Posts tagged South Africa

Patents kill, part III

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Patents kill people.

Patent restrictions, inflicted in the name of intellectual property, are in reality nothing more than government-granted monopolies — granted in a deliberate effort to lock down ideas, which are, by nature, non-rivalrous resources, discoverable and available to all without conflict, deprivation or exclusion. This effort to monopolize access to human knowledge, and to extract monopoly profits for a term of years, can operate only by forbidding anyone else to peacefully produce — to imitate, duplicate, independently develop, or make improvements on the margin, to new technology and potentially life-saving discoveries. It has nothing to do with protecting property, and everything to do with protecting corporate power at the expense of massive invasions on property — on the equal liberty of generic competitors to make use of their own resources, computers, labs, chemicals and plants to produce and to market similar wares. In the industries dominated by patent privilege, incumbent trans-national corporations, like Roche and GlaxoSmithKline, ransom their fattened profits from legally-secured captive markets, and do it ultimately at the expense, not just of would-be competitors, but also at the expense of those who depend on patent-encumbered technologies for their well-being, their health, or their lives. When this is done to relatively privileged people and useful or enjoyable technologies, this is a crude form of protectionism, and an exploitative burden for the benefit of entrenched capitalists. When it is done to the poorest, most marginalized, and most desperate people, it is an obscene and lethal crime. And that’s what’s happened — just what’s happend — with pharmaceutical corporations’ protected monopolies on antiretroviral drugs for HIV in Africa. Patents kill. They killed millions in the last two decades alone, that open competition and lower prices could have saved. And this crime against humanity was inflicted knowingly, deliberately, not just by Big Pharma — they had no power to stop generics; they couldn’t have done it alone — but by the concerted effort of the United States government, the E.U. governments, the World Trade Organization, and WTO-controlled client states throughout the developing world. Due to the TRIPS protocols on international patents and copyrights — negotiated in the Uruguay Round of GATT and enforced through the World Trade Organization — neo-liberal trade agreements became the key mechanism for a deliberate international governmental campaign to protect the industrial structure of corporate capitalism, even though it meant suppressing the production and trade of affordable HIV drugs in the global South, and even though this inevitably meant millions of preventable deaths.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. . . . As we turn now to another film about what some have described as the crime of the century. The new documentary, Fire in the Blood, explores how major pharmaceutical companies, including Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline, as well as the United States, prevented tens of millions of people in the developing world from receiving affordable generic AIDS drugs. Millions died as a result. This is a part of the trailer of Fire in the Blood.

DR. PETER MUGYENYI: Over two million people were reported to have died in that year alone.

YUSUF HAMIED: The whole of Africa was being taken for a ride.

BILL CLINTON: It’s fine for people in rich countries to say this is what it ought to be. They don’t have to live in these little villages and watch people die like flies.

DR. PETER MUGYENYI: Where are the drugs? The drugs are where the disease is not.

DONALD McNEIL: You fight our patent monopolies, we will make sure you die.

NELSON MANDELA: As long as drugs are not available to everybody, he will not take them.

JAMES LOVE: It was just kind of a crisis of humanity. People just weren’t really human for a moment.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s an excerpt of Fire in the Blood, the film tracing how Big Pharma refused to allow countries to break patents and allow for the importation of cheap generic AIDS drugs. The problem continues today, as the World Trade Organization continues to block the importation of generic drugs in many countries because of a trade deal known as the TRIPS Agreement. Fire in the Blood just had its North American premiere here at the Sundance Film Festival.

For more, we’re joined by two guests: Dylan Mohan Gray, director of Fire in the Blood, based in Mumbai, India, and Dr. Peter Mugyenyi, a Ugandan AIDS doctor featured in the film, recognized as one of the world’s foremost specialists and researchers in the field of HIV/AIDS. He played a key role in founding Uganda’s HIV/AIDS Joint Clinical Research Centre, and is author of a new book, Genocide by Denial: How Profiteering from HIV/AIDS Killed Millions.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Dylan, let’s begin with you, why you made this film.

