In an interview with ALAI, Jacinto Suárez Espinosa,
Nicaraguan representative of the Central American
Parliament and member of the National Sandinista Council
(CSN), reflected on the widespread economic crisis,
unemployment and growing poverty in Central America. Suárez
declared that this degradation is the result of the
devastation of the war, foreign debt, corruption and the
application of models of neo-liberal adjustments:
implemented, precisely, during the final stage in the
process of pacification and establishment of electoral
institutions. Other elements in the current crisis are the
Plan Puebla Panama (PPP), the Free Trade Area of the
Americas (FTAA) and the Free Trade Agreements (FTA), which
are emerging as key issues that the region must confront.
This is the context of the interview which we now present.

– What can you tell us about the progress in the
negotiations surrounding the PPP, the FTAA and the FTA
in Central America?

Despite the existence of a Central American committee for
the negotiations surrounding the FTA, the United States has
encountered a divided Central America. In the first stage
of the PPP the US will facilitate investment in order
primarily to create infrastructure, as well as electronic
communication systems and highways that will cover the
Middle American biological corridor starting in the south
of Mexico and ending in Panama. However, nobody is
answering the questions regarding the subsequent economic
plan.

In spite of the fact that the implementation of the FTAA in
Latin America has been established for 2005, negotiations
in Central America regarding the FTAA concluded in 2003. In
the same way, the inauguration of the agreements of the
FTA, Central America – US, have been defined for 2004.

Bush wants to conclude the negotiations regarding the FTAA,
as the political conditions are optimum for signing the
agreements. The Central American governments are uniformly
pro-US and in spite of widespread impoverishment there is
no opposition to impede the total implementation of the
FTAA. In South America, the US is stumbling upon obstacles
in the form of Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina.

– In this context, which sectors are in the official
negotiating committee regarding the FTAA and the FTA?

Representatives from private firms and the government.
Almost all of the Central American oligarchies are
producers of sugar cane and rum. Consequently an agreement
has been reached to protect sugar and rum. Each country has
different interests: they are hoping to save the products
of those power groups that govern Central America; those
are the ones who are in the negotiating committee.

– There are, however, sectors in society that are forming
resistance. How is this resistance organized?

Nicaragua and other countries have successfully implemented
a mechanism called “the room next door” in the negotiations
regarding the FTA. This space allows for the representation
of social organizations and trade unions, with neither a
voice nor vote, in the official negotiating committee.
Nevertheless, these sectors are gathering information and
feeding public opinion, which has allowed them to head
initiatives in various matters, such as the agrarian issue.

As regards the PPP and the FTA, a broad cross-section of
civil society and social organizations has expressed their
opinions. In Nicaragua, pressure is being applied through
the national parliament. We have prepared bills which we
will introduce to Congress and “the room next door”.
Moreover, producers who are far from positions of left-
ideology are also raising the alarm. Once the people start
to listen and understand, there will be other reactions to
this matter.

– What are points of disagreement between the Central
American countries?

Each country has its own interests. Guatemala broke the
agreement due to internal conflict, since it has been
condemned because of a series of human rights violations.
Under the pretext of improving their international image
and attracting investment, this country made proposals
outside the Central American agreement, deregulating 90% of
its customs charges on US agricultural products; while
Nicaragua’s proposal does not exceed 40%. As regards
Honduras and El Salvador, neither country has an interest
in agricultural matters.

This is a serious problem for Nicaragua, as the US can
introduce its products at rock-bottom prices and bankrupt
us. Small producers who have until now survived would be
fated to disappear.

– In your opinion, is there a possible way of benefiting
from current differences between the European Union and
the US?

The European Union has planned to open an FTA with Latin
America. There is one substantial difference between Europe
and the US. The US is a large producer of farming surplus,
while Europe has a deficit in this area. Central America
does not have the capacity to compete in terms of
industrial products but it could consider free trade with
Europe, to introduce agricultural produce and receive
industrial products from that part of the world.

Of course, the US has subsidies protecting it from European
agricultural production and the Europeans too have
subsidies that protect them from US agricultural
production. As for ourselves, what will save us? The US
plan is to swallow the markets and re-colonize Latin
America, subjecting us to the FTA.

What is the situation of left-wing forces in Central
American?

After the experience of the rebel insurgency in Central
America the Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca
(URNG) emerged with 13% of the electoral vote. In the
elections in El Salvador the FMLN gained the majority in
the national parliament. Nicaragua needs the vote of the
Frente Sandinista (FS) to pass laws.

In Honduras there is a growing movement of democratic
unification which has successfully ensured that the forces
from the left coordinate around a united project with the
strong support of social movements and campesinos. The
people’s movement in Central America is far from falling to
pieces: it is growing; it is getting stronger. (Translation by ALAI)

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