rn> indymedia | Mexico City demos | biopiracy <-


Richard Moore

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www.indymedia.org is the new global, peoples' news service
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Brian in LA

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Subject: Thousands March in Mexico City
Date: Tue, 03 Oct 2000 08:28:35 -0700
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Thousands March in Mexico City

Story Filed: Monday, October 02, 2000 10:26 PM EDT

MEXICO CITY (AP) -- Shouting ``Don't forget Oct. 2!,''
thousands of protesters marched through Mexico City on
Monday to mark the 32nd anniversary of the day an Olympic
security battalion opened fire on mostly student protesters,
killing dozens.

Those marching Monday called for the release of government
archives on the massacre, and Mexican President-elect
Vicente Fox has pledged to open the files. But many of the
marchers said they were doubtful the information will ever
be released.

``It's a lie,'' said one protester, Javier Resendiz, 56.
``They've been saying this for so many years, but they never
resolve it.''

Yelling slogans and carrying banners denouncing free market
reforms, 9,000 people marched to the capital's historic

The crowd -- mostly leftist students -- was violent at
times. At the start of the march, several people were
injured when demonstrators threw rocks at the bus they were
traveling in, breaking its windows. Several other
demonstrators were hurt when they were attacked with sticks
and rocks by another group.

Demonstrator Xenia Hernandez, 19, said she didn't believe
Fox would follow through on his pledge to release documents
because doing so would ``implicate those guilty, some of
whom are alive.''

Some 300 people are believed to have been killed in the Oct.
2, 1968, massacre in Mexico City, according to human rights
groups. The government has maintained that only 30 to 40
people died and that student protesters opened fire first.

Recent information found in archives in Washington and
Mexican ministries shows the existence of a government plan
to end the student protests. It also shows that President
Gustavo Diaz Ordaz believed foreign communists were leading
the movement and that he was determined to enforce security
ahead of the 1968 Olympic Games.

Still, key files and military records remain sealed, and it
is unclear who ordered the security battalion to open fire.

On Monday, Mexico City Mayor Rosario Robles repeated demands
for more information, describing the massacre as ``an open

In elections July 2, Fox became the first opposition
candidate to be popularly elected president in Mexico. He
defeated a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party,
which has held the presidency since its creation in 1929.

Fox has said that one of the first things he will do after
he is sworn in Dec. 1 is have Mexico's Congress set up a
``Transparency Commission'' to start looking into Mexico's
past corruption cases and unsolved crimes. The massacre is
likely to be among the cases investigated.

Fox told Progreso magazine in an article published last week
that he believes ``crimes against humanity should be brought
to justice.''

Copyright © 2000 Associated Press Information Services, all
rights reserved.

Date: Thu, 05 Oct 2000 21:19:31 -0700
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Subject: Biopiracy
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High-tech Piracy

By Special to Utne Reader--Andrew Kimbrell

The brave new frontier of genetic engineering is extending
humanity's reach over the forces of nature as no other
technology has ever done. Scientists can now isolate, snip,
insert, recombine, rearrange, edit, program, and produce
biological and genetic material. In fact, scientists for the
first time have the potential to become the architects of
life itself, the authors of an ersatz technological
evolution designed to create new species of microbes,
plants, and animals that are more profitable for
agriculture, industry, biomass energy production, and
research than the ones nature gave us.

This biotechnology boom in the industrialized world has
massively increased corporate demand for an unconventional
form of natural resources: not the minerals and fossil fuels
of the industrial age, but rather living materials found
primarily in the Southern Hemisphere. According to the World
Resources Institute, more than half the world's plant and
animal species live in the rainforests of the Third
World--and nowhere else on earth. Ironically, as industrial
expansion and pollution reduce the number of species, we are
witnessing a "gene rush" as governments and multinational
corporations aggressively scout the continents in search of
genetic material.

