Protesting Central American Free Trade Agreement 

AIDS activists blocked a main artery of downtown D.C. this afternoon bringing attention to the negative impact the Central American Free Trade Agreement, CAFTA, will have on AIDS drugs.   -- Free Speech Radio News

Tuesday, December 9, 2003

A little after noon today, at the Central American Free Trade Agreement negotiations summit inside the Mayflower Hotel on Connecticut Avenue in Washington DC, ACT UP members wearing hospital gowns dropped a banner that said:


The action today protests the CAFTA negotiations, which would limit access to AIDS drugs for people with AIDS in Central America and create a precedent that might impact many other people around the world.

Leaving the hotel, activists marched to intersection, chanting "AIDS drugs Save Lives, CAFTA = Death." They attempted to set up an "AIDS ward," blocking traffic on Connecticut Avenue; 9 activists were arrested.

see more at  dc.indymedia                

United States - Central America Deal Could Block Cheap AIDS Drugs
by Emad Mekay

WASHINGTON, Dec 8 (IPS) - Volunteer social worker Alain Rias, who helps treat people living with HIV/AIDS in Honduras, says his work has helped patients recover, go back to work and support their families.

But the French activist, who works with Medicins sans Frontiers (MSF), known in English as Doctors Without Borders, says this work is threatened by a controversial trade deal the United States is trying to finalise with five Central American countries.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick and ministers from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua are meeting Monday in Washington for talks to launch a U.S.-Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).

CAFTA would eliminate tariffs and other barriers to trade in goods, agriculture, services, investment and the imposition of intellectual property rights on medicine, among other things. The meetings are scheduled t
wrap up by Dec. 17.

But health activists are warning that the deal could establish new rules for the protection and enforcement of drug company patents and other forms of intellectual property rights that will reduce access to medicine in one of the Latin American regions hardest hit by the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Rias has been giving antiretroviral therapy in Honduras free of charge to some 300 HIV/AIDS patients, mostly women, over the past 18 months.

”Really, having access to medicine changed their lives because many of them are women and their main preoccupation is staying alive to feed their children and to see them grow,” Rias said during a teleconference Monday organised by health activists and experts lobbying against limitations on access to medicine under CAFTA.

”People recovered very quickly. They are able to work again and earn a bit of money to support their families. Many of the women are without male partners because they had to go abroad for work. So the conditions are very hard economically,” he said.

According to Doctors Without Borders, the Honduran government purchased brand name medicines for the disease at 850 dollars pe person per year, while the group buys generic drugs for half that price. The difference goes mostly to gigantic U.S.-based pharmaceutical companies.

Activists say that the poor country is under pressure from the United States to continue to buy brand names rather than the more affordable generic drugs.

”In the conversation we had we realised that the government is under pressure to continue to buy brand names and fears retaliation from the U.S. government,” Rias said.

Activists also worry that the trade deal now being negotiated in Washington could place dramatic limitations on compulsory licensing, a procedure that allows a government to authorise itself or a third party to use a patented product, with payment of reasonable compensation to the patent holder.

Other provisions of the deal would require companies that manufacture generic drugs to redo costly tests to obtain marketing approval. This would be beyond the capacity of almost all of the relatively small generic companies.

The provisions could ask the generic drug company to delay using the results of tests already completed by brand-name companies for a period of five years, creating patent-like barriers to market entry of generics, even where no patent exists.

”The new intellectual property rules that the Bush administration is aggressively negotiating for in CAFTA will, we feel, obstruct access to medicine by increasing medicine prices and delaying or blocking generic competition,” said Asia Russell of Health GAP, a U.S.-based group that lobbies for global access to HIV/AIDS drugs, during the teleconference.

Civil society groups also view the United States, particularly under the right-wing Republican administration of Pres. George W. Bush, as trying to influence international trade rules to favour corporations while undercutting the ability of national and state lawmakers in developing countries to protect environmental and public health.

The Bush administration saw its aggressive trade policy partly derailed last month when ministers from 34 countries in the Western hemisphere meeting in Miami failed to reach a comprehensive agreement, as initially envisioned, to open their borders for trade.

The controversial Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) was originally designed to open borders for free trade in the entire region, with the exclusion of Cuba.

Feeling threatened by the advance of some more moderate politicians and the evident increasing suspicion developing countries now view these trade deals with, the administration is now rushing to finalise bilateral and regional agreements.

In Miami, the United States announced talks for a flurry of bilateral trade deals with countries like Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia.

The deals would make the United States less responsive to pressure from emboldened groupings of developing countries, as happened during World Trade Organisation (WTO) meetings in Cancun, Mexico in September.

