jueves, marzo 31, 2005


Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero

Just when the worldwide controversy over genetically modified (GM) foods and crops is growing larger and more heated, the biotechnology industry is getting ready to introduce a whole new class of GM plants whose very properties promise to make the biotech issue even more complicated and thorny than it already is.

These new biotech plants, called biopharmaceutical or pharm crops, produce pharmaceutical and industrial chemicals in their tissues. These plants, which include corn, soy, rice and tobacco, have been engineered to make products like growth hormones, blood clotting agents, vaccines-both for humans and farm animals-, human antibodies, industrial enzymes, contraceptives and even abortion-inducing drugs for morning-after pills.

"Think of harvesting enough anti-arthritic globulin for the whole world from less than 50 acres of corn", wrote physician William O. Robertson, a pharm crop enthusiast, in an op-ed in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "Think of finding the protein that healthy people use to ward off arthritis or breast cancer and producing it in affordable quantities in rice or tobacco."
By the end of this decade 10% of all corn grown in the US will be biopharmaceutical, says Anthony Laos, CEO of Prodigene, a Texas-based company that is the leader in this new field. Guy Cardineau, a scientist at Dow Agrosciences, predicts that biopharmaceutical products could become a $200 billion market by the beginning of next decade.

But some environmentalists and scientists are wary of this new biotech harvest, and they are unsettled by the fact that the US Agriculture Department (USDA) has permitted the companies involved to maintain specific information about these experiments sccret as "confidential business information". They ask, how are pharm crops going to be segregated from non-pharm crops? How do we keep them from pollinating other fields? How to prevent inventory errors that might accidentally send them into the food supply? They fear the result could be a biological Chernobyl with unimaginable consequences for human health and the environment.

"How will crops that are engineered to produce industrial chemicals or drugs affect soil micro-organisms or beneficial insects?" asks the Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC Group), a Canada-based think-tank. "What if biopharmaceutical crops end up in animal feed? Will pharmaceutical proteins be altered in unforeseen ways? Could they cause allergies?"

"Most noteworthy are problems of cross-pollination, and unknown deleterious effects on insects, soil microbes and other native organisms," according to biologist Brian Tokar, professor at the Institute for Social Ecology. "Further, we may soon see biologically active enzymes and pharmaceuticals, only found in nature in minute quantities -- and usually biochemically sequestered in very specialized regions of living tissues and cells-- secreted by plant tissues on a massive commercial scale."

"The consequences may be even more difficult to detect and measure than those associated with more familiar GM crop varieties, and could escalate to the point where those now-familiar problems would begin to pale by comparison", Tokar warned.

"Just one mistake by a biotech company and we'll be eating other people's prescription drugs in our corn flakes", said Larry Bohlen, director of health and environment programs at Friends of the Earth.


Mistakes have happened already. In the Fall of 2002, 500,000 bushels of soybeans in the Aurora Farm Co-op in Nebraska were contaminated with biopharmaceutical corn. How did that happen? One of the co-op's members had planted an experimental test crop of biopharmaceutical corn the previous year, and in the following year planted soybeans for human consumption in the same field.

During a routine on-site inspection, USDA personnel found the pharm crop from the previous year growing among the soy plants. By the time the discovery was made, the farmer's contaminated soy was already in the co-op, mixed with other farmers' soy. Fortunately, the tainted product was stopped before ending up on our dinner tables. The pharm crop's maker, Prodigene, was fined $500,000. In spite of this near disaster, federal authorities still permit the company to plant biopharmaceutical test plots, and have also allowed it to keep the exact nature of the corn involved in the Nebraska incident confidential.

Activists were outraged by what they perceived as the kid gloves treatment the company got. "This is the Three Mile Island of biotech", said Mark Ritchie, president of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, commenting on what has come to be known as the Prodigene Affair.

After the Prodigene Affair, two industry organizations that had previously supported biotechnology in an uncritical way began having second thoughts. Spokespersons of the Grocery Manufacturers Association expressed concern about pharm crops adulterating the food supply, and National Food Processors Association president John Cady called for stringent and mandatory regulations to protect the food supply from biopharmaceuticals. But the Biotechnology Industry Organization and the pro-biotech American Farm Bureau Federation continued lobbying in Washington for more support and less regulation of biopharming.

Pollution of the American food supply by biotech products has already happened. In the Fall of 2000, hundreds of supermarket products containing corn were found to be contaminated with Starlink, a GM corn variety deemed unfit for human consumption by the Food and Drug Administration. Even though it had been planted on only 0.04% of US corn fields and meant to be used only as cattle feed, Starlink ended up tainting 430 million bushels of corn and to this day traces of it keep showing up on US exports.

Even more serious genetic contamination is taking place in Mexico, where GM corn has been found growing in rural areas in nine states, agressively proliferating and cross-breeding with local varieties, even though the Mexican government had banned biotech crops in 1998. This discovery is alarming, since that country is the birthplace of corn and its center of diversity, and the long term consequences of this contamination are uncertain.

Some in Mexico are worried that biopharmaceutical corn could pollute their corn fields. Silvia Ribeiro, who heads the ETC Group's office in Mexico City, has noted with concern that the California-based Epicyte corporation boasts a spermicidal corn for use as a contraceptive. "The potential of spermicidal corn as a biological weapon is very high", she warned, and reminisced about the use of forced sterilizations against indigenous peoples.


Where in the world are biopharm crops being planted? All over the world.

Molecularfarming.com, an industry web site, is soliciting farmers all over the world willing to rent out their lands for pharm crop experiments. It claims to have brokered deals with farmers in countries like Brazil, Ireland, Australia, Greece, Zimbabwe, Panama and many more.

Beth Burrows, president of the Edmonds Institute, a public interest group that works on biosafety issues, was aghast when she found this web site.

"With bioengineered piglets going unapproved to market, with experimental crops contaminating 150 acres of corn and half a million bushels of soybeans, with an engineered corn unapproved for human consumption turning up all over the world, at a time when the environmental and human health problems posed by the so-called 'pharm crops' desperately need the clear scientific light of day, people are brokering contract pharming deals on the web," cautioned Burrows.

"This is shocking indeed", commented Devinder Sharma, award-winning journalist and food systems analyst based in India, after seeing the Molecular Farming web site. "This is part of the global design to translocate the dirty industry to the Third World. First, it was the translocation of toxic and hazardous waste recycling to developing countries (mainly South Asia and Africa)… Now, it is the turn of bio-pharma crops. Even in the United States, there are tremendous problems with bio-pharma crops. So what do you do? Translocate this dirty industry to countries of South Asia."


But the defenders of biopharming keep assuring us that it's perfectly safe. Dr. Allan S. Felsot, an environmental toxicologist at Washington State University, says that biopharming "is not even a new concept considering that humans have been using medicinal plants for ages. These non-biotechnology-derived medicinal plants must be grown and harvested and extracted in a manner that ensures the integrity and safety of the medicine."

Felsot claims that there is nothing novel about proteins being manufactured in GM plants. "The therapeutic proteins are the same as those already in our body. Most of the proteins have already been produced as medicines using cell fermentation. They’re well characterized and have been through safety assessments and often human clinical trials. The manufacturing process is the real novelty, but it will be regulated stringently as if the protein was being manufactured in a factory."

"The possibilities are mind-boggling; the opportunities can't be fully appreciated, and the risks seem minuscule compared with some of the risks we've had to cope with in medicine throughout the years", says Dr. William Robertson in the op-ed quoted earlier. "The self-imposed and federally mandated precautions amount to safety carried out to the 19th decimal place. None of the players is ready to take the slightest risk for granted".


"Exactly what would make the USDA take seriously the fact that millions of people were nearly fed experimental drugs and chemicals?", asks Brandon Keim, of the Council for Responsible Genetics, referring to the Prodigene affair. "A few spectacular deaths, perhaps, or a steady increase in debilitating disorders that is only noticed decades later, when it is too late?"
Meanwhile, pharm crops await commercial approval by the government.


Philip Cohen. "Drug genes could enter food chain". New Scientist, 6 July 2002. http://www.organicconsumers.org/gefood/pharmaceuticals0702.cfm

Council for Responsible Genetics. Official Statement on Biopharmaceutical Crops. http://www.gene-watch.org/programs/biosafety/biopharming-statement.html

Environment News Srvice. "Secret U.S. Biopharms Growing Experimental Drugs" http://ens-news.com/ens/jul2002/2002-07-16-05.asp

Genetically Engineered Food Alert http://www.gefoodalert.org

Genetically Engineered Food Alert. New Alarming Report on Hazards of Biopharming http://www.OrganicConsumers.org/gefood/Biopharming0702.cfm

Brandon Keim. "Biopharm Roulette". Alternet, 27 November 2002. http://www.alternet.org/story.html?StoryID=14647

John Nichols. "The Three Mile Island of biotech". The Nation, 30 December 2002.