"Bioprospecting" is a potential gold mine for both science
and business, since genetic material found in the developing
world may yield cures for diseases as well as cash. But what
also looms on the horizon, and in fact is already occurring
in many parts of the developing world, is "biopiracy," where
corporations use the folk wisdom of indigenous peoples to
locate and understand the use of medicinal plants and then
exploit them commercially. U.S. and European scientists
hoping to find cures worth billions of dollars have even
taken samples of the blood, hair, and saliva of indigenous
peoples. Indigenous peoples' knowledge, their resources, and
even their bodies are being pirated, and they receive little
or nothing in return.

The Patenting of Life

Modern-day biopiracy is not just the product of new science
and corporate greed, but also of new law. The economic
trigger for bioprospecting was provided by a little-known
1980 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Diamond v. Chakrabarty.
Its impact makes this unheralded court decision one of the
most important judicial decisions of the 20th century. The
case began in 1971 when Indian microbiologist Ananda Mohan
Chakrabarty, an employee of General Electric, developed
bacteria that could digest oil. That same year, GE applied
to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) for a patent
on Chakrabarty's genetically engineered oil-eating bacteria.
After several years of review, the PTO rejected the
application under the traditional legal doctrine that life
forms ("products of nature") are not patentable.

The case was eventually appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court,
which handed down its surprise opinion in June 1980. By a
five-to-four margin the court ruled that the patent was to
be granted. The highest court in the United States had
decided that life was patentable, stating that the "relevant
distinction [in patentability] is not between living and
inanimate things, but whether living products could be seen
as `human-made inventions.'"

Allowing a patent on a life form proved to be a slippery
slope: In 1985 the PTO, on the basis of Chakrabarty, ruled
that genetically engineered or altered plants are
patentable. In 1987 the PTO extended patenting to all
altered or engineered animals. Within a few years, microbes,
plants, animals, human cells, cell lines, and genes were
being patented.

The impact on the globalization of biotechnology has been
profound. A corporation or government entity can expropriate
a natural substance found in a Third World location, isolate
valuable genetic material, patent it as the company's
property, and have a monopoly on commercial uses of the
genetic product for approximately two decades. By a margin
of one vote, the U.S. Supreme Court handed over the genetic
commons of the earth to private ownership.

Biotechnology and new patent law have allowed companies to
capitalize on even the smallest of life forms. The Merck
pharmaceutical company has patented microbial samples from
nine countries. These include soil bacteria from a heather
forest on Mount Kilimanjaro, a Mexican soil fungus useful in
the manufacturing of male hormones, a fungus found in
Namibian soil of potential use in treating manic depression,
a soil bacteria in India that serves as an antifungal agent,
and a Venezuelan soil bacteria patented for use in the
production of antibiotics.

Merck is not alone in its corporate ownership of
microorganisms. Pfizer and Bristol-Myers Squibb both have
more bacteria and fungi holdings than Merck. Each year the
drug industry spends billions searching the world's soils
for valuable microorganisms.

The biopirates are also on the lookout for profitable,
patentable plants. In one remarkable example, several
Northern corporations, including W.R. Grace, have been
granted more than 50 U.S. patents on the neem tree of
India--and not only on the tree, but also on the indigenous
knowledge about its many uses.

In another act of biopiracy, two drugs derived from the rosy
periwinkle--vincristine and vinblastine--earn $100 million
annually for Eli Lilly. The plant is indigenous to the
rainforest of Madagascar, and the country has received
nothing in return.

Pharmaceuticals are among the most lucrative areas for the
international biopirates: Some 25 percent of U.S.
prescriptions are filled with drugs whose active ingredients
are derived from plants. Sales of these plant-based drugs
amounted to some $4.5 billion in 1980 and $15.5 billion in
1990. In Europe, Australia, Canada, and the United States,
the market value for both prescription and over-the-counter
drugs based on plants is estimated to be in excess of $70
billion. Transnational companies know where to find the
plants: Well over 50 percent of the world's estimated
250,000 plant species are in tropical rainforests. Only a
small fraction of them have been investigated as a source of
potential new drugs, and the rapid destruction of tropical
forests has hastened corporations' screening, appropriation,
and patenting processes.

