is developing a strategy to link civil society in Central America with similar groups in the United States. They have decided that a CAFTA agreement is inevitable, and that the best strategy is not to say "no" to CAFTA but to try to improve it. They are developing positions on specific issues.
The government officials all acknowledged the need to inform the public about CAFTA and indicated their intent to begin a dialogue with civil society A Guatemalan official with responsibility for trade negotiations said that there already existed a forum for civil society participation, but that the dialogue on issues such as trade tended to be captured by the private sector. They needed to broaden the dialogue to reach other groups. At the same time he complained that civil society groups "were not prepared to participate intelligently." In response to a question, he said that government provided some assistance to civil society for capacity building, but that it "needed to be systematized." When it was mentioned to the Salvadoran government official that some civil society groups had decided not to oppose CAFTA but to offer proposals for improving it, he replied, "We are happy to have civil society inform us of their concerns and needs, but we are not interested in their proposals."
5. SEDAC Meeting
The major part of the Central American bishops' discussion with the delegation dealt with the migration issues, although questions were raised about lack of evenhandedness in U.S. trade relations with the region (arising, e.g., from protection of U.S. agriculture and the steel industry), about exploitation and unjust conduct by U.S.-owned companies, and about the lack of understanding by ordinary people of the damage caused by some international agreements. They asked for the help of the U.S. bishops in giving voice to some of these concerns with the U.S. authorities. The bishops addressed CAFTA and FTAA in the statement issued at the end of their meeting, as follows:
"With the aid of experts, we have spent time in detailed analysis of the serious consequences, especially in the social sphere, of the Central American Free Trade Agreement with the United States [and] the Free Trade Area of the Americas…. We do not oppose in principle any type of treaty or trade agreement that proposes economic and social development for our region, but we see an urgent need for more and more reliable information and broader debate, so that economic interests do not jeopardize the interests of citizens, especially, in our case, of peasant farmers, who would be the most affected by these agreements. We strongly proclaim that, if forced to choose between money and the human person, we choose the person, even should this mean a possible setback in economic progress."
6. Other Issues
There were other recurring themes raised by several persons: the continued problem of the external debt, of narco-trafficking, and of endemic corruption at many levels. Central American regional integration was seen by some as a necessary goal and by others as an impossible dream.
Because the purpose of the visit was principally to listen to the concerns that various sectors of society in Central America have about the effects of globalization in the region, the report concentrates on the principal issues of trade and migration.
V. Concluding Comments
The differences in viewpoint of the effects of the proposed trade agreements held by different sectors in the region could hardly be starker. For some, the agreements represent not only an inevitable but also a necessary and desirable step towards economic integration, growth and wealth creation. For others, and without exception for those church personnel in social ministry, Caritas, and migration work, CAFTA and FTAA signify a deeper impoverishment of the poor in general and the peasant farmers in particular. There is the strong conviction among some that the odds are stacked so totally against the majority poor that the trade accords can only benefit the wealthy and especially the United States, viewed as seeking total domination over the whole hemisphere. The individual bishops with whom we spoke seem to come down somewhere in the middle. Their pastoral concern must always, they insist, express the Church's "preferential but not exclusive option for the poorest and most excluded," as Bishop Ramazzini stated, and so they remain skeptical about the merits of the trade accords. They also acknowledge, as some others did, their lack of good information and thus look to the Church in the United States to press their concerns before our government on these economic issues as well as on matters affecting migration.
The delegation considers that the USCCB should pursue appropriate avenues to follow up on the concerns expressed during the visit. A first concrete step might be a letter to the United States Trade Representative, laying out the major concerns and pressing for greater openness, transparency and engagement by civil society groups in the process of negotiating both the CAFTA and the FTAA. A second suggestion is to strengthen and increase collaboration on the hemispheric issues of trade, agriculture, migration and the like that already exists between the relevant agencies of the Church in both north and south. The USCCB Department of Social Development and World Peace, Migration and Refugee Services, Catholic Campaign for Human Development, Catholic Charities-USA and especially, given its unique placement in both north and south, Catholic Relief Services should endeavor to respond to the invitations of our counterpart agencies of CELAM and the regional Caritas to join with them in seeking both pastoral and policy responses to the challenges of globalization in America.