Prodigene http://www.prodigene.com/

Silvia Ribeiro. "Maíz contra humanos". La Jornada, 25 January 2002. http://www.biodiversidadla.org/article/view/466

Silvia Ribeiro. "Granjas secretas y drogas transgénicas" La Jornada. 11 August 2002 http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2002/ago02/020811/016a1pol.php?origen=opinion.html

Mike Toner. "GE Pharming Generating Controversy". Atlanta Journal and Constitution, 19 May 2002. http://www.organicconsumers.org/patent/futurestuff052002.cfm

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martes, marzo 29, 2005

La invasión invisible del campo. El impacto de las tecnologías nanoscópicas en la alimentación y la agricultura


En los próximos veinte años, los impactos de la convergencia nano escalar en el quehacer de los agricultores y la producción de alimentos excederán los de la mecanización del agro o los de la Revolución Verde. Ningún gobierno ha desarrollado un régimen regulatorio que afronte los aspectos relativos a la nano escala o los impactos sociales de lo pequeño invisible. Ya están disponibles comercialmente unos cuantos productos que contienen aditivos nano escalares, invisibles, sin etiquetar y sin regulación alguna

La nanotecnología, la manipulación de la materia en la escala de los átomos y las moléculas (un nanómetro [nm] es la millonésima parte de un milímetro), converge rápidamente con la biotecnología y las tecnologías de la información para cambiar radicalmente los sistemas de alimentación y agricultura.

La invasión invisible del campo no es una invectiva contra el cambio tecnológico ni un llamado a conservar el sistema imperante. Más bien es un intento por confrontar una realidad: operan ya cambios tecnológicos significativos y afectarán a toda la sociedad. Algunas de sus reverberaciones son fáciles de predecir, otras no tanto. Al mismo tiempo, este informe no acepta que la “reedificación extrema” que la nanotecnología hace de la alimentación y la agricultura sea la conclusión inevitable. Nuestro informe atisba el estado del arte y las implicaciones potenciales para el futuro. La invasión invisible del campo se ofrece como punto de partida para un debate, mucho más amplio, que debe incluir a las organizaciones campesinas y de agricultores, a los movimientos sociales, a la sociedad civil y a los gobiernos del Sur. Hasta ahora, quienes participan en la discusión son en gran medida los científicos, los inversionistas y los ejecutivos de las industrias, en particular en las naciones agrupadas en la OCDE.

Para acceder a este documento competo en formato PDF haga clic sobre el archivo adjunto al pie
La invasión invisible del campo


Biotech seeds pose a threat to organic farmers, environment

by: Brian Tokar

Barre Montpelier Times Argus - Barre,VT, USA
Article published Mar 25, 2005

Once again, the problem of genetically engineered crop varieties (GMOs, or "genetically modified organisms") and their consequences for Vermont farmers is being debated in the Statehouse. Gov. Douglas and Agriculture Secretary Steven Kerr continue to assert that if Vermont farmers would simply communicate better with their neighbors, there would be no need for further legislation to address this vexing issue.

"Coexistence," not regulation, we are told, is the answer to Vermont farmers' problems with GMOs. Unfortunately, the Agency's statements over the past year represent an extremely shortsighted approach to a growing and increasingly serious problem. In Vermont, and worldwide, the market for organic and other identity-preserved non-engineered crops is growing rapidly, while the market for GMOs is highly contested and controversial.

The Agency's approach offers no comprehensive protection for non-GMO growers, and no legal requirement for GMO growers to cooperate. This is an unacceptable situation for the vast majority of Vermont farmers who have little to gain and possibly everything to lose from this unreliable and highly disruptive new technology.

The problem of transgenic contamination of organic and other non-engineered crops has become increasingly widespread. In Canada, farmers have detected varieties of canola that are simultaneously resistant to three different chemical herbicides, as a result of cross-pollination of different varieties genetically manipulated to be herbicide tolerant. These have come to be viewed as "superweeds," requiring increasingly virulent weed killers to remove them.

In Mexico, small amounts of genetically engineered feed corn imported from the U.S. have been planted experimentally by some farmers, leading to the widespread contamination of indigenous corn varieties with transgenic DNA in nine Mexican states. A 2004 study by the Union of Concerned Scientists showed detectable genetic contamination of several popular varieties of corn and soybeans sold as non-GMO seed for commercial planting. In response, grain mills across the US have begun testing crops for GMO contamination, and rejecting shipments that test even slightly positive.

In the European Union, governments and NGOs have been debating the issue of "coexistence" for more than two years, but only after a de facto five year moratorium on the introduction of any new engineered crop varieties, and the passage of stringent, continent-wide rules for GMO food labeling and for tracing ingredients from farm to finished product. A 2002 study by the European Commission's Joint Research Centre reported that it would be "virtually impossible" to maintain levels of contamination low enough to satisfy the requirements of organic food processors; for conventional corn crops, a "coexistence" policy would cost farmers approximately $150 per acre, rising to 9 percent of their crop's value in areas of more intensive production.

The rules currently under discussion in Europe would place a clear burden of proof and expense on those who would introduce GMOs to any region previously free of these crops. Since the emergence of commercial genetically engineered varieties in 1996, commercial producers of genetically engineered seeds have created a climate of secrecy and intimidation among farmers. More than 90 farmers have been sued by Monsanto alone for a variety of claimed contract violations, and an unknown number have been pressured to settle out of court and sign punitive gag orders. We know from press reports that Monsanto has an annual budget of $10 million devoted to legal action against farmers, and that farmers whose crops are contaminated by Monsanto's GMO pollen have little recourse to protect themselves. That is why the clear assignment of liability to commercial producers of GMO seeds is a major focus of this year's debate.

It would take a profound change of culture on the part of GMO growers, along with legal changes, for them to begin sharing detailed information about their varieties and practices. What incentive do GMO growers have to begin talking more openly with their non-GMO farmer neighbors? This cannot happen without specific changes in statute, and it would be aided significantly by a moratorium on GMO seed use until all the underlying legal, scientific and environmental issues can be adequately addressed.

Most at risk are the growing numbers of organic growers in Vermont. Whereas inadvertent genetic contamination is not sufficient grounds for a farmer to lose organic certification, processors and distributors of organic crops, as well as highly in-demand GMO-free conventional crops, routinely test forcontamination. A farmer could remain certified, but find him or herself unable to sell their crops as organic, losing the important price premium that has helped save numerous Vermont farms in recent years.

For all these reasons, farmer advocates have united with environmentalists and people working for safer food to support the current Farmer Protection Act in the Vermont Legislature (S. 18), as well as a pending proposal for a ten-year moratorium on GMO use.

Today, several genetically engineered varieties of field corn and a small amount of soybeans are being grown here. Federal approvals are under way, however, for the release of GMO vegetable crops, alfalfa, turf grass, and even fish and trees. Today, GMO use in our state is relatively limited, far below the national average even for corn and soybeans. If Vermont agriculture is to thrive, it is important that we take meaningful action before it is too late.

Brian Tokar is the director of the Biotechnology Project at the Institute for Social Ecology in Plainfield, and has edited two books on the science and politics of genetic engineering.


lunes, marzo 28, 2005

Agua, trasnacionales y nanotecnología

Silvia Ribeiro*

Mientras la falta de acceso al agua es una tragedia para millones de personas en el mundo -según la Organización de Naciones Unidas más de mil 300 millones de personas sufren escasez de agua, y otro tanto sólo la consigue sucia o contaminada-, para otros es un fantástico negocio. Según el Banco Mundial, el mercado del agua en el orbe excede el billón de dólares anuales.

Del total de agua del planeta apenas 2.8 por ciento es agua dulce. La mayoría está en polos y glaciares, y resta sólo 0.02 por ciento de agua superficial y 0.37 por ciento en aguas subterráneas, cuyo acceso requiere tecnologías de extracción cada vez más profundas.

Sin embargo, el problema del agua dulce no es que no alcance para la población mundial -al igual que la producción de alimentos, es suficiente para abastecernos a todos-, sino su injusto acceso y distribución, su acelerada contaminación y su despilfarro. El 70 por ciento del agua dulce disponible globalmente es utilizado en la agricultura industrial y 15 por ciento en otras industrias. Que a su vez son los responsables de la mayor y peor contaminación, debido a la filtración de agrotóxicos, la salinización de aguas y la contaminación industrial.