”Unfortunately however, the U.S. is trying to move out from the WTO forum to other forums where it thinks it may be able to more successfully limit (other) countries' ability to access generics and to impose enhanced patent protections,” said Robert Weissman, co-editor of Essential Action, a corporate accountability watchdog group.

”They tried to do that with FTAA with unclear success,and they are moving increasingly to bilateral and many regional agreements, of which CAFTA is the most important right now, he said.

Once the CAFTA agreement is finalised, Panama and the Dominican Republic are expected to agree to similar or identical terms without extensive negotiations of the details, a step that could deprive more HIV/AIDS patients from affordable medicines.

But for Rias, people in Honduras -- where MSF says that one person dies of AIDS every two hours -- no trade agreement that could keep life-saving medicine off-limits is needed. A programme that puts more medicine into their hands is.

Central America takes spotlight with trade deal, presidential conference
by Doreen Hemlock, South Florida Sun Sentinel    December 9 2003

Trade with Central America takes center stage this week, as Washington seeks to wrap up a five-nation Central American Free Trade Agreement and presidents from the isthmus headline an annual conference on the Caribbean Basin in Miami Beach.

U.S. negotiators have set Friday as a target date to finish yearlong talks on CAFTA, a free trade pact with Guatemala, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras -- all small, developing nations with a combined economic output equal to about 1 percent of the U.S. economy.

Central American leaders are hot on CAFTA to boost sales of their nations' products in the huge U.S. market and to lure more U.S. investment, but critics charge the free trade pact will send U.S. jobs overseas and hurt the poor.

Three Central American presidents -- Francisco Flores of El Salvador, Enrique Bolaños of Nicaragua and Abel Pacheco of Costa Rica -- will discuss CAFTA and other business-related issues at the annual Miami Conference on the Caribbean Basin that began Monday night at the Loews Hotel in Miami Beach.

Bahamas Prime Minister Perry Christie and Gov. Jeb Bush also are among top speakers at the three-day event that focuses on business challenges facing the Caribbean and Central America, which comprise the U.S. "Third Border" after Canada and Mexico, conference organizers said.

Yet as the final round in CAFTA negotiations began Monday in Washington, it was free trade critics who took the offensive with the media -- not CAFTA proponents.

San Francisco-based Health Gap, which seeks greater access to generic drugs to fight HIV-AIDS, conducted a conference call Monday afternoon to denounce the proposed pact as a "threat to public health."

"CAFTA will lock countries into tough new patent rules that will drive the cost of lifesaving drugs up and delay or obstruct generic [drug] competition," said Asia Russell, Health Gap's director of international policy.

The Women's Edge Coalition of Washington, D.C., urged a study on how CAFTA will affect women in Central America, noting its own research has found that U.S.-Mexico free trade has significantly boosted poverty among households headed by women in Mexico.

The left-leaning Council on Hemispheric Affairs in Washington, D.C., meanwhile, issued a statement charging CAFTA would hurt Central American farmers, as highly subsidized U.S. farm products would flood their markets.

Plus, Human Rights Watch of Washington, D.C. voiced concern that CAFTA will do little to boost labor standards if the pact calls only for governments to enforce existing laws and if Central America remains lax in its enforcement.

Roughly 525 people were registered as of Monday for the Miami Conference on the Caribbean Basin that will discuss CAFTA, tourism, food security and other business-related issues, said Anton Edmunds, deputy director of the Washington-based business advocacy group organizing the event.

The group, formerly Caribbean/Latin American Action, switched its name back to its original title of Caribbean-Central American Action effective Monday to reflect its priority on the Third Border nations.

One question sure to surface at the Miami Beach event: Should negotiators finalize a CAFTA draft this week, will the accord pass Congress in an election year in 2004?

"Chances look about 50-50 now, especially because of so many sensitive agricultural products," said Tony Villamil of the Washington Economics Group in Coral Gables and a conference panelist.

For information on the Miami Conference, check the Internet at
Doreen Hemlock can be reached at or 305-810-5009


AIDS Activists Protest CAFTA Talks      CorpWatch

Chanting "Bush's CAFTA is a disaster for people with AIDS," wearing hospital gowns reading "Another AIDS Death from CAFTA/Break the Patents, Treat the People" and wheeling hospital beds, 12 activists, among them people living with AIDS, set up a make-shift hospital ward and blocked mid-day traffic in front of the hotel where U.S. and Central American trade negotiators are meeting after a year of talks to finalize the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). The activists locked to each other using chains and handcuffs.

CAFTA's provisions to protect and expand the patent monopolies of U.S. pharmaceutical companies in Central America will undermine access to affordable generic AIDS drugs and increase the price of medicines, according to the activists. Thousands of HIV positive Central Americans are in immediate need of treatment or else they will die. In Honduras, for example, more than 73,000 people are infected and one person dies with AIDS each hour. 2 million people are living with HIV in Latin America and the Caribbean; of the six Latin American countries with the highest HIV prevalence, four are Central American, according to the World Bank.

