Sanders, Brown Speak Out On Gunboat Diplomacy For Corporations

Dave Johnson

Members of Congress are weighing in against the U.S. government’s use of “gunboat diplomacy”-style intimidation of Colombia against that country allowing a generic version of an ultraexpensive cancer drug named Gleevec in order to protect the public’s health.

Meanwhile, a coalition of nonprofit groups sent a letter to President Obama on Friday expressing “great alarm” that the U.S. is considering withholding aid to Colombia because of its plan to allow the use of a generic competitor to Gleevec.

“Gunboat Diplomacy”

Last week’s post “Is This The Return Of U.S. ‘Gunboat Diplomacy’ Serving Corporations?” explained how the U.S. government was threatening Colombia in non-trade-related ways because Colombia was objecting to the outrageous pricing of a cancer drug and was legally going to allow companies to make generic versions. The kicker: The drug in question isn’t even made by an American company.

Colombia is allowing local production of a generic form of a cancer drug that is ultraexpensive because of a government-granted monopoly handed to a giant, multinational pharmaceutical corporation. The U.S. government is stepping in on the corporation’s side with a modern form of “gunboat diplomacy” — even though the giant corporation isn’t even “American.”

[. . .] There are indications that right after Colombia enabled local production of a generic version of Gleevec, the U.S. government stepped in to protect pharmaceutical industry profits by threatening to withdraw funding for a peace initiative between the Colombian government and the rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and threatening the country’s involvement in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

“Thankfully, now there exists the greatest opportunity for a lasting peace in Colombia in a generation, and U.S. assistance through the Paz Colombia aid package will play an integral role in consolidating such a peace through support and monitoring,” said the nonprofit coalition letter to Obama, endorsed by groups that included the AFL-CIO, Institute for Policy Studies, Public Citizen and the Presbyterian and United Church of Christ denominations. “it is wholly inappropriate, reprehensible, and intolerable for anyone from your administration or the U.S. Congress to ask Colombia to choose between peace and its people’s health.”

Congress Members Weigh In

Earlier this week, 15 members of Congress sent a letter to U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Michael Froman expressing their concern about the pressure. The letter says, “There are growing concerns about the very high and increasing costs of pharmaceuticals in the United States and in other nations. And the annual cost of this medicine in Colombia is almost twice as high as the average annual income per person in Colombia. As policymakers struggle to address this issue, we should not seek to limit the existing, agreed upon flexibilities public health authorities have to address these concerns.”

On Thursday, senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) sent a letter of their own to USTR Froman. The letter says, “We object to any efforts to intimidate and discourage Colombia’s government from taking measures to protect the public health of Colombians in a way that is appropriate, effective and consistent with the country’s trade and public health obligations. We also find it unconscionable that any representatives of the U.S. Government would threaten to rescind funding for Colombia’s peace initiative if a compulsory license for Gleevec were issued.”

This situation is not getting much attention in the “corporate media.”

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