Frente a las múltiples crisis del agua (acceso, distribución, degradación, despilfarro) -generada por esos actores, pero que sufren principalmente los más desposeídos- la solución mágica que impulsan los creadores de políticas del capital trasnacional, como el Banco Mundial, es la privatización. La mayoría de las fuentes y distribución de agua en todo el mundo son públicas, pero debido a contratos de concesión para extraerla, distribuirla, purificarla y/o embotellarla se está instrumentando su privatización de facto. En México, las principales trasnacionales del agua (Suez, Vivendi, RWE) tienen una importante presencia en 20 estados, completamente fuera del radar público.

Tal como sucede en otros importantes sectores, como la energía, la agricultura y la salud, hay un peligroso coctel de factores que se complementan: al control de mercado se suma el control de las patentes y las tecnologías claves.

Dos empresas -Vivendi y Suez- tienen 70 por ciento del mercado mundial de agua, que es controlado por 10 trasnacionales. Las mayores son empresas múltiples que incluyen extracción, construcción de redes, distribución y rubros anexos -como las nombradas y Saur, RWE y Bechtel- hasta llegar a empresas de alimentos y bebidas, como Nestlé, Coke, Pepsico, Danone, Unilever, según Tony Clarke y Maude Barlow en Oro azul.

La nanotecnología (manipulación de la materia viva o inerte, a escala nanométrica, o sea de átomos y moléculas) emerge como una tecnología pivotal en aspectos claves como la purificación y desalinización del agua.

Mark Modzelewski, director de Lux Research, analista de la industria nanotecnológica, informó el 22 de marzo de 2005 a UPI que "los principales acuíferos sufren un proceso de salinización creciente debido a la agricultura, al tiempo que se espera que la demanda de agua dulce crezca 70 por ciento en los próximos 25 años". Frente a la salinización y los problemas de contaminación industrial y fecal, Modzelewski considera que solamente la nanotecnología puede enfrentar estos problemas simultáneamente.

Por ejemplo, KX Industries, de Connecticut, ha desarrollado filtros basados en membranas nanotecnológicas antivirales y antibacteriales. El principio básico es que los poros de las membranas son tan minúsculos que pueden filtrar hasta los organismos más pequeños. A ello se agrega el tipo de material utilizado. La empresa Argonide de Standford hace nanofibras de aluminio, cuya carga eléctrica positiva atrae a los microbios cargados negativamente. Otras construcciones incluyen materiales fotocatalíticos que someten el agua filtrada a rayos ultravioletas, potencialmente destruyendo solventes industriales, plaguicidas y gérmenes.

Zvi Yaniv, presidente de Applied Nanotechnology en Austin, afirma que se pueden crear nuevos materiales con polímeros que se autoensamblen en membranas. Su compañía trabaja con un socio japonés para producir columnas nanométricas de óxido de titanio, que funcionarían como potentes fotocatalizadores. Otra tecnología de su empresa se basa en sensores constituidos por nanotubos de carbono recubiertos por enzimas, que reaccionan frente a la presencia de contaminantes. Es decir, nanobiotecnología.

Modzelewski afirma que tanto Vivendi y Suez, como General Electric, el mayor proveedor público y privado de equipamientos hidráulicos, están utilizando nanotecnologías, licenciando patentes sobre ellas o por conducto de proveedores más pequeños. Estima que es sólo cuestión de tiempo para que alguna de estas megaempresas compre a las pequeñas y controle, además del mercado, las patentes y tecnologías claves.

Además del control corporativo, junto con la nanotecnología vienen nuevos riesgos ambientales y a la salud, así como cuestiones de bioética al crear organismos híbridos con nanobiotecnología. Aunque hay pocos estudios, varios científicos sugieren que el óxido de titanio en nanopartículas, así como los nanotubos de carbono, pueden tener efectos nocivos en la salud y el ambiente. ¡Y la apuesta es usarlos en las redes de agua que llegan a millones de personas! Paradójicamente, la industria presenta estos usos supuestamente positivos y que según ellos "beneficiarán a los pobres" para justificar socialmente el uso de estas nuevas tecnologías. Sólo que de paso podrían estar agregando nuevos problemas, quizá aún más graves, a este recurso vital para la vida en el planeta.

* Investigadora del Grupo ETC

Tomado de La Jornada, México, Sábado 26 de marzo de 2005

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domingo, marzo 27, 2005

I wrote this in May 1996 for High Times magazine. They shortened it somewhat when they used it. Here is the complete, unedited version:


Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero

The public relations (PR) industry is one of the fastest growing businesses in the New World Order. In an effort to bolster their faltering credibility, governments and corporations are increasingly relying on PR firms. This situation has put the PR spin doctors in the position of global power brokers, with a glamour and influence undreamed of by their predecessors. In their excellent book Toxic Sludge is Good for You: Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry (Common Courage Press, 1995), authors John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton say that "today's PR professionals are recruited from the ranks of former journalists, retired politicians and eager-beaver college graduates anxious to rise in the corporate world. They hobnob internationally with corporate CEO's, senators and US Presidents".

According to gadfly environmentalist Mark Dowie, "The modern 'account' managed by a PR/advertising giant can now package a global campaign that includes a strategic blend of 'paid media' (advertising) and 'free media' (public relations). Add to that some of the other standard services offered by most PR firms--including 'crisis management', industrial espionage, organized censorship and infiltration of civic and political groups-- and you have a formidable combination of persuasive techniques available to large corporations and anyone else who can afford to hire the services of a PR firm."

As we'll see, foreign governments corrupted by the international drug traffic have turned to the PR business in order to package themselves to the American public as heroic pillars in the war against drugs.


Take the case of Colombia, whose government one day started worrying about its international image as a violent hellhole and a compliant sanctuary for drug traffickers. Violent, indeed. Between 1986 and 1994 over 20,000 Colombians were killed for political reasons. But, don't the country's leftist guerrillas bear responsibility for half or most of these deaths? Not according to Amnesty International, which reported in 1994 that the government is behind most human rights violations in that country. The Colombia-based Andean Commission of Jurists was more specific, blaming the government for seventy percent of those violations. These findings are supported also by Americas Watch and the Inter-American Human Rights Commission of the Organization of American States. A 1992 investigation by Latin American and European church and human rights groups concluded that "state terrorism in Colombia is a reality" and that its goal is "systematic elimination of opposition, criminalization of large sectors of the population, massive resort to political assassination and disappearance, general use of torture, extreme powers for security forces, etc." According to a Colombian human rights activist that insisted on anonimity, the paramilitary death squads tied to the army "use very savage methods, such as cutting off people's arms and legs with chainsaws".

Perhaps one could argue that the horrendous level of government-sanctioned violence in Colombia is a brutal necessity in the war against drugs. But what happened to Medellín Cartel kingpin Pablo Escobar when he was captured? He was put under house arrest in a luxurious country house with a jacuzzi, air conditioning, three huge bedrooms and a guest room, walk-in closets and private baths, phone and fax machines, a soccer field, a game room and much more. In addition to that, the guards allowed him to constantly escape and surrender at will.

Furthermore, the links between the Colombian armed forces and the drug cartels have been abundantly documented for years. In 1989 a UN Special Rapporteur on Summary Executions visited Colombia and said that the paramilitary groups active there are trained and financed by drug traffickers and operate closely with elements in the armed forces and the police. Justicia y Paz, a Colombian human rights coalition comprising 55 religious congregations, has also done extensive investigative work on the cozy relationship between the drug cartels and paramilitary groups. The evidence led dissident extraordinaire Noam Chomsky to conclude that "The official (Colombian) security forces and their paramilitary associates work hand in glove with the drug lords, organized crime, landowners and other private interests in a country where avenues of social action have long been closed, and are to be kept that way, by intimidation and terror."

Help came in the form of the Sawyer/Miller consulting firm. Sawyer/ Miller had handled electoral campaigns for US senators John Glenn, Daniel P. Moynihan and Ted Kennedy, as well as Geraldine Ferraro's 1984 vicepresidential campaign. On the international front, the firm managed Corazón Aquino's 1986 presidential campaign in the Phillipines, the campaign against dictator Augusto Pinochet in the 1988 Chile referendum, and the internationally acclaimed Peruvian author Mario Vargas-Llosa's unsuccessful bid for the presidency of his country in 1990. Closer to home, they worked for Virgilio Barco's successful campaign for the Colombian presidency. Sawyer/Miller had been representing Colombia since 1985, but with Cesar Gaviria assuming the presidency in August 1990, efforts to clean up the country's image were dramatically stepped up. S/M raked in nearly a million dollars from the Colombian government just in the first half of 1991.

