When a government report on working conditions in Central America disagreed with official Bush Administration talking points, the administration was faced with a tough choice.
Should it re-evaluate its talking points, even if it hurt the proposed Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA)? Or should it squash the report, discredit its findings and push forward with the agreement — facts be damned.
If you're a regular reader of JABBS, you already know the answer. This administration has never let the facts get in the way of a good talking point.
The Labor Department hired International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF) in 2002 to report on working conditions in Central America. ILRF concluded that countries proposed for free-trade status have poor working environments and fail to protect workers' rights.
"In practice, labor laws on the books in Central America are not sufficient to deter employers from violations, as actual sanctions for violations of the law are weak or nonexistent," the ILRF concluded.
But that didn't fit in with the official White House spin. So the Labor Department kept the reports a secret for more than a year, and when they became known, dismissed the conclusions as inaccurate and biased.
The Senate Finance Committee, which approved the agreement by a voice vote June 29, sent it to the full Senate for consideration today. The committee was not given full access to the final version of the ILRF reports.
According to the Associated Press, beginning in the spring of 2004, the department moved to block public release of reports for the countries covered by CAFTA — Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.
ILRF briefly posted its reports on its Internet site, before the department instructed it to remove the reports, ordered it to retrieve paper copies before they became public, banned release of new information from the reports, and even told the contractor it could not discuss the studies with outsiders.