It used to be that when the U.S. wanted to exert its influence or extend the imperial power of its businesses in Latin America, it would resort to gunships. In the old days, the raw use of naked armed power needed little justification. In the more modern era of proxy wars, the U.S. Is more likely to send money and arms, as it has done consistently with Colombia for its War on Drugs. The latest tranche of funding for Colombia, designed to enable peace talks – if you will, a cease-fire in the War on Drugs – is the $450 million Paz Colombia proposal before Congress.
One would think that the rationale for a peace process in Colombia that might dampen the flow of illegal drugs to the U.S. is strong and that funding for this effort can be ring fenced and justified on its own account. But not in the world of topsy turvy politics in Washington where the special interests of Big Pharma trump even priority peace initiatives. Why is Pharma involved in Paz Colombia and why has the U.S. manned the battle stations? Because Colombia has deigned to discuss issuing a compulsory license to stop being robbed by a Swiss pharmaceutical company, Novartis, on the cost of a highly effective, but grossly overpriced leukemia medicine, Gleveec.
This is how lobbying and gunship diplomacy work in tandem on Pharma’s behalf.
In this world of Big Pharma acting as the puppeteer and ordering U.S. officials to do its bidding with escalating threats of economic and trade reprisals, it doesn’t matter that it is completely lawful under international law, Colombia’s trade agreement with the U.S., and its own national law that Colombia might issue a compulsory license. That right is enshrined in the WTO Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, in the 2001 Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health, and in the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Authority Agreement. The argument of the USTR and Mr. Eissenstat that there needs to be special justifications for issuing a compulsory license is totally false – and they know it.
These backdoor pressures and economic threats are just as dangerous as gunships sitting in a harbor. And they can be just a deadly – cannon balls blow up people, but lack of access to affordable life-saving medicines commits people with cancer to needlessly short lives of suffering and misery as well.
–Prof. Brook K. Baker, Senior Policy Analyst, Health GAP