S/M determined that Colombia had to change its image from villain to victim and then from victim to hero. The country's government then poured in millions of dollars into a lavish TV and newspaper ad campaign that extolled its courage in the war against the drug lords and passed the blame for the whole problem on American drug users. This campaign was accompanied by pamphlets and video news releases churned out by S/M. In addition to all this, Colombian officials themselves got involved by writing letters to the editors of newspapers.

S/M attempted to directly influence press coverage of Colombia. American reporters who wanted to interview Colombian officials had to go through S/M. As a result, sympathetic reporters got easy access while critical ones were told to take a hike. When the Miami Herald criticized Gaviria in an editorial for his lack of spine in dealing with drug lords, S/M immediately arranged for Colombian officials to meet with the Herald's editors to "educate" them. S/M flacks also met with New York Times Magazine editor Warren Hoge when they learned that his publication was about to publish a profile of Gaviria. The resulting profile, which was denounced as factually flawed by critics, omits any mention of the fact that Gaviria's election campaign was heavily funded by the drug cartels.

The Bahamas

The Bahamas islands, which have been immersed in smuggling for centuries, is another case in point. In 1972 fugitive swindler Robert Vesco arrived there and hooked up with political fixer Everett Bannister, who was close with prime minister Lynden Pindling. According to a US Senate Subcommittee investigation led by senator John Kerry (D-Mass), Bannister was the man drug dealers had to go through if they wanted to do business in the Bahamas. He provided similar services for Resorts International, a mysterious CIA and mob-linked corporation based in the Bahamas. Resorts was the parent company of Intertel, a private intelligence outfit that had extensive dealings with Howard Hughes, the CIA and organized crime in the sixties and seventies. Bannister was also the man who arranged for exiled Nicaraguan tyrant Anastasio Somoza to obtain sanctuary in the Bahamas in 1979. Upon Vesco's arrival, Bannister provided him with carte blanche at a Bahamas bank and arranged for Pindling to protect him from extradition to the US.

Pindling's role in protecting drug traffickers has an ironic tinge to it, since he owes the success of his political career to Operation Tradewinds, a top-secret IRS investigation that swept away his political rivals. The operation, aimed at eliminating the tax dodges that rich American racketeers used in the Bahamas, spelt doom for Pindling's rivals. His foes, known as the Bay Street Boys, controlled political life and gambling rackets in Nassau until Operation Tradewinds put an end to their reign.

Vesco didn't stay long, but he came back in 1978 with his new friend, Colombian drug lord Carlos Lehder. Lehder took over Norman's Cay, a Bahamian island just 200 miles off the Florida coast, and drove all residents out at gunpoint. (Lehder's activities at Norman's Cay finally ended when they were exposed by NBC Nighly News on September 1983. The NBC report led to the creation of a commission of inquiry into drug-related corruption in the Bahamas, which motivated Lehder to return to Colombia.)

In response to the increasingly negative coverage that the US media was giving the Bahamas with respect to the drug issue, the Nassau government decided to hire a PR firm.

Apparently, the first attempt to secure a PR contract with the Bahamian government to handle the drug issue was made in the late eighties by retired admiral and former CIA deputy director Daniel J. Murphy, who was then an employee of the Gray & Co. firm. The Pindling administration was already familiar with Murphy. As operational manager of then-vicepresident (and former CIA director) George Bush's drug interdiction task force, he dropped in to Nassau along with Bush in 1982 to discuss the drug problem with Pindling. Now Murphy had jumped the fence and was offering his firm's services to deal with the PR problem.

In the two years he worked for Gray & Co., Murphy flew twice to Panama to meet secretly with general Manuel A. Noriega. The trips were ostensibly made to offer the firm's services to Noriega, but in reality Murphy went there as a secret emissary of his former boss, vicepresident George Bush. There may have been more to these trips, since Gray & Co. played a role in the Iran-Contra operation, a role that even to this day remains largely unexplained.

Accompanying Murphy on his trips to Panama was none other than Tongstun Park, an associate of Korean 'reverend' Sun Myung Moon and a key player in the 'Koreagate' influence-peddling scandal in the seventies. Incidentally, Moon was a Gray & Co. client. The plane for the Panama trips was provided by arms dealer Sarkis Soghanalian, who is now in federal prison for his key role in Saddam Hussein's illegal arms procurement network. Speaking of Saddam, Gray & Co. is known to have attempted to sell its services to Iraq.

The Bahamas account went instead to the Black, Manafort & Stone firm, which has some very impressive Republican connections. Its leading partner, Charles Black, was political director of the right-wing student group Young Americans for Freedom, chaired the Republican National Committee (RNC), and helped write the Republican plattform for the 1992 elections. Its second partner, Paul Manafort, was a strategist for Ronald Reagan's successful presidential campaigns in 1980 and 1984. The late RNC chairman and Republican attack dog Lee Atwater was also a Black, Manafort partner. But in recent years the firm has acquired a bipartisan streak by bringing in former Democratic National Committee finance director Peter Kelly, who is currently a senior partner.

Black, Manafort also represents the Angolan CIA-backed terrorist group UNITA, as well as Zaire's Mobutu Sese Seko. Mobutu became Zaire's ruler thanks to a 1965 CIA operation that resulted in the murder of his rival, nationalist Patrice Lumumba. Interestingly enough, present at the 1989 signing of Mobutu's $1 million a year contract with Black, Manafort was none other than Tongstun Park, the same global influence peddler that had accompanied Dan Murphy on his visits to Noriega.

According to a senator John Kerry's subcommittee, Black, Manafort assigned the Bahamas matter to Matthew Freedman, a former senior US State Department official who specialized in narcotics matters. The subcommittee's final report, 'Drugs, Law Enforcement and Foreign Policy', noted with concern that "The role of the US consultants raises troubling questions about conflict of interest".

The strategists at Black, Manafort determined that the Pentagon and the State Department were the biggest supporters of the Bahamian government, while the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Department of the Treasury tended to be critical. The firm advised the Bahamas to lobby the White House, Congress and the National Security Council and to try to get the military and State Department to influence the DEA and Treasury regarding Bahamas policy. Black, Manafort also suggested taking advantage of the friendship between attorney general Ed Meese and defense secretary Caspar Weinberger.

Interestingly enough, Black, Manafort is now owned by Burson-Marsteller, the world's largest PR firm. B-M, better known for cleaning up the images of industrial polluters like Exxon and Union Carbide and representing totalitarian regimes all over the world, masterminded the drug-corrupted Mexican government's campaign for the North American Free Trade Agreement. B-M still represents Mexico, helping its ruling elite deal with embarrassments, like the crash of the peso, the popularity of the Zapatista guerrillas and, of course, the drug scandals that are compromising even the highest echelons of the ruling PRI party.

A Parting Thought

Next time you see an informercial presenting the drug problem as the exclusive fault of American drug users or an advertorial narrating the 'heroic' efforts of drug-producing countries to eradicate the drug traffic, treat them with extreme skepticism. As a Gray & Co. senior vice-president once put it, "Most of what you see on TV is, in effect, a canned PR product. Most of what you read in the paper and see on television is not news".


Arana, Ana. "The Colombia Connection:
What did Sawyer/Miller do for its Money?" Columbia Journalism Review: September

Center for Public Integrity. Private
Parties: Political Party Leadership in Washington's Mercenary Culture. 1993.

Chomsky, Noam. World Orders, Old and
New. Columbia University Press, 1984.
Jim Hougan. Spooks: The Private Use of
Secret Agents. Morrow, 1978.

Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber.
Toxic Sludge is Good for You! Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry.
Common Courage Press, 1995.

Susan B. Trento. The Power House:
Robert K. Gray and the Selling of Access and Influence in Washington. St.
Martin's Press, 1992.

US Senate, Subcommittee on Narcotics,
Terrorism and International Operations. Drugs, Law Enforcement and Foreign

Vargas, Alvaro. "The Press Officer"
Granta: Summer 1991.


miércoles, marzo 23, 2005

Biotech Crops Invade Latin America

By Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero March 22, 2005

Latin America is being invaded by genetically engineered (GE) crops. The promoters of these crops say they will help fight hunger, reduce agrochemical use, and bring prosperity to farmers and rural communities in Latin America. But so far experience has demonstrated that these novel crops do not fight hunger, do not reduce agrochemical use, do not benefit small farmers, and also create new forms of economic dependence.

lunes, marzo 21, 2005

Here is another Carmelo Classic. I wrote this in October 1995, when I was still living in Vermont.


