Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
July 28, 2005
The Democrats just can’t hold the line.
Nowhere was this clearer than on the CAFTA vote that passed the House in the wee hours of the night by a mere two-vote margin, 217 to 215.
Democrats gave Bush this victory, and workers and the environment this defeat, here and in Central America.
You see, 15 Democrat sided with Bush and multinational corporations by voting for CAFTA (see list below). If only two of those Democrats had voted with their party, CAFTA would be dead.
But now, already having passed the Senate with 10 Democratic votes, it will wreak its havoc for years to come, devastating the livelihoods of millions of people in Central America, further hollowing out the job market in the United States, and placing environmental safeguards at the mercy of corporations.
CAFTA “has only one enforceable labor rights requirement: that countries apply their own labor laws—even if they are grossly inadequate,” Human Rights Watch noted. “If governments change their laws to eliminate rights, that’s OK, too, just so long as the new laws are enforced.”
Human Rights Watch added that “women and other groups that have historically faced abuse in the workplace” will find “no protection from discrimination” in CAFTA.
On the environment, “CAFTA provides companies with powerful tools to pressure governments to overturn or waive environmental and other public interest laws,” argued NRDC and Friends of the Earth. “CAFTA will give foreign corporations greater rights than local citizens and the opportunity to completely bypass domestic courts.”
Yes, some Republicans also bolted from their party and came out against CAFTA, which has even fewer protections than NAFTA. One Republican, Walter Jones of North Carolina, said “CAFTA is NAFTA’s ugly cousin.”
But that made it all the more important for the Democrats, who are in the minority, to hold their ground.
By failing to do so, they showed why they may remain the minority party.
The Fifteen Democrats for CAFTA
Melissa Bean, IL
Jim Cooper, TN
Henry Cuellar, TX
Norm Dicks, WA
Ruben Hinojosa, TX
William Jefferson, LA
Jim Matheson, UT
Greg Meeks, NY
Dennis Moore, KS
Jim Moran, VA
Solomon Ortiz, TX
Ike Skelton, MO
Vic Snyder, AR
John Tanner, TN
Ed Towns, NY
“These folks will have a lot to answer for,” says Nathan Britton, spokesperson for Rep. Barbara Lee of California. Rep. Lee is one of the co-chairs of the Progressive Caucus.