"Untreated AIDS in Central America is like a house on fire. Bush's CAFTA will just pour gasoline on the fire," said Jose DeMarco of ACT UP, a person living with AIDS who was arrested at today's protest. "These are trade policies negotiated in our names as Americans. We have an obligation to stand up and demand that Bush put public health and access to medicines first, not his greedy drive to pander to Big Pharma."

The Bush Administration, along with all other WTO members, signed the Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health (Doha Declaration) in November 2001, under extreme pressure from developing countries and civil society. The Doha Declaration reaffirms WTO member countries' right to break drug company patent monopolies in order to promote access to medicines for all. Bush is disregarding this pledge in the CAFTA by establishing new rules that are tougher than what the WTO requires.

The CAFTA is just one of many trade agreements in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as Africa and Asia, the U.S. is negotiating in poor regions. Winning new, higher levels of patent protection and new means to obstruct the market entry of generic medicines is an objective of each of these deals, according to activists.

"Bush plans to trade away access to medicines in order to maximize the profits of pharmaceutical companies-even if millions are left to die as a result," said Eustacia Smith of ACT UP, a protester. "CAFTA's false promises of so-called free trade won't work for the dead."

Generic competition is the most powerful mechanism for reducing drug prices; recent negotiations brokered by the Clinton Foundation between poor country governments and generic companies resulted in prices as low as $135 per person per year for a triple combination of HIV medicines. Under the CAFTA, similar negotiations with newer medicines would be impossible.


1)  No intellectual property provisions in CAFTA, or any other trade agreement being negotiated by the U.S. WTO intellectual property rules must be the ceiling for trade agreements, not a floor. Countries should be permitted to use every means at their disposal to increase access to low cost generic medicines for all.

2)  The World Health Organization and Pan American Health Organization must aggressively use their expertise to assist countries in negotiating trade agreements and developing national laws that prioritize health and access to medicines.

      more resources

Contact  ACT UP
Asia Russell (267) 475-2645
Eric Sawyer (917) 951-5758
Kate Sorensen (267) 307-1359
John Reilly (917) 653-7267

Dow Jones Business News    December 9, 2003
HIV/AIDS Activists Protest Central America Trade Talks

WASHINGTON -(Dow Jones)- Twelve HIV activists protesting drug-patent provisions under negotiation between the U.S. and Central American governments were arrested Tuesday in Washington.

The protest action was led by ACT UP, a group calling for more affordable generic HIV/AIDS drugs, and is part of broader protests planned for the week. They complain that patent protection measures demanded by the U.S. will restrict poor countries' access to cheaper drugs.

The protesters blocked traffic by lying across the street at the corner of Connecticut Ave. and L Street, just outside the Mayflower Hotel where talks between U.S. and Central American trade officials are ongoing. In January, the U.S. launched negotiations on a Central American Free Trade Agreement with El Salvador (news - web sites), Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala.

"We have an obligation to stand and demand that (President George W.) Bush put public health and access to medicines first, not his greedy drive to pander to Big Pharma," said Jose DeMarco, an ACT UP activist arrested by the police.

Drug companies argue that patent protection is essential to ensure that money is invested into research for new drugs.

"Patent protection is the only thing ensuring new medicines to combat this disease and others," said Mark Grayson, senior communications director for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. Grayson said there are international intellectual property agreements that set up guidelines for poor countries to purchase generic medicines.

CAFTA protesters said in this agreement the U.S. is pushing for tougher restrictions than those it agreed to in the so-called Doha Declaration which established a procedure for countries to set aside drug patents in public health emergencies.

A spokesman for the U.S. Trade Representative denied this. "We fully support countries having the ability to get access to life-saving medicines. Nothing in the agreement will detract from the Doha access to medicines," said USTR spokesman Rich Mills.

Miami Herald
Posted on Wed, Dec. 10, 2003

CAFTA talks begin amid sniping

Negotiators expect 'a very tight vote,' but the Bush administration sees eventual success in its bid for a free-trade pact with Central America despite critics.



The ninth round of negotiations to create a free-trade agreement between the United States and Central America got underway in Washington this week, but a mounting array of economic and political pressures could undermine the final success.

The proposed Central American Free Trade Agreement, or CAFTA, has taken on new importance after the collapse of global trade talks in Mexico in September and the scaling back last month of a free-trade agreement for 34 nations in the Western Hemisphere.

''The administration understood that it was time to get a signal out that there were economies that it was going to do business with,'' said G. Lee Sandler, a lawyer whose Miami firm, Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg, advises countries and companies involved in the talks.