By Carmelo Ruiz

The public relations (PR) business is one of the fastest growing industries in the global market economy. In order to face perils like labor unions, organized consumer activists and environmental groups, governments and corporations have come to rely more on slick PR campaigns. The peril to popular democracy posed by PR firms should not be underestimated. Using the latest communications technologies and polling techniques, as well as an array of high-level political connections, PR flacks routinely "manage" issues for government and corporate clients and "package" them for public consumption. The result is a "democracy" in which citizens are turned into passive receptacles of "disinfotainment" and "advertorials" and in which critics of the status quo are defined as ignorant meddlers and/or dangerous outsiders.

Burson-Marsteller (B-M) is the world's largest PR firm, with 63 offices in 32 countries and almost $200 million in income in 1994. Although its name is unknown to most people-- even to many in activist circles-- B-M is fast becoming an increasingly important cog in the propaganda machine of the new world order.

Human Rights, Anyone?

On the human rights front, B-M has represented some of the worst violators of our age. These include:

* The Nigerian government during the Biafran war, to discredit reports of genocide.

* The fascist junta that ruled Argentina during the 70's and early 80's, to attract foreign investment.

* The totalitarian regime of South Korea, to whitewash the human rights situation there during the 1988 Olympics.

* The Indonesian government, which got into power through a CIA- sponsored bloodbath. (It should be pointed out, however, that B-M denies that it is handling the issue of genocide in East Timor)

* Ideological barriers are no object. B-M also represented the late communist Romanian despot Nicolae Ceaucescu.

* Other third world human rights violators that have been represented by B-M include the governments of Singapore and Sri Lanka.

Doesn't this bother the consciences of B-M's executives? Not at all. Commenting on his firm's work for Argentina's fascists, B-M founder Harold Burson said that "We regard ourselves as working in the business sector for clearcut business and economic objectives. So we had nothing to do with a lot of the things that one reads in the paper about Argentina as regards human rights and other activities".

Corporate Environmentalism

For years B-M has been involved in major environmental issues all over the world, not hesitating to give polluters a helping hand when confronted by activist groups and/or government regulations. Many transnational corporations have turned to B-M for help in the creation of a pedantic, elitist and corporate-oriented brand of environmentalism. It is the hope of entrepreneurial sectors and neoliberal demagogues that this type of safe and harmless environmental activism will displace the more militant and agressive grassroots groups.

B-M's environmental services have benefited industrial polluters, such as the following:

* Babcock & Wilcox, when its nuclear power plant in Three Mile Island had its famous mishap in 1979.

* Union Carbide, to handle the public relations crisis caused by the Bhopal tragedy in 1984.

* Exxon, to counter the negative press coverage it got in the wake of the Exxon-Valdez oil spill in 1989.

* Ontario Hydro, an industrial concern, headed by Earth Summit secretary general Maurice Strong, which is the biggest source of CO2 emissions in Canada. This corporation is currently selling nuclear reactors to Argentina and Chile.

* The Louisiana-Pacific (L-P) logging company, famous for its union- busting, clear cutting of old growth forests and support for anti- environmental front groups. L-P hopes to convince its employees and the public that rural unemployment in North America is caused by environmental extremists and opressive government regulation and not by unsustainable logging practices or the relocation of sawmills to low-wage countries like Mexico.

* B-M formed the British Columbia Forest Alliance (BCFA), a Canadian front group which has L-P among its founding members. BCFA is campaigning against restrictions on logging and is actively working to smear and discredit environmentalists. Other BCFA members include Mitsubishi and Weyerhaueser.

* B-M is a key player in the nuclear industry lobby. According to Canadian journalist Joyce Nelson, B-M has for years "represented top nuclear power/nuclear weapons contractors such as General Electric, AT&T, McDonnell Douglas, Asea Brown Boveri and Du Pont. In fact, Canada's first Candu [nuclear] reactor sale to Argentina in the early 1970's was later renegotiated during the reign of the military junta, for whom Burson-Marsteller did an image-cleanup from 1976-1981". In addition to this, since 1993 B-M subsidiary Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly has been representing Nordion International, a newly-privatised subsidiary of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., Canada's state-owned nuclear power company.

* B-M coordinated the oil industry's campaign to discredit and destroy president Clinton's proposal for a BTU tax.

* A B-M executive sits on the board of Keep America Beautiful, a front for the packaging and waste hauling industries that lobbies against mandatory recycling laws, especially the passage of a national bottle bill in the US.

B-M's most powerful and influential 'environmental' client is the Business Council for Sustainable Development (BCSD), an eco-capitalist outfit founded by Swiss banker Stephan Schmidheiny. A leading theorist and advocate of neoliberal dogma and corporate environmentalism, Schmidheiny agressively combines entrepreneurship and statesmanship. He is a board member of Nestlé, and a director and shareholder (5% owner) of B-M client Asea Brown Boveri. BCSD's original task was to act behind the scenes at the 1992 Earth Summit, which was chaired by the current head of B-M client Ontario Hydro Maurice Strong, to neutralize and silence any voices critical of the irresponsible behavior of polluting corporations. In the words of Joyce Nelson, "With the able assistance of public relations giant Burson-Marsteller, a very elite group of business people (including B-M itself) was seemingly able to plan the agenda for the Earth Summit with little interference from NGO's or government leaders". Nowadays BCSD is advocating free markets and unfettered corporate activity as the only salvation of the environment. Its members include the CEO's of Asea Brown Boveri, Browning Ferris Industries, Ciba-Geigy, Dow Chemical, DuPont, BCFA member Mitsubishi, Maurice Strong's Ontario Hydro, Royal Dutch-Shell, and companies from Argentina, Brasil, Chile, Spain, India, Kenya, Nigeria, Thailand and Venezuela.

Dirty Tricks and Front Groups

B-M was hired by the pharmaceutical corporation Eli Lilly and Monsanto subsidiary Nutra Sweet to promote the use of the genetically-engineered synthetic bovine growth hormone rBGH. This hormone, which increases milk output in cows, is strongly opposed by dairy farmers and consumer and environmental activist groups. Their two main arguments are that 1) There is already a milk glut in the US. To bring more of it into the market would depress prices so severely that small dairy farmers would be run out of business; and 2) the use of rBGH has already been linked to severe health problems in cows and to calves born with grotesque birth defects.

B-M's campaign to neutralize the opposition to rBGH included the use of spies to penetrate activist groups. This fact became public when University of Vermont spokesperson Nicola Marro admitted that a mole had been placed in an anti-rBGH ad-hoc group headed by Jeremy Rifkin, a well- known critic of biotechnology and author of several books. Participants in the group singled out a woman named Diane Moser as a suspect. Moser, who attended a Washington DC meeting of the group, avoided small talk and read a paperback during the meeting. Vermont state representative Andrew Christiansen, who attended the meeting, told journalist John Dillon that "She said she represented housewives concerned about BGH...I had suspicions immediately. I've never seen anybody with a paperback coming to a me eting like that". When the activists called the number she left in the sign-up sheet, it rang in the Washington DC offices of Burson- Marsteller. B-M executive Timothy Brosnahan acknowledged that Moser was a B-M employee but denied knowing of any snooping on her part.

A freedom of information act (FOIA) request by activists Tim Atwater and John Stauber, who were then with Rural Vermont and the Foundation on Economic Trends respectively, uncovered a broader pattern of espionage against foes of rBGH. Atwater and Stauber's FOIA request uncovered documents of the quasi-governmental, farmer-funded National Dairy Board (NDB), which promotes rBGH. These documents revealed that the NDB hired the PR firm of Creswell, Munsell, Fultz & Zirbel (CMF&Z). This firm is a subsidiary of communications conglomerate Young & Rubicam (Y&R), which happens to be B-M's parent company. Given that Y&R represents rBGH backer Monsanto, Stauber concluded that "The day-to-day work is done out of Burson-Marsteller and CMF&Z. But I'm sure there's overall coordination with Young & Rubicam". Stauber is now editor of PR Watch, a newsletter that provides critical reporting on the PR industry, and is co-author, along with Sheldon Rampton, of Toxic Sludge is Good for You: Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry (Common Courage Press, 1995).

B-M works for Hydro-Quebec (H-Q) promoting the James Bay 2 project. If the final stages of the construction of James Bay 2 are finished, it will become the most destructive hydroelectric project in the history of North America, disrupting the ecological balance of an area the size of France and permanently displacing the Cree and Inuit indigenous populations in the area. To undermine grassroots opposition to James Bay 2, B-M created a phony group of concerned citizens called the Coalition for Clean and Renewable Energy (CCRE), which was headed by Harvey Schultz, former head of New York City's department of environmental protection. According to John Dillon, "Schultz, Burson-Marsteller, and (CCRE) have hosted briefing sessions for academics, and business and community leaders-- opinion makers who can carry the good word about Hydro-Quebec back to their institutions".