DYLAN MOHAN GRAY: Well, basically, I think the story sort of came to me by accident, to be honest. I was working on a film in Sri Lanka in 2004, and I had a day off and just happened to read an article in The Economist, of all things, which—it struck me as very interesting, because it was about one of the characters in our film, Dr. Yusuf Hamied, who’s an Indian generic drug maker, and it was talking about how he was bringing in low-cost antiretroviral medications to Africa. Yet it seemed something interesting was going on beneath the surface. It seemed like this was obviously, you know, to my mind, a very good thing that he was doing, but they were going out of their way, I felt, to attack him, but it wasn’t clear why. So, it piqued my interest. And, you know, not long later, I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Hamied. And through him, I met several of the other people that became contributors to the film.

And I used to be in the academic world, and, you know, the historian in me was just completely shocked and scandalized that, A, I didn’t know more about the story, and, B, that there was so little written about it or, you know, there were no comprehensive accounts of what had happened—you know, something that had killed 10, 12 million people, and it seemed to have happened almost without a record. So, you know, the impetus to make the film, primarily, was actually to create a record, a memorial and a chronicle of what happened. And as you say, I mean, we consider this to be the crime of the century.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Mugyenyi is featured in the film. And it’s an honor to have you here with us—

DR. PETER MUGYENYI: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: —before you head back home to Uganda, where you had been imprisoned, jailed, as you tried to bring generic drugs into Uganda, to get these drugs at a cheaper amount. Explain what Dr. Hamied did, this—I mean, what Cipla, the head of Cipla did, this drug company, how he challenged the rest of the world in saying he would cut the prices of AIDS drugs from—what was it? The amount that people would have to pay for the triple cocktail, before and after Hamied?

DR. PETER MUGYENYI: Well, there was a misinformation, worldwide misinformation, that AIDS drugs were too expensive to manufacture. The second misinformation that was there was that Africans would not be able to use these drugs, that it was impossible to use these drugs in the African condition. Dr. Hamied called the bluff of all of those who were propagating this false information that cost so many lives of people.

AMY GOODMAN: How?

DR. PETER MUGYENYI: Well, he just literally announced that it is not true that these drugs can only be manufactured at such an exorbitant cost. He demonstrated that they could be demonstrated at relatively affordable cost, which would save millions of lives because of affordability. So it was the issue of affordability and access where Hamied came in and acted.

AMY GOODMAN: So before him, drug companies were charging like $15,000 for a year for one patient to get a triple cocktail for the year. And he cut that price to less than a dollar a day? $15,000 to $350 for the year?

DR. PETER MUGYENYI: Yes, and that action was incredible. For the first time, millions of people who were dying stopped dying in Africa, because they started accessing life-saving drugs.

AMY GOODMAN: Why did you end up in jail in Uganda?

DR. PETER MUGYENYI: Well, it was—I was arrested, but I was rescued because Uganda government was concerned about the plight of the citizens who were dying in such a big number. So an emergency meeting that rescued me from arrest took place in front of the government ministers, and at that meeting I made it clear: I said to the meeting that, Look, your relatives are dying of AIDS. Your citizens are dying of AIDS. I’m a doctor working among the AIDS patients, and I have no tools to save my patients’ lives. All I have done is to import affordable drugs, which will increase access. These drugs are at the airport. They are under your care. You can block them from coming in, but as far as I’m concerned, I have done my job of bringing life-saving drugs to Uganda. And I think they understood. And every one of them had relatives who were suffering from AIDS, or at least a friend whom they knew who had died from AIDS. And so, this was—it was not very difficult to convince them that this action was necessary, and I needed to be out saving lives with drugs instead of being arrested.

AMY GOODMAN: Another of the heroes in the fight to bring life-saving drugs to HIV/AIDS patients is Zackie Achmat of South Africa’s Treatment Action Campaign. In 1999, Achmat, who is HIV-positive, went on a treatment strike in solidarity with others who couldn’t afford medication. He’s featured in Fire in the Blood.

ZAKIE ACHMAT: If my sisters or brothers or cousins had HIV or had AIDS and needed medicines, they wouldn’t have been able to get it. And I grew up in a house where your mom would say, If all the kids can’t have chocolate, one is not going to have it.

NARRATOR: Having made up his mind, Zackie Achmat announced that he would boycott antiretrovirals until the South African government made them available to everyone.

AMY GOODMAN: Dylan Mohan Gray, talk about the significance of Zackie Achmat and what the whole issue of patents is about in these U.S. companies.

