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In El Salvador, an invasion of American agriculture

Second of two parts

WHEN THE US-backed government and military of El Salvador brutally repressed their people in the 1980-92 civil war that took 75,000 lives, Gregorio Rosa Chavez was one of those who pleaded to the outside world, ''We don't need bullets; we need beans."

Today, he still pleads for the beans.

To understand why, one can start with a 2003 article by the US Department of Agriculture, titled ''El Salvador Offers a Balmy Climate for US Agricultural Exports." Written as the United States pushed for the Central American Free Trade Agreement, it said, ''Some 20 percent of El Salvador's population regularly purchases US food items. . . . With more women joining the labor force and fewer domestic employees to assist in food preparation, the demand for convenience and fast foods is increasing. . . .

''Generally, people living in urban areas consume more bread and meats than tortillas and beans. Urban Salvadorans are very familiar with US-style food, and most US fast-food franchises have outlets in El Salvador. Food courts in shopping malls are popular and viewed as a perfect place to socialize. . . . US foods such as hot dogs and hamburgers are preferred by the younger generation."

Rosa Chavez, the auxiliary bishop of San Salvador, said this is not his idea of globalization.

''It is taking away our identity," he said last week in Cambridge, where he received an award from the Latino immigration advocacy group Centro Presente. He spoke through an interpreter. ''I talked to a girl recently who was born in the US but whose parents are from El Salvador. She told me that she felt at home on her first visit to El Salvador because she saw McDonald's. I see it as a symbol of how globalization promises so much economically, but impoverishes us by stealing our soul. Right now, the culture of globalization is more about having stuff just for pleasure, hedonism, and power."

El Salvador was the first nation to implement CAFTA, which was not surprising because of our continued long reach into its affairs. It has adopted the dollar as its national currency. President Tony Saca won office in 2004 with haunting support from the United States. US envoy Otto Reich -- notorious for his covert propaganda in Iran-Contra -- warned Salvadoran journalists that he was ''concerned" what a leftist presidency would do to the ''economic, commercial, and migratory relations with the United States."

El Salvador is the last Latin American nation to still have troops in Iraq, 380 of them. Its reward is an invasion of American agriculture. Under CAFTA, tariffs are eliminated on one of the staples of fast food, frozen fries. Tariffs on red beans, black beans, and peas will be phased out over 15 years. ''We are going to have many peasants who do traditional Salvadoran farming who will be driven off their farms and forced into factories because of American goods," Rosa Chavez said.

In return, President Bush says Salvadorans will benefit with cheaper and better US goods and industrial investments. But 48 percent of the people remain in poverty, the cost of living has gone up, and the gap between rich and poor is widening, according to data from the Congressional Research Service and even the US Agency for International Development. That poverty would be worse if Salvadorans were not receiving nearly $3 billion a year in remittances from relatives in the United States. That cash accounts for 17 percent of the nation's Gross Domestic Product, according to the State Department.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, 28 percent of adults in El Salvador receive remittances from the United States. During the civil war, the United States spent an average of about $500 million a year to prop up a regime that a United Nations-sponsored truth commission judged responsible for 85 percent of the deaths. Today, we give a mere $40 million a year to help that country come to life.

Rosa Chavez called this a ''diabolical cycle." Many Salvadorans fled the instability at our hands to work in the United States at high legal risk, often on dangerous jobs and at poverty wages to provide the high life for Americans and a higher life for Salvadorans at home.

''Globalization might help some people," Rosa Chavez said, ''but we also have Salvadorans in the US who never buy new clothes, go to the worst schools, and who send money home to people who purchase the most expensive shoes, and shop for the biggest televisions in the malls in El Salvador. It ends up being poor dollars sent by poor people, and for what?"

Derrick Z. Jackson's e-mail address is

 PART 2: In El Salvador, an invasion of American agriculture (By Derrick Z. Jackson, Boston Globe, 4/29/06)
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