The state of Vermont has proved particularly reluctant to buy electricity from H-Q because of pressure from local activists. In order to counteract this threat, B-M hired the Vermont law firm of Sherman & Kimbell to lobby the state government in favor of electricity purchases from H-Q. This law firm registered as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires America n lobbyists to list their foreign clients and how much they're being paid to represent them. However, since B-M itself has refused to register as a foreign agent for H-Q, most of its work for the James Bay 2 project remains a secret.

Selling NAFTA

In 1990 the Mexican government hired B-M to sell NAFTA to the American public, media and politicians. B-M subcontracted this job to one of its subsidiaries, The Brock Group (TBG), a consulting firm that has done work for American Express, Bell Atlantic, Bacardi, Toyota and the Taiwanese government. TBG is headed by former US Senator, Republican National Committee chairman, US Trade Representative and Labor Secretary William Brock. He was certainly qualified for the job. As US trade representative, Brock engineered the Caribbean Basin Initiative and the US-Israel Free Trade Agreement, and began the negotiations that would eventually culminate in the signing of the US-Canada Free Trade Agreement.

William Brock co-chairs the Multilateral Trade Negotiations (MTN) Coalition, which was founded in 1990 to 'educate' the public-- and lobby for--the now-completed Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). The coalition's members include American Express, General Motors, IBM, General Electric, Cargill, Citicorp, Procter & Gamble and other companies and trade associations. According to Malaysian activist Martin Khor Kok Peng, the MTN Coalition had a big influence on the 1990 G-7 Summit meeting held in Houston, USA, in which GATT figured prominently. At the Houston Summit, MTN held a high- profile press conference and released a report by an 'eminent persons group' on world trade.

The Contra Connection

One of TBG's top executives happens to be former Miami businessman and ambassador to Venezuela Otto Reich. During the Reagan administration, the Cuban-born Reich headed the US state department's Office of Public Diplomacy (OPD), whose task was to disseminate disinformation about the Sandinistas and discourage reporting critical of the contras. This outfit, whose operations were later found to be illegal by the US General Accounting Office, was staffed with five psychological warfare specialists from the 4th Psychological Operations Group of Fort Bragg. According to John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton, "the OPD... helped spread a scurrilous story that some American reporters had received sexual favors from Sandinista prostitutes in return for writing slanted stories". In 1987, after the US Congress shut down the OPD, congressman Jack Brooks called it "an important cog in the (Reagan) administration's effort to manipulate public opinion and congressional action".

Interestingly enough, the OPD was conceived at an August 1983 meeting between then CIA director William Casey and a small group of PR industry executives. The meeting, whose purpose was to create a propaganda strategy for the Nicaraguan contras, was attended by B-M senior vice- president Kenneth D. Huszar and Philip Morris publicist James Bowling, who later moved to B-M. Their advice to Casey included the creation of a communications function within the White House, a recommendation that led to the creation of the OPD.

B-M, Mexico and the Neoliberal Project

B-M's success in insuring the passage of NAFTA encouraged the Mexican governing elite to retain the firm's services. It now has a luxurious office in the posh Colonia Anzures district in Mexico City that caters to customers like the Council of Businessmen, the National Stockbrokers' Association, the ministry of commerce and industrial development, and the Office of the President of the Republic. In addition to this, B-M parent Young & Rubicam rakes in over $100 million every year from Mexican clients. It is not an exaggeration to say that the credibility of the neoliberal project in the western hemisphere hinges on Mexico. Businessmen, politicians and neoliberal ideologues all over the hemisphere have touted Mexico as a symbol of capitalist success because of its privatization policy and its faithful adherence to the economic formulas prescribed by multilateral development banks (a.k.a. the Bretton Woods institutions). After the massive expenditure of political energy in getting NAFTA passed, business elites in both Mexico and the US are hard-pressed to put on a convincing performance in order to give credibility to future trade agreements. Bringing Guatemala and Chile into NAFTA has already become an agenda item.

However, neoliberal designs for Mexico are endangered by a series of crises, including the blatantly fraudulent elections of 1994, the embarassing collapse of the peso, revelations of drug-related corruption that compromise the Mexican elite all the way up to the president's office, a spate of political assassinations that seems to be beheading the ruling political party's leadership, and the popularity of the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN). B-M has a lot of work to do in Mexico. In the words of reporter Jon Reed, who investigated B-M's activities in Mexico, "Burson-Marsteller and other Mexican and transnational PR firms have demonstrated their effectiveness by working behind the scenes-- gauging public opinion, counseling government and corporate leaders, shaping media coverage, and facilitating elite-to-elite communications-- in short, guaranteeing that the inevitable upheavals in an authoritarian and unjust society do not interrupt business as usual".

Destroying Health Care

One of NAFTA's most nefarious consequences will be the dismantlement of Canada's government-run health care system. Since it places very strict limits on what domestic or foreign corporations can do, its more progressive features--such as compulsory licensing in order to control drug costs-- will eventually be challenged as barriers to trade. Once the Canadian system is gutted by NAFTA's notoriously secretive and undemocratic dispute resolution mechanisms, Canadian citizens will have no choice but to turn to the 'free market' for medical services and insurance.

However, American and Canadian pharmaceutical and insurance companies that want to crack open the Canadian market are frustrated by the fact that Canadians are very happy with their health care system. Worse yet, more and more Americans, especially in Vermont, are now calling for the introduction of single-payer health insurance in their country--a step in the direction of a Canadian-style system. This presents a grave problem for neoliberal demagogues, since it exposes the basic conflict between capitalism and democracy.

Enter Burson-Marsteller's health care unit, whose staff includes "a medical doctor/physician; former FDA (Food and Drug Administration) commissioner; former hospital administrator; former pharmaceutical communications executives; former non-profit communications chiefs; grassroots specialists, and former reporters" according to the senior editor of O'Dwyer's newsletter, which monitors the PR business.

B-M has plenty of experience in matters of public health. On behalf of client Philip Morris, B-M created the National Smokers' Alliance (NSA) to fight against smoking restrictions. According to John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton, the NSA "is a state-of-the-art campaign that uses full- page newspaper ads, direct telemarketing, paid canvassers, (toll free) numbers and newsletters to bring thousands of smokers into its ranks each week. By 1995 NSA claimed a membership of 3 million smokers". The NSA is headed by B-M vice-president Thomas Humber and its members include B-M executives Pierre Salinger and Kennetz Rietz, as well as Peter Kelly, senior partner of B-M subsidiary Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly. In addition to this, B-M was hired by the A.H. Robbins company when its Dalkon Shield IUD contraceptive injured thousands of women who used it, and it is now currently promoting the 'virtues' of Eli Lilly's anti-depressant wonder drug Prozac.

The winners of the health care debate in the US were beyond any doubt the pharmaceutical transnational corporations (eleven of which are B-M clients) and the major insurance companies (which include B-M clients Met Life, Equitable Life, Aetna, State Farm and Mutal of Omaha). Now both businesses are vertically integrating themselves into superconglomerates known as health maintenance organizations (HMO's). According to Joyce Nelson, "During 1994 both the pharmaceutical industry and the private insurance industry consolidated into even bigger players on the health care scene, with B-M playing a major role in arranging the mergers among its clients". HMO's are not required to cover all illnesses or people, but can instead discriminate against elderly citizens and/or people with health problems in order to reduce operating costs.

What can we do?

The awesome power of the 'manufactured consent' of the mass media, created in no small part by PR firms like Burson-Marsteller, can be discouraging to many politically aware citizens. However, despair is what the PR business sells: despair from even the smallest possibility of positive social change from below. If we are to believe that organized citizens cannot effectively challenge corporate and government power, then the PR flacks will have truly triumphed. But, as Rampton and Stauber say in their book, "The fact that corporations and governments feel compelled to spend billions of dollars every year manipulating the public is a perverse tribute to human nature and our own moral values".

The author is a Puerto Rican journalist and Research Associate at Goddard College's Institute for Social Ecology.

Recommended reading:

PR Watch. This quarterly newsletter, edited by John Stauber, provides a progressive and critical perspective on the public relations business. 3318 Gregory Street, Madison, Wisconsin 53711, USA.


Center for Public Integrity. Private Parties: Political Party Leadership in Washington's Mercenary Culture. 1992.