DYLAN MOHAN GRAY: Well, Zackie Achmat, as you said, is one of the great heroes of this story. And I think the boycott that he undertook, very much with a sort of a Gandhian impetus in mind, you know, it was a very deliberate action that he took. And as he says in the film, you know, he grew up in a family where his mother said, if one child couldn’t have chocolate, then none of the children were going to get it. And that’s a very simple way of looking at it, but that’s something I think we can all identify with. He grew up, you know, struggling against apartheid in South Africa, a very strong sense of solidarity with his fellow man. And, you know, he could easily have accessed the drugs, because he was an internationally known activist, but he said, No, I’m not going to do it. And he came very close to death by taking that decision. And I think, you know, it had a very, very big impact on waking people, especially in the Western world, up to the reality of the situation in sub-Saharan Africa. So, you know, the gamble paid off, so to speak.

AMY GOODMAN: Say that last part.

DYLAN MOHAN GRAY: I said the gamble paid off. I feel like his gamble that he took—I mean, he risked his life—but in a sense, the gamble paid off, because the impact of what he did, you know, had repercussions throughout the world and woke a lot of people up to the situation of access to medicine in Africa.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain how the patents work.

DYLAN MOHAN GRAY: A patent is a government-granted monopoly or a grant of exclusivity which is given to companies, generally, or individuals, with the idea that by giving a period of the exclusivity, one would incentivize investment. So, what typically happens with pharmaceutical companies is they will purchase technology from others, whether it be universities or small biotech companies or other small innovative outfits, and they will then commercialize these products. And because they will have a monopoly for a period of time, usually a minimum of 20 years, they will be able to set the price at any level they wish. And we have the former vice president of Pfizer in our film, who says very openly the concept is to maximize revenue. It has nothing to do with the cost of research and development.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Mugyenyi, what needs to happen right now, in these last 30 seconds?

DR. PETER MUGYENYI: Well, what needs to happen is the realization that an inequitable, unethical situation exists with the related TRIPS Agreement, and that lives, millions of lives, are at stake unless this TRIPS Agreement and patents issue are addressed—not to hurt business, but to make sure that they do not hurt patients and result in a bloodbath, that we have seen in the case of HIV/AIDS.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both very much for being with us, Dr. Peter Mugyenyi from Uganda and Dylan Mohan Gray, director of the new film that has just premiered here at the Sundance Film Festival, Fire in the Blood.

I’m glad this movie has come out — it’s important, and it’s important that people are talking about this. My one reservation is that, when I watched this clip, it took some serious jaw-clenching not to scream out loud when the filmmakers brought William Jefferson Clinton, political philanthropist and ex-President of the United States, on screen to moralize and to lecture us about the HIV crisis in Africa. Of course the crisis is appalling, and the result of policies which are deeply immoral. But whose policies? Just who do they think negotiated and signed TRIPS? The AIDS crisis is a crime inflicted on Africa by governments, and at the head of the most powerful government inflicting it were President Clinton, his administration, and his successors. He and they have blood on their hands.

Patents kill people. They mean that the pharmaceutical cartel can call up the armed bully-boys of almost every government in the world in order to enforce artificially high prices for their top money-makers; and that means that State violence is being used to prevent affordable, life-saving drugs from reaching the desparate and the poor. The multilateral so-called free trade agreements of the past couple decades — NAFTA, CAFTA, the WTO — are slowly cutting back on traditional industrial protectionism while dramatically expanding the scale, scope, and deadly reach of intellectual protectionism.

To hell with that. Intellectual property is not about incentivizing or encouraging or opportunities. It’s about force: invading other people’s property to force them to render long-term rents to corporate monopolists, long after they have stopped putting any particular work into what they are claiming to be theirs. A necessary corollary is that it also means invading those who offer innovations based on the work that they control, unless those innovations comply with a very narrow set of guidelines for authorized use. They have no right to do that, and they sure don’t have the right to do it at the expense of innocent people’s lives. A free society needs a free culture, free knowledge and free technology. Patents kill and freedom saves people’s lives. This is as dead simple as it gets. To hell with state monopolies; to hell with state capitalism.

Also.

Monday Lazy Linking

The luxury of truth

Here’s the latest from occupied Zimbabwe:

The World Association of Newspapers and World Editors Forum have called for the repeal of a punitive luxury tax on newspapers that are imported into Zimbabwe, which is preventing independent newspapers from reaching their audience.

