In Robert B. Zoellick's view ["CAFTA Is a Win-Win," op-ed, May 24], the Central American Free Trade Agreement will guarantee democracy and economic growth; a reduction of poverty, corruption and drug traffic; the strengthening of civil society, transparency and equality; and the elimination of criminal gangs. He does not explain how these bounties necessarily follow from CAFTA.

In actuality, many of these problems have been around for decades, if not longer, and have been addressed with billions of dollars from the U.S. Agency for International Development, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the European Union. To presume that CAFTA would succeed where all these other long-standing efforts have failed is wishful thinking.

The same extravagant claims were made for NAFTA and Mexico, but the results have been modest, at least in terms of economic and social development. Mexico is still desperately poor, and since NAFTA's enactment, millions of undocumented Mexican immigrants have come to the United States because they cannot make a decent living in their home country.

Mr. Zoellick might have sound arguments for CAFTA, but exaggerating his case only weakened it.

NESTOR ENRIQUE CRUZ

Annandale

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Robert Zoellick tried to tar opponents of CAFTA by using an 80-year-old racist quote by Henry Stimson that the people of Central America "were not fitted for popular self-government." Mr. Zoellick's claim that Central Americans support CAFTA was no more valid than that effort to call his opponents racist.

The Guatemalan legislature had to meet in secret to pass CAFTA, and the several days of protests that followed were violently repressed by security forces. Large protests also preceded El Salvador's passage of CAFTA.

Nicaragua, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic have yet to pass the trade agreement. Nicaragua's Sandinista party is opposed. Its conservative Liberal party has said it won't vote until Congress does, and then it plans to demand legislation to shield Nicaragua from the worst of the treaty's effects. When the Nicaraguan parties agree on anything other than how to divvy up the spoils, something fundamental is happening.

Twenty-five years of "free" trade, privatization, structural adjustment and debt enslavement have caused a backlash against the version of savage capitalism CAFTA represents. This system has brought into power governments from Venezuela to Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador and Uruguay. These governments no longer say "How high?" when Uncle Sam says, "Jump." Elections in Mexico and Nicaragua next year are likely to add to their number.

CHUCK KAUFMAN

National Co-Coordinator

Nicaragua Network

Washington

Nicaragua Network is a co-founder of the Stop CAFTA Coalition.

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I agreed with Robert Zoellick that we "must decide whether to promote America's strategic interests or its special interests." But if we must promote our strategic interests, Congress should vote against CAFTA.

Only an agreement promoting special interests would insist on making intellectual property rules on pharmaceutical research more restrictive than those in place under the World Trade Organization -- thereby making it more difficult to produce generic medicines in one of the world's poorest regions.

Only an agreement promoting special interests would use a dispute mechanism that grants corporations, not citizens, access to special trade panels to seek damages -- trade panels that have a de facto veto over judicial authorities in the member countries.

Only an agreement promoting special interests would eliminate mechanisms to press for enforcement of workers' rights, such as those provided by the Generalized System of Preferences and the Caribbean Basin Initiative.

And only an administration that conflates the special interests of corporate America with a national strategic vision could produce a foreign policy that further impoverishes the world.

It is still possible to develop an agenda for economic integration that acknowledges and makes space for the grave economic disparities between Central America and the United States. Such an agreement is in our collective strategic interest. But CAFTA is not such an agreement. It is a corporate handout that will leave farmers without land, workers without jobs, and thousands with less access to medicines and other services.

TOM RICKER

Co-Director

Quixote Center

Hyattsville