Center for Public Integrity. The Trading Game: Inside Lobbying for the North American Free Trade Agreement. 1993.

Deal, Carl. The Greenpeace Guide to Anti-Environmental Front Groups. Odonian Press, 1993.

Dillon, John. "Burson-Marsteller: Poisoning the Grassroots" Covert Action
Quarterly: Spring 1993.

Greenpeace. The Greenpeace Book of Greenwash. 1992.

Khor Kok Peng, Martin. The Uruguay Round and Third World Sovereignty. Third World Network. 1990.

Nelson, Joyce. "The Time of the Hangman" Adbusters: Winter 1989-1990.

Nelson, Joyce. "Burson-Marsteller, Pax Trilateral and the Brundtland Gang vs. The Environment" Covert Action Quarterly: Spring 1993.

Nelson, Joyce. "Dr. Rockefeller Will See You Now" Z Magazine: May 1995.

Nelson, Joyce. "NAFTA's Nuclear Agenda" Z Magazine: June 1995.

Parry, Robert. Fooling America: How Washington Insiders Twist the Truth and Manufacture the Conventional Wisdom. Morrow, 1992.

Rampton, Sheldon & Stauber, John. Toxic Sludge is Good for You: Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry. Common Courage Press, 1995.

Reed, Jon. "Interview with the Vampire: PR Helps the PRI Drain Mexico Dry" PR Watch: fourth quarter, 1994.


domingo, marzo 20, 2005

Tears and Biopharm Rice

by Arty Mangan, Bioneers Food and Farming Director

I don't cry much. I'll hide behind a cliche and say, "It's a guy thing". The human body is truly amazing. Did you know that a teardrop contains proteins that are natural antibiotics and protect against eye infection? You may not know that, but the biotech company Ventria Bioscience does, and they want to own it. Yes, they want to own the genetics of the protein contained in tears. It makes me want to cry.

Biotech companies are in the business of owning life forms by manipulating genes using a virus as a vector, slapping a patent on it, making it theirs and theirs alone. Maybe this is what is meant by "the ownership society".

Plants as drug factories and pig vaccine in corn Ventria Bioscience has been doing research field trials of their pharmaceutical rice in California since 1997. The rice contains synthetic versions of the human proteins found in tears and breast milk. Ventria hopes to market the drug as anti-diarrhea, antibiotic and anti-fungal. Federal regulations allow location of test fields to be confidential. That information can even be withheld from the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) by simply writing CBI (confidential business information) on the application. The only real requirement is a 100 ft. buffer between GE research and commercial crops. Things like pig vaccines and human contraceptives have been part of the over one-hundred GE pharmaceutical field trials approved for research in the U.S.; nine of which have been conducted in California. Biotech companies like the idea of turning farm crops into drug factories for the simple reason it is a cheap production system.

jueves, marzo 17, 2005

Mae-Wan Ho

'Biosecurity’ originated from a small group of scientists who met in 2001 to discuss how to keep diseases affecting crops and livestock from crossing national boundaries. Then, came the anthrax attacks post September 11, and the term came to be used for measures aimed at countering terrorist attacks involving biological agents or toxins. Suddenly, thousands of US scientists are caught in a web of new rules for keeping dangerous agents and substances, and even scientific knowledge, out of reach of bioterrorists. Biosecurity should come under the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) to which the US is signatory; but the US has rejected the Convention’s remit to establish a procedure to verify compliance with the Convention ("Bioweapons Convention –no progress in sight", SiS 13/14).

‘Biosafety’ refers to a set of measures aimed at regulating and ensuring the safe use of genetic engineering and transnational movements of genetically modified organisms. It falls within the scope of the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol under the Convention of Biological Diversity. The US is not a party to the Biosafety Protocol and has steadfastly refused to acknowledge it. The US position is that genetic engineering biotechnology is inherently safe, and only its misuse needs to be prevented.

It is clear that the BWC and Cartagena Biosafety Protocol overlap, and are both needed for effective control of genetic engineering and biological weapons. Of the two, biosafety is the more critical, although most of the attention is focussed on biosecurity.
The Case Against the Plutonium Space Race. So what happens when the sky begins to fall?

By Karl Grossman

The reactor at the Idaho National Laboratory where plans for producing Plutonium-238 for use in space satellite power cells will be produced.
Twenty years ago, I began to learn about plutonium-238, the isotope of plutonium used in space. I was familiar with plutonium-239, built up in nuclear power plants and used in nuclear weapons. My first book on nuclear technology, Cover Up: What You ARE NOT Supposed to Know About Nuclear Power, was published in 1980.

I was reading, in 1985, a Department of Energy publication about plans by NASA, working with the DOE and several national laboratories, to launch two space shuttles carrying plutonium-fueled space probes the following year. One of the shuttles was to be the Challenger.

The publication, DOE Insider, stated that DOE had considered "postulated accidents" including "launch vehicle aborts, reentry, and impact and post impact situations." Knowing about the lethality of plutonium-long described as the most toxic radioactive substance with a particle less than a millionth of a gram lodged in a lung capable of being a fatal dose-I filed a Freedom of Information Act request with NASA, DOE and the national labs. The DOE Insider said "postulated accidents" on the shuttle shots were studied-what were the results?

miércoles, marzo 16, 2005

Una televisión regional contribuiría en buena medida a contrarrestar el colosal desequilibrio informativo que se vive América Latina.Cuando en mayo próximo, como está previsto, aparezca la estación televisiva regional Telesur, una iniciativa venezolana respaldada por otras naciones suramericanas se habrá materializado un triunfo de proporciones en la extensa batalla por establecer un nuevo orden informativo mundial en reemplazo del existente que es un cuasi monopolio ejercido por Estados Unidos y la Unión Europea.

martes, marzo 15, 2005



Militarization of U.S. Africa Policy, 2000 to 2005

A Fact Sheet Prepared by William D. Hartung and Frida Berrigan March 2005

Contact information: 212-229-5808, ext. 112 berrigaf@newschool.edu
"This isn't target practice! This is about killing people!" -- U.S. military trainer in Niger, quoted in "America’s African Rifles," Atlantic Monthly, April 2005

Introduction: Guns, Oil and Terror In the wake of September 11th, and in keeping with its interest in securing access to oil and other key natural resources, the Bush administration has been rapidly expanding U.S. military involvement in Africa.

While most recent increases in U.S. arms sales, aid, and military training in Africa have been justified as part of what the administration refers to as the "Global War on Terrorism" (GWOT), oil has been a major factor in the administration’s strategic calculations from the outset. In his first few months in office, President Bush’s first Secretary of State, Colin Powell, stressed the need to improve relations with oil producing nations like Nigeria and Angola. Similarly, the report of Vice-President Cheney’s Energy Task Force stressed the importance of gaining and maintaining access to African oil resources, which U.S. intelligence assessments expect to increase to as much as 25% of U.S. oil imports by the year 2020 (see Salih Booker and Ann-Louise Cogan, "Africa Policy Outlook 2004," at www.africaaction.org).

A look at last year’s Congressional Budget Justification for FY05 Foreign Operations (State Department, Feb. 2004) underscores the strong pull of oil interests in Bush administration decision making. The entry on Equatorial Guinea notes that "Over the course of the past five years, U.S. companies have invested approximately $5 billion" in the country’s oil sector. The entry for Sao Tome and Principe is more forward-looking, noting that "In the coming decade, U.S. companies are expected to participate in the development of petroleum resources in Sao Tome’s territorial waters." Nigeria is cited for its "large oil and gas reserves," while the entry on Angola stresses the need to "help ensure U.S. private-sector oil access to a source of seven percent of U.S. petroleum imports, a figure likely to rise in the coming years."

Beyond oil, U.S. military officials have cited "a growing terrorist threat" in northern and sub-Saharan Africa to justify a program of stepped up military engagement in the region. General James Jones, head of the U.S. European command, has suggested the need to create a "family of bases" across Africa that would range from forward operating locations that would include an airfield and facilities to house 3,000 to 5,000 U.S. military personnel to "bare-bones" bases that U.S. Special Forces or Marines could "land at and build up as the mission required." (See Eric Schmitt, "Threats and Response; Expanding U.S. Presence: Pentagon Seeks New Access Pacts for African Bases," New York Times, July 5, 2003). These new facilities would not be considered "formal" bases like the growing U.S. base in the Horn of Africa in Djibouti, which has a regular deployment of 1,800 to 2,000 troops stationed there. While new basing arrangements are being worked out, a major increase in U.S. military exercises and training missions throughout Africa will be used to sustain a regular U.S. presence.