The United States began negotiations in January with Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua to eliminate tariffs and other barriers to trade in agriculture, goods, investment and services and to beef up intellectual-property rights. An unofficial timetable calls for signing the agreement by April with a vote by the U.S. Congress before the 2004 summer recess.

The current round of meetings is supposed to wrap up Tuesday, but even before talks started Monday in Washington, the stars were not aligned.

The battered textile industry, always a backer of such agreements in the past, was not on board despite a slew of initiatives with the backing of the big retailers and apparel importers. Textile makers opposed attempts to include textiles manufactured in Canada or Mexico under the umbrella of duty- and quota-free access to the U.S. apparel market, arguing that, along with Chinese imports, such a scheme would sound the death knell for the industry.

Big sugar, a powerhouse in such states as Florida and Louisiana, has decried the proposal to increase Central American sugar imports at the expense of domestic producers.

''If this agreement devastates the American sugar farmer, I think it would make it very difficult for the U.S. trade representative to move that thing through Congress,'' said Robert E. Coker, senior vice president of U.S. Sugar, based in Clewiston.

Besides such strident opposition from formerly pro-trade sectors, there are traditional opponents to trade accords.

Last week, Human Rights Watch issued a 111-page report detailing El Salvador's weak labor laws and its failure to enforce even them. The government's failure to 'safeguard workers' human rights in the private export sector not only allows local employers and multinational corporations to carry out and benefit from human rights violations but also helps create a model in which export goods are produced under abusive conditions,'' the report charged.

Free-trade opponents contend not only that labor rights are ignored in Central America but also that recent agreements only require governments to pledge to enforce labor laws.

Environmental groups, meanwhile, have criticized the lack of environmental protections.

And AIDS activists have warned that requiring Central American countries to enforce strict patent rules, under new intellectual-property protection favored by Washington, would weaken the fight against AIDS by raising the price of medicine and delaying or blocking the use of affordable generic drugs.

''This will undermine efforts by people in the region to gain access to generic drugs,'' said Robert Weissman, co-director of Essential Action, a corporate accountability group based in Washington.

To drive that point home, AIDS activists dressed in hospital gowns demonstrated Tuesday outside the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, where the negotiations were taking place. A dozen were arrested, according to a statement from the group.

Democratic members of the House have called on trade representatives to strengthen the protection of workers' rights and the environment.

Another letter, signed by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and 17 other House Democrats, has asked that the USTR address concerns about the impact of investment provisions on the Central American countries.

Trade negotiators admit they're facing a tough battle.

''This will be a very tight vote,'' Regina Vargo, chief U.S. CAFTA negotiator, conceded to reporters Monday.

But the Bush administration believes it will be successful in the long run. To entice the black voting bloc in Congress, Washington plans to begin three months of negotiations with the Dominican Republic on Jan. 12 that would also lock it into CAFTA.

''We want to pass this agreement,'' a U.S. trade official said. ``We want to pass it sooner rather than later. At the end of the day, the vote will be there.

see also earlier FTAA Protests in Miami (2003)  

ACTIVISTS protest FTAA in Miami
Chicago Maroon, IL

I, protester
Orlando Weekly, FL
... Trade Area of the Americas talks ... on the city to protest ... 17,
small groups of activists ... pointing out that free trade ... are being
stolen in Central America. ...

FRAGMENTS of the Future: The FTAA in Miami
... in the face of protest ... shutting down of vast central ... the United
States of America ... first launched the FTAA talks ... pursuit of bilateral
trade ... on by the activists ...

FTAA Protests Order of the Day in Miami
OneWorld, UK
... held eight rounds of talks ... s work in the central ... Local and
global activists demonstrated ... across North and South America ... The
protest is part of ... of the Free Trade ...

CLASHES resume after thousands march peacefully
Contra Costa Times, CA
... concentrations of police in central ... that 3,000 to 5,000 activists
... medics associated with the protest ... another site of the trade talks
... the Bank of America ...

PEOPLE the law forgot
Guardian, UK
... implications for freedom in America ... after the World Trade ... fantasy
of a central ... the culture of protest ... The ICRC never talks ... Swedish
activists campaigning for ...

MIAMI prepares for the latest protest
US News

FTAA protesters, police face off in Miami
San Jose Mercury News, CA
... concentrations of police in central ... despite earlier concerns that
activists ... reference to the talks ... create a Free Trade ... the Bank
of America ... join a major protest ...

DEMOCRACY comes to Miami
Working for Change, CA
... in the Caribbean and in Central and South America ... 19-21) to protest
... Seattle during 1999's WTO talks ... a major free trade ... European
global justice activists ...

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