Graduation Year


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Reader 1

Roderic A. Camp

Reader 2

Gregory D. Hess

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Rights Information

© 2010 David Nahmias


During the debate over the ratification of the United States-Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), the Bush Administration argued that implementation of a free trade agreement would help strengthen the nascent democracies in Central America. As a bilateral agreement, CAFTA would not only foment greater trade liberalization by expanding market access and eliminating trade barriers, but also help transform the entire commercial frameworks in Central America and promote economic development. These implications are not just economic – in particular, its provisions on intellectual property and investment rights, government procurement and labor standards affect the political institutions underpinning democracy and rule of law. This thesis assesses the role in which CAFTA has affected democratic institutions in Central America. It employs a methodology known as the Democratic Audit to evaluate consequences to four dimensions of democracy - the electoral processes, open and accountable institutions, civil and political liberties, and civil society. It demonstrates the value of using the Democratic Audit to assess a trade agreement’s political effects with an application to Mexico after NAFTA. Then this work considers the case studies of El Salvador and Costa Rica, the most salient examples of democratic institutional change after CAFTA, by drawing on original research especially into the electoral politics and civil society development in these countries. Ultimately, the thesis argues that the most significant institutional effects of CAFTA have been its role as a political issue, rather than its content, in galvanizing popular opinion and reinvigorating electoral politics and civil society - ironically, not the consequences that the Administration originally had in mind. The research demonstrates that, even if some conclusions cannot be drawn due to the recency of CAFTA, the framework it has employed will be an invaluable tool for assessing future trade agreements.


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