Victoria histórica en el primer caso de biopiratería en el mundo: el árbol neem

En una resolución histórica tomada el 8 de marzo, la Oficina Europea de Patentes sostuvo la decisión de revocar en su totalidad una patente sobre un producto fungicida derivado de las semillas del Neem, un árbol natural del subcontinente indio

Publicado por

IFOAM, RFSTE, The Greens/EFA (traducido por El Grillado)

Munich, 8 de marzo de 2005. En una decisión histórica hecha hoy, la Oficina Europea de Patentes sostuvo la decisión de revocar en su totalidad una patente sobre un producto fungicida derivado de las semillas del Neem, un árbol natural del subcontinente indio. La histórica acción es el resultado de un caso organizado hace diez años por tres demandantes, la renombrada medioambientalista india Vandana Shiva, Magda Aelvoet, entonces ministra del Parlamento Europeo y presidenta de los Verdes en el Parlamento Europeo, y la Federación Internacional de Movimientos por la Agricultura Ecológica/Orgánica (IFOAM). Su oposición legal conjunta afirmaba que las propiedades fungicidas del árbol Neem son de dominio público en la Índia desde hace varios siglos y que esta patente muestra como las leyes internacionales están siendo utilizadas para transferir riqueza biológica del Sur a las manos de unas pocas corporaciones, científicos, y países del norte. Hoy el Comité Técnico de Apelaciones de la Oficina de Patentes Europea rechazó un recurso de los que pretenden apropiarse la patente-los Estados Unidos de América y la compañía Thermo Trilogy- y mantuvo la decisión de su División de Demandas de hace cinco años de revocar la patente Neem en su totalidad, cerrando así esta batalla de diez años que representa la primera oposición a las patentes de biopiratería en el mundo.

La Dra. Vandana Shiva, que viajó desde la Índia para estar presente en la audiencia de hoy, comentó, "Qué hermosa coincidencia para las mujeres de la Índia que la largamente esperada decisión se produzca el 8 de marzo, día en que se celebra también el Día Internacional de la Mujer. Denegar la patente implica mantener el valor del conocimiento tradicional para millones de mujeres no sólo de la Índia, sino de todo el Sur. el ÁRBOL LIBRE SEGUIRÁ LIBRE. Esta victoria es el resultado de una solidaridad extremadamente larga. Es una victoria de los ciudadanos comprometidos sobre los intereses comerciales y los grandes poderes."

Magda Aelvoet, Ministra Belga de Estado y anterior Ministra de Salud y Medio Ambiente, era presidenta del grupo de los Verdes en el Parlamento Europeo cuando se presentó el recurso original. Tras la decisión, comentó, "La victoria contra la biopiratería es triple. Primero, es una victoria del conocimiento y las prácticas tradicionales. Esta es la primera vez que alguien ha sido capaz de que una patente fuera rechazada por estos motivos. Segundo, es una victoria gracias a la solidaridad: Con las personas de los países en desarrollo-que han ganado definitivamente los derechos sobre sus recursos naturales- y con nuestros colegas en las ONGs, que lucharon con nosotros contra esta patente estos últimos diez años. Y tercero, llegando como ha sido en el Día Internacional de la Mujer, es también una victoria para las mujeres. Las tres personas que han llevado este caso de forma éxitosa contra la administración estadounidense y sus corporaciones aliadas han sido mujeres: Vandana Shiva, Linda Bullard y yo misma. Esto puede también inspirar y ayudar a otras personas de países en desarrollo que sufren la misma forma de robo pero piensan que no se puede luchar contra ello."

Linda Bullard, anterior Presidenta de la Federación Internacional de Movimientos por la Agricultura Biológica/Orgánica (IFOAM), afirmó, "Estamos profundamente satisfechas de que a través de nuestro caso la Oficina Europea de Patentes haya reconocido los logros intelectuales del Sur. Estamos en disposición de probar que los sistemas de conocimiento tradicional pueden ser como un tipo de "arte antiguo" (lo que se conoce como "prior art") y poderlo utilizar así para destruir las afirmacioens de "novedad" e "inventiva" en estas patentes de biopiratería. Esto se convierte ahora en jurisprudencia, pero el precedente histórico debe desarrollarse más y transportarlo a marcos legales internacionales para que en adelante este tipo de robo no sea posible."

Aunque se dio un plazo de dos días para examinar el recurso, el caso estaba tan claro que la Oficina Técnica de Recursos necesitó sólo dos horas para tomar la decisión de rechazar el recurso.

Las demandantes fueron representadas legalmente estos diez años por el Profesor Dr. Fritz Dolder, Profesor de Propiedad Intelectual en la Facultad de Derecho de la Universidad de Basilea, en Suiza.* El Dr. Dolder explicó que la nueva petición presentada por los poseedores de la patente como parte de su resurso fue rechazada por motivos formales. Después, considerando el cuerpo principal de la patente, se estudió su novedad, revelación y grado de inventiva..."¡y se rechazó irrevocablemente! Esta es la primera vez que la oficina de patentes ha cerrado legalmente un caso de biopiratería."

Para más información, contactar:
Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology: + 91/11-26561868, -26968077, 26535422; E-mail:
vshiva@vsnl.com; Web Site www.navdanya.org

The Greens/European Free Alliance in the European Parliament: +32 2 284-1692; E-mail
msomville@europarl.eu.int; Web Site www.greens-efa.org

IFOAM: +49 228 926-5016; E-mail
n.sorensen@ifoam.org; Web Site www.ifoam.org

Biotech Indymedia


martes, marzo 08, 2005

En todo el mundo, pero hoy en particular en Europa, existen movimientos fuertes de resistencia a las patentes de software. Observar y seguir las acciones que realizan la FFII (Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure) y la FSFE (Free Software Foundation Europa) por ejemplo, puede ser una buena orientación. En América Latina aún no se ve una discusión abierta sobre el tema, lo que puede ser grave llegado el caso: aún no tenemos una estrategia orquestada para resistir y nos falta capacidad para organizar la lucha. Sin embargo, es claro y evidente que tarde o temprano tendremos que dar esta batalla.

Algunos pasos a seguir son, por ejemplo, profundizar nuestra formación en temas relacionados a patentes y copyrights. Para las personas interesadas en el Software Libre, entender el marco jurídico que lo regula o puede afectarlo, se convierte en una necesidad básica. No es necesario que todos los desarrolladores de Software Libre sean expertos en leyes, pero si es esencial que logremos formar un buen número de personas interesadas en estos temas, con capacidad de dialogar y difundir estas problemáticas y transmitir estos asuntos a otros grupos de interés, como las organizaciones de empresas y los sectores políticos involucrados. Básicamente, porque éstos serán los que en última instancia firmarán acuerdos internacionales o modificarán leyes fundamentales para el crecimiento del software libre. Es con ellos con quienes debemos trabajar en forma extensiva.

Otro aspecto que necesitamos ampliar es nuestra “convergencia” con otros movimientos relacionados con el trabajo de la OMPI, y en particular con otros grupos que trabajan contra los tratados de libre comercio, el ALCA y los acuerdos de la OMC. En esos tratados viene implícita la “armonización” de legislaciones y la profundización de las amenazas en relación a copyrights y patentes. Hacer “causa común” con otros movimientos que también están afectados por este tipo de legislaciones nos dará más fuerza política para trabajar.

En paralelo, debemos seguir desarrollando software libre, bajo licencia GPL o compatible, evitando en la medida de lo posible la utilización de algoritmos patentados, ya que un golpe legal futuro que armonice nuestra legislación con la de EEUU en materia de patentes sería catastrófico para el desarrollo local.

Finalmente, defender la noción del software como técnica cultural de la era digital. El software es parte de nuestro acervo cultural, no es un producto industrial. Escribir software tiene más que ver con un arte que con una ingeniería. Es cierto que el software tiene fuerte injerencia sobre los procesos económicos de nuestra sociedad, el grado de dependencia y el entramado que se teje alrededor del software en todas nuestras relaciones sociales, políticas y económicas es tan profundo que no se lo puede simplemente pensar como una “industria”. El software es factor crucial y estratégico de nuestra cultura. El software atraviesa tal cantidad de procesos como jamás se había visto en nuestra historia. Condiciona tanto la esfera pública como la privada. Por tanto, no se lo puede dejar librado al arbitrio de pocas empresas monopólicas, ni mucho menos olvidar nuestro derecho a conocer lo que el software hace, a aprender de él, a compartirlo, modificarlo y mejorarlo, a adaptarlo y controlarlo nosotros mismos.