Central American Integration (CAI) can be seen from two perspectives, with their respective differences but with one common factor, which respond to external conditions in order to achieve competitiveness within the globalization process.
One of these perspectives is the one promoted by the governments of the isthmus, which benefits the local financial systems as well as big business in the region, being the ones who would reap the biggest gains from this integration. A clear example is the thesis of Humberto Posada, deputy in the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN) representing El Salvador, who maintains that what is being sought is to benefit the people of the region, specifically small, medium-sized and big business, thus resolving the problem of unemployment in the work force through free movement throughout the area, because with CAI the intention is to open up more jobs.
From a superficial point of view, it could be said that Posada's thesis is ideal to resolve the problem of unemployment and survival for the Central American people. It is, however, too romantic and skims over the real problems of existence being faced by the citizens of the third world and the neoliberal policies which are applied by the current governments, which reflect more their interests in serving the needs of international capital and benefitting a small number of individuals.
The second thesis is to see CAI as the alternative for survival not only for El Salvador but for the whole region in facing the challenges of the new era. This has been expressed by FMLN deputy Eugenio Chicas, who sees that there is a need to form one unified block in the region with regard to energy, population, natural resources, markets, etc.
If CAI is promoted as the alternative in order to enter into NAFTA, we find that those who promote this are not local farmers or local industrialists looking for new development alternatives, but rather those who push a neoliberal model which only favors trade, service industries and speculative capital, thus we are talking about two different models of integration. According to the sector of President Caldero'n Sol and ex-President Cristiani, what is of primary importance is entry into NAFTA, to make our country a place for services and for speculative capital, but according to a large sector of local industry and agriculture, as well as for the average person, CAI represents a real hope for development.
From a more critical point of view, Joaqui'n Arriola of the Center for the Study of Labor (CENTRA) maintains that aside from the Neoliberal System reigning in the countries of the region, one of the other aspects which has not been established is a common tariff policy, and those that do have one do not respect it. Also, he describes the current process of integration as a "pantomime", the best proof of this being the Costa Rica-Mexico negotiations and the unilateral tariff policy adopted by the Salvadoran government, which has made it like no other country in the world in order to present itself as "the best-behaved student." Arriola asserts that integration processes do exist, not in the region but rather in the world economy, because the changes which happen in each country in the region are very similar, but not because they have agreed and oriented their economies to a change, but rather because of measures imposed by international financial organizations, which have been quite homogeneous in the countries of the region.
Arguing as well that whether CAI is applied or there is entry into NAFTA, this would mean a considerable volume of investment in the country, it is technically impossible to say who would benefit, but it can be said that who will not benefit is clearly the majority of the rural population, who "produce things that are not viable to be maintained in the northern markets", and thus, the rural small farmers will have to move to the city. If this happens, there would be overpopulation in the urban area, with the additional ingredient that with the arrival of investments there would be jobs for a cheap labor force and thus an imminent social explosion. And this is of great concern because this model is the strongest card being played by the ARENA government; one only needs to remember the words of the Treasury Minister when he indicated that the rural farmer should leave the countryside to work in a factory, or remember the beginning of the Caldero'n Sol presidency, where he defined as his objective the conversion of the country into a big free trade zone.
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