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Globalization proceeds without practical ethical guides; Catholics need to work on complicated issues of world trade.

Alarm bells went off in late November in the Andean countries currently negotiating a free trade agreement with the United States. Nongovernmental groups that track these negotiations learned that the United States in June had forced the negotiators of the Andean Pact nations to enter a secret agreement of confidentiality about all phases of the negotiating details.

In effect, the United States said that democratic nations cannot tell their people the details of the trade agreements in commerce and finance that will determine the future of their nations. The confidentiality clause would be in effect for 10 years.

The agreement coupled with the "fast track" approval process for trade treaties would also prevent the U.S. Congress from questioning any details or consequences of the trade agreement now being negotiated by the U.S. executive branch. So much for democracy.

The Andean Pact nations--Bolivia, Peru, Columbia, Ecuador and Venezuela--have had their own "common market" for years though it has never functioned well for many reasons, economic and political. Since Canada, Mexico and the United States signed the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994, U.S. trade officials have continuously sought multilateral and bilateral trade pacts with the rest of Central and South America. In its first term, the Bush administration gave this policy, embodied in the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA, or ALCA in Spanish), the highest priority, and the policy will continue to be the major thrust of U.S.-Latin American relations.

In the first week of December, in Tucson, Ariz.,--very much under the radar of an uninformed public opinion--Andean Pact negotiations continued in two more rounds of preparation for final agreements. The Bush administration hopes to win congressional approval of the Andean Pact and the Central American Free Trade Agreement in the early months of its new term. This fall, a joint commission of U.S. and Central American bishops negatively appraised the latter agreement from the point of view of Catholic social ethics. Unfortunately, American Catholics received little pastoral guidance on the issue.

Alarm bells continue to ring as people's groups slowly learn more about the negotiations carried out in secret. Provisions for agriculture, manufacturing, intellectual property and finance put each Latin American government between a rock (U.S. arm-twisting impositions and secrecy) and a hard place (the ire and incredulity of their own campesinos, business people and the general public). As usual, the American print and television media have underreported these trade talks and the American public remains unaware and apathetic. One wonders if the U.S. media downplay the coverage because they could be big winners when future agreements on transnational capital allow them to swallow up national and local news and entertainment media all over the southern Americas.

The week before Thanksgiving found President Bush in Santiago, Chile, for the annual Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference. Thousands of people marched in protest against the American president and his policies in Iraq and on international trade. China was a big winner in the conference, inking agreements with the Americas (and later with Southeast Asia) on agriculture and commerce. South Americans lean nervously to trade agreements with Asia and the European Union to counteract the pressures for trade dominance and monopoly control of their national sovereignty by the United States

Meanwhile, in another largely media-ignored event the same week, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld met with the defense ministers of the Western Hemisphere in Quito, Ecuador, seeking hemispheric solidarity for the United States' war on terrorism. For a continent that has only slowly come out from under the worst excesses of state terrorism and the national security doctrines of the last 40 years, Rumsfeld's proposals did not go down well.

Rumsfeld told his counterparts that terrorists are everywhere and can only be controlled by military force. He went on to recommend that the militaries of the Western Hemisphere work together against terrorism by increasing cross-border intelligence gathering and joint maneuvers. He also seemed to imply that the military ought to control national police functions and be less subject to oversight by the branches of civilian government. (Some would say this policy is already well under way in the United States itself with the Patriot Act and the Office of Homeland Security.)

South Americans know well the sad history of the late-20th-century military conspiracy, backed by the United States, called "Operation Condor," under which various Latin nations systematically coordinated torture, exile and assassination of political opponents. Because Of this, the Rumsfeld's program was coolly received. It didn't help when the United States refused a proposal by Canada and seconded by Brazil and Chile seeking to include details about human rights safeguards.

Where U.S. foreign policy is concerned, suspected terrorism will trump human rights every time and such concerns were not permitted to be part of the agenda

Ironically, immediately following the U.S, president's return from Chile, the Chilean government issued an official document accepting responsibility for the human rights excesses against thousands of Chilean citizens by the Pinochet military dictatorship from 1973 to 1990. The Chilean government immediately set up a commission to assume national responsibility for personal and family reparations to the victims.

Military national security states do not have a great track record in Latin America. It would be a shame if the people of the United States learned that same experience the hard way.

Globalization and world trade are the complicated future for humanity, but the rules of the game, especially the ethical rules of the game, are far from clear. For Catholics, we are living in a time warp roughly equal to the time of the Industrial Revolution before Rerum Novarum and the social encyclicals. We have not read the signs of the times. We praise the abstractions of justice and peace but we do not do the dirty work on the complicated details of the new world issues of trade and commerce.

The children of this world are much more astute about these details than the children of light because they know the benefits coming their way from legal, but immoral and unjust, agreements. Where are Catholic ethical guidelines, in practical details, to light our darkened path to the future? And who will limn the lines of equity and solidarity in international relations that the Americas now lack?

[Michael Gillgannon is a priest of the Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., diocese who works in campus ministry in Bolivia.]
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Title Annotation:Commentary
Author:Gillgannon, Michael
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 17, 2004
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