The tax was imposed in early June in the run-up to the widely condemned presidential election won by Robert Mugabe after his opponent quit the race in the face of escalating violence against his supporters. It aims to reduce the influence of South African-based news sources, which have been extremely important to Zimbabweans.

Restricting access to information by punitive taxation constitutes a clear breach of the right to freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by numerous international conventions, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Paris-based WAN and WEF, which represent 18,000 newspapers world-wide, said in a letter to President Mugabe.

The two organisations called on Mugabe to remove the luxury tax on foreign publications and to end state intimidation of the independent media. All domestic independent newspapers and broadcasters in Zimbabwe are banned.

The letter to the President said:

We are writing on behalf of the World Association of Newspapers and the World Editors Forum, which represent 18,000 publications in 102 countries, to call on you to immediately lift the punitive luxury tax imposed on imported newspapers, magazines and periodicals, which is clearly aimed at preventing independent newspapers from reaching the people of Zimbabwe.

On 8 June, the state-owned Herald newspaper reported that all foreign newspapers sold in Zimbabwe will now have to pay import duty, as the government moves to protect Zimbabwean media space. The newspaper went on to say that this move is meant to curb the entry into the country of what it called hostile foreign newspapers.

All foreign publications are now classed as luxury goods and therefore attract import duty at 40 percent. The tax appears to be particularly aimed at South African-based news sources, which have been extremely important to Zimbabweans. All domestic independent newspapers and broadcasters in Zimbabwe are banned.

The Zimbabwean, a twice-weekly newspaper printed in South Africa for distribution in Zimbabwe, has been forced to pay almost USD20,000 per week and is reducing its circulation from 200,000 copies to 60,000 as a result.

The Zimbabwe Revenue Authority refused to release a consignment of 60,000 copies of the 19 June issue of The Zimbabwean. This followed the burning of 60 000 copies of The Zimbabwean on Sunday on 25 May.

We respectfully remind you that restricting access to information by punitive taxation constitutes a clear breach of the right to freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by numerous international conventions, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 19 of the Declaration states: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media, regardless of frontiers.

We respectfully call on you to remove the luxury tax on foreign publications and to end state intimidation of the independent media. We urge you to take all necessary steps to ensure that in future your country fully respects international standards of freedom of information.

WAN, the global organisation for the newspaper industry, defends and promotes press freedom and the professional and business interests of newspapers world-wide. Representing 18,000 newspapers, its membership includes 77 national newspaper associations, newspaper companies and individual newspaper executives in 102 countries, 12 news agencies and 11 regional and world-wide press groups.

The WEF is the organisation for editors within the World Association of Newspapers (http://www.worldeditorsforum.org).

Inquiries to: Larry Kilman, Director of Communications, WAN, 7 rue Geoffroy St Hilaire, 75005 Paris France. Tel: +33 1 47 42 85 00. Fax: +33 1 47 42 49 48. Mobile: +33 6 10 28 97 36. E-mail: lkilman@wan.asso.fr.

— World Association of Newspapers (2008-07-08): Newspapers Fight Luxury Tax in Zimbabwe

WAN and WEF have to be diplomatic in their letter, so they can only respectfully remind. But I am under no such obligation, so I will take the liberty of saying here that the actions of the armed faction occupying the seats of power in Harare are despicable and yet another step down an incredibly dangerous road. Zimbabwe is a naturally rich and fertile country that has been systematically stripped and immiserated by a century of successive kleptocratic armed factions — first the land-grabbing white colonialists, and then an independent white apartheid government, and now a violent anti-colonial, revolutionary government which intones populist slogans to justify thievery, patronage to its political supporters, and sustained state and paramilitary assaults on all popular movements and all centers of civil society that are even remotely independent of the all-devouring State. This latest assault on Zimbabwean civil society and basic norms of truth and rationality, in declaring all non-State-dominated sources of information a mere frippery, indeed as a sort of decadence from which Zimbabweans must be protected against their wills, is only one of many incredibly troubling developments from a belligerent occupying regime, which imposes the will of a tiny political-military clique on the innocent and unwilling majority, and which indulges in the incredible audacity of passing itself off as a Leftist regime, while actively constituting itself as one of the most violently anti-worker governments in the world.