The mounting intensity of the biopirates' assault on Third
World genetic resources can also be seen in the enormous
pressures placed on governments by agricultural and drug
companies to pass the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade
(GATT) and other international trade structures, including
the Convention on Biological Diversity, that cement the
right of private actors to patent the resources and
indigenous knowledge of the Third World. The result is an
ever-increasing use of patenting and licensing agreements by
transnational corporations to secure a monopoly over
valuable genetic materials that can be developed into
profitable drugs and energy sources.

The New Vampires

The biopirates are interested not only in microbes and
plants, but also in the very bodies of indigenous peoples.
For decades the United States and other industrialized
countries have been buying the blood of the poor in the
Third World and selling it on the open market. Now
scientists and researchers are racing to locate, identify,
and find commercial uses for human genes from various
indigenous populations. The search for valuable human
genetic material is fueled by the fact that human genes and
cells are now patentable. Relying on the Chakrabarty
decision, over the past decade the U.S. Patent Office has
allowed patents on human genes, cells, and cell lines. The
lure of patent profits is leading a growing army of
international gene hunters hoping to find potentially
profitable genetic material to collect and analyze blood and
other materials from Third World peoples. For example, in
May 1989, researchers took blood samples from 24 people from
the Hagahai people of Papua, New Guinea. The patent
application describes the Hagahai as "a 260-member
hunter-horticulturist group" that inhabits New Guinea's
Madang Province. A cell line developed from the Hagahai
might be valuable in diagnosing adult leukemia and chronic
degenerative neurologic disease. Another patent claim filed
on behalf of the U.S. government involves a human cell line
derived from a 40-year-old woman and a 58-year-old man, both
of the Solomon Islands; this cell line, too, may be useful
in diagnosing disease. In neither case were the people asked
for their consent, nor were their traditions and values

Despite the growing number of patents, biopirating the
genetic material of indigenous peoples is only in early
stages, and scientists are making plans for expansion.
Starting in 1991, an informal consortium of scientists in
North America and Europe launched a campaign to take blood,
tissue, and hair samples from hundreds of "endangered" and
unique human communities throughout the world. The
initiative is called the Human Genome Diversity Project
(HGDP), and the samples it gathers will be used to create
"transformed" cell lines of each community.

Many indigenous communities have condemned the HGDP. In
February 1995, leaders representing indigenous nations
throughout Canada, the United States, Panama, Ecuador, Peru,
Bolivia, and Argentina issued a statement opposing the HGDP
and noting that it "opens the door for potential widespread
abuse of human genetic materials for scientific, commercial,
or military purposes. . . . The proposed research holds
little or no benefit to the donor populations, but could be
highly profitable to various researchers, patent holders,
and corporations, which may find commercial application
[from collected material] such as the production of

"This project is another form of the extremely racist
process by which indigenous lands and resources have been
pirated for the benefit of almost everyone except indigenous
peoples," says Jeanette Armstrong, an Okanagan from British


To reverse the rapidly increasing biopiracy that is sweeping
the globe, it is imperative that the current regime of
bioimperialism be replaced by international structures based
on biodemocracy: recognition of the intrinsic value of all
life forms and preservation of their genetic integrity.
Biodemocracy recognizes the contributions and rights of
source communities and requires that nation-states renounce
the patenting of life and the international trade
structures--such as GATT--that support patenting.

Biodemocracy also requires that there be an immediate
moratorium on the genetic engineering of the permanent
genetic code of plant and animal species. Until a
sophisticated means of predicting the effects of gene
alterations on the environment is established and adequate
regulations are enacted, the genetic engineering must stop.
Collection of cells and blood from indigenous peoples
through projects that violate all legal principles of
informed consent and represent a threat to their dignity and
survival must end.

As people in the North struggle to halt biopiracy, the South
must also stand behind the principles and policies of
biodemocracy and refuse to allow its resources and its
people to become commodities of the North.

Andrew Kimbrell is an attorney, activist, author, and
founder of the Washington, D.C.-based International Center
for Technology Assessment, which examines the economic,
ethical, social, environmental, and political impacts that
result from the applications of technology.

Special to Utne Reader, March 1996