The August 2005 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

Psychiatric Drugs: Assault on the Human Condition

Review of Mad In America

An Interview with Author of Mad In America

Homelessness and Psychiatric Abuse

Electroshock Must Be Banned

Zyprexa: A Prescription for Disease & Death

The Dangers of Antidepressants

Mental Health Policy: Humane or Reactionary?

Ghosts of the Albany Landfill

Berkeley Haven for Homeless Families

Franciscans for Peace and Justice

Ten Flaws of Social Security Privatization

CAFTA and Colonization

Spirit of St. Mary's Center

Life Stories of Homeless Seniors

Disabled Bus Rider's Hardships

Union Debates Sleeping Ban in Santa Cruz


July 2005

June 2005

May 2005

April 2005

March 2005

February 2005

Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

CAFTA Threatens Native Nations, Violates Constitution

by Jack D. Forbes

"A History of the 20th Century." Art by Art Hazelwood

The passage of CAFTA is about much more than trade. It is about the colonization of Central America by powerful corporations.

On July 27, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to pass the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) by the razor-thin margin of 217 to 215. Earlier, the U.S. Senate had voted 54-45 to approve CAFTA, a treaty which, under the Constitution, has to have a two-thirds affirmative vote in Congress.

Obviously, the two-vote margin in the House and the 54 who supported CAFTA in the Senate fell far short of the two-thirds vote required for passage. But CAFTA, like NAFTA and WTO, are defined by the White House as "agreements" rather than treaties and thereby are allowed to escape the burden of the treaty clause. But all of this is mere "smoke and mirrors." NAFTA and WTO and now CAFTA are treaties because they become part of the "supreme law of the land" and their provisions are enforceable everywhere, on reservations as well as in every town and state, whether the Native or other voters like it or not.

In other words, these so-called trade agreements have to be treaties in order to achieve their purpose, which is to become enforceable within the boundaries of the countries signing the treaties. If they were mere trade agreements, they would be enforceable only at the places of import and export, not in every last town and village of the land!

CAFTA, then, is one more example of how we are losing our constitutional protections. Ironically, it is primarily the Republicans, the supposed "protectors" of "strict constructionism," who are abandoning the clear language of the supreme law in order to amass billions for corporations and to break the backs of the labor unions and workers generally.

Indigenous people have to be especially concerned about the passage of CAFTA. Not only will its provisions impact every reservation, but many North Americans will be put out of work by the ability of corporations to use Central America and the Dominican Republic as places where factories can be moved so as to avoid unionization and decent wages. In short, these areas will become part of the USA for manufacturing and growing purposes, but not part of the USA in terms of legal protections for workers, small landowners, and labor organizers.

Many countries in Central America are notorious as places where death squads and military regimes have murdered labor union workers and Indigenous activists. These countries offer very little protection for Native Americans and other people of the poorer social classes. The provisions of CAFTA, like those of NAFTA, are very weak in relation to worker and small farmer protection, and they offer no protection for Indigenous nations.

We should insist that CAFTA be amended to incorporate the provisions of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as well as the entire body of international law relating to the rights of workers, women, and children. All human rights accords should be specifically incorporated with actual mechanisms for enforcement. Most importantly, however, all Native American groups (such as the Quiche, Cakchiquel, Pipil, Lenca, Garifuna, etc.) should have specific territories demarcated, places in which the Indigenous customs, languages, and policies prevail.

What will happen if CAFTA is adopted? Basically, the USA will begin dumping agricultural goods (as in Mexico), thus driving small farmers out of business or into extreme poverty. U.S. and other corporations will likely accelerate the process of gobbling up coastal zones for commercial shrimp farms as well as interior lands for large plantations and agribusiness farms. Millions of brown Americans will then be forced to move north to the USA. This is what the USA is now doing to Mexico with NAFTA. This is what WTO policies have been doing to Africa and other poorer regions as well. Poor people, driven from their lands and with their own local economies wiped out, must begin the long trek to the north, seeking minimum wage or under-wage jobs in order to survive.

In turn, they must compete with poor people already in the USA (or Canada or Europe). Their children often will lose their traditional values and become part of the fast-food eating, gang-banging, video-drugged, diabetes-prone generations of the lumpen-proletariat north.

The U.S. Constitution states that only a treaty can deprive a state (and a reservation) of the power to regulate its own environment, and protect the health of its citizens. Under NAFTA, however, a mere act of Congress, passed by a simple majority, has been allowed to potentially take those powers away just as certainly as if the Constitution itself had been amended.

In other words, the passage of CAFTA is about much more than trade. It is about the colonization of Central America by powerful corporations. It is about a new frontier of expansionism very similar to those frontiers which we all know about as the USA expanded westward. Now it is going south, with the added twist that there are so many Brown Americans down there that the USA must inevitably become a Brown country as the refugees from corporate greed move north.

It will be interesting to see if the same politicians who are supporting CAFTA also exploit the fear that some White Americans have of the "brown masses" pouring in from the rest of America. Maybe they can win playing both ends!

Jack Forbes is professor emeritus of Native American Studies at the University of California, Davis. He has been writing about legal issues and Native Americans since the early 1960s. See his new website at:

1515 Webster St,#303
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