Tuesday, July 13, 2004

US elections put CAFTA, TPS on backburner

Saca got 30 minutes of face time with Bush yesterday, but he left the meeting empty-handed. Not so for Bush, who got a promise of a third contingent of Salvadoran troops for Iraq. Salvador's the only country in Latin America with troops in Iraq.

Saca's team seems to have bumbled in overestimating the potential gains from the visit, since they portrayed the trip as one primarily that of seeking an extension of temporary protected (TPS) status for some 254,000 Salvadorans living in the U.S. TPS expires March 9, 2005.

On Sunday, Saca had told Salvadoran reporters that he'd spend 80 percent of his time with Bush discussing TPS. Yet when he spoke with reporters after the meeting, he didn't even mention the subject at first! When pressed, Saca explained that Bush said he'd taken the right decision in 2001 to extend TPS, and that the decision to renew it would come in due time--in other words, after the U.S. presidential elections. When Saca explained this to reporters, the reporter for El Diario de Hoy noted that the reporters all looked at each other as if they hadn't heard correctly.

I've only found two reports in English, one by Reuters and the other by Voice of America. Reuters, along with the Salvadoran press, also notes importantly that Bush told Saca that a vote on CAFTA in the U.S. would also have to wait until after the elections. According to Reuters, "U.S. officials have said before that Congressional approval was unlikely before the November vote, but this is the first time Bush has confirmed [a delay on a CAFTA vote] to a Central American leader." Meanwhile, Central America labor ministers were also in meetings in DC, arguing their case for why their labor ministries do a good job, and thus why CAFTA's a good thing.