See also:

Inciting people to rise against the government and reporting falsehoods about people being killed

Here is the front page, above-the-fold story from the current issue of the Industrial Worker, on troubling news from Zimbabwe, a rich and fertile country immiserated and stripped by a century of kleptocratic armed factions — first the land-grabbing colonialists, and then an independent white apartheid government, and now a violent anti-colonial, revolutionary government, which has intoned populist slogans in order to justify government patronage to its political supporters, while assaulting all popular movements independent of the government — especially workers’ unions — on the grounds that any movement independent of, or opposed to, the anti-imperial government must therefore be a tool of white imperialism. The government that claims the right to rule Zimbabwe has, through this and other means, made itself into one of the most violently anti-worker governments in the world today.

Zimbabwe [sic] arrests unionists, opposition

Zimbabwe’s ruling party and paramilitaries are conducting a terror campaign of arrests and captive meetings of opposition supporters before the presidential run-off election on June 27.

Police arrested the union president Lovemore Motombo and general secretary Wellington Chibebe of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) on May 8. Police charged them with inciting people to rise against the government and reporting falsehoods about people being killed during a May Day rally.

The General Agriculture and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe has said that 40,000 farm workers are affected by the current terror campaign that has led to violence and eviction from their workplaces.

Teachers in rural classrooms are among those being targetted as MDC supporters. Two have been killed to date, with a third abducted by Zanu-PF paramilitaries. The teachers’ union has received reports that the Zanu-PF are chasing teachers out of schools, beating them, and demanding repentance fines in the form of cash, goats, and cattle, according to IRIN, a United Nations news service report. The situation in the schools resembles war zones, and there is no way teachers can report for work to face those death squads, Raymond Majongwe, president of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, told IRIN.

Our fear is that more could be under torture, or have been killed, said Majongwe.

The MDC has placed the death toll since the March 29 election at 43 people, with hundreds beaten and more than 5,000 people fleeing to the mountains and elsewhere to escape Zanu-PF militias.

People who have tried to file complaints to the police are, in turn, detained and interrogated, said the MDC, which means few people are coming forward.

On April 25, armed police raided the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) headquarters in Harare and arrested more than 300 men, women and children who had taken refuge there from political violence.

National and international unions have condemned the Zanu-PF for the violence against union members and party activists.

Dockworkers affiliated with the Congress of South African Trade Unions in South Africa and dockworkers in Mozambique refused to unload a ship loaded with AK-47 machine gun bullets, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades sold by China to Zimbabwe. The ship returned to China without unloading its cargo.

In a speech to the Zanu-PF’s Central Committee on May 16, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe said Zimbabwean democracy was stronger than ever and blamed the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) for inciting rural violence to benefit Western political and corporate interests.

Such violence is needless and must stop forthwith. Our fist is against white imperialism; it is a fist for the people of Zimbabwe, never a fist against them.

The same day, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai delayed his return to Zimbabwe, saying that his party alleged that the military planned to kill him and at least 36 other opposition leaders.

Tsvangirai had been lobbying neighbouring countries and the United Nations to pressure Mugabe to release and accept the election results.

While the MDC refers to Tsvangirai as the President on its web site, it has agreed to contest the presidential run-off in a bid to avoid violence such as that seen in Kenya after its election.

Despite the violence, MDC activists are gearing up for the presidential election campaign. The MDC said that 20,000 activists attended a rally in Harare.

The people are very clear on what they want. They want change. The dictatorship is dead and on 27 June we must attend its burial, said MDC parliamentarian Nelson Chamisa.

— The Industrial Worker 105.04 (June 2008): Zimbabwe arrests unionists, opposition

It’s hard to know what to do in the face of this kind of violence, especially when it is so far away. There may not be much that American workers really can do other than bear witness and hope. But I do want to call special attention to the vital importance of actions like those of the dockworkers in South Africa and Mozambique — an inspiring example both of direct action on the shop floor, and also international labor solidarity. In the end, the actions of workers both in Zimbabwe and in international solidarity campaigns will matter far more than even the fairest, most transparent, most open elections ever will or ever could. What is needed is more — not just inspiring examples, but a coordinated campaign of industrial action against the entire coercive apparatus of Zanu-PF and the Zimbabwean state, to choke off their capacity to attack and terrorize workers.

What Mugabe and his apparatchiks are doing to workers in Zimbabwe is abominable, but we must never forget that the workers have more power standing with our hands in our pockets than all the combined wealth and weapons of the bosses — whether economic, social, or political.

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