[Ip-health] Salt Lake Tribune: Op-ed: Hatch puts Colombian peace at risk to help Novartis

Zack Struver zack.struver at keionline.org
Mon May 23 10:26:52 PDT 2016


Op-ed: Hatch puts Colombian peace at risk to help Novartis
By Luis Carlos Reyes

First Published May 21 2016 03:03PM • Last Updated May 21 2016 06:35 pm

Sen. Orrin Hatch has hit a new low in his unabashed support of Big Pharma.
Not content with putting the financial interests of pharmaceutical
companies over the health of the American people, he is now actively
blackmailing Colombia, the closest strategic ally of the United States in
Latin America.

Hatch's office has threatened the South American country's government with
withholding funding for its peace process unless it gives up on its right
to regulate the price of cancer drugs and other medications. The Colombian
peace process is a foreign policy priority of the United States, and the
American people should not allow special interests to sabotage it.

Hatch owes his re-election to $750,000 from the Pharmaceutical Research and
Manufacturers of America (PhRMA). They had every reason to help. He has
helped extend the monopoly rights of drug companies, he has repeatedly
thrown wrenches at provisions designed to allow competition from generic
drugs and he has allowed the nutritional supplement industry to make
baseless health claims without legal sanctions. The industry has always
been thankful for his good offices. During his brief 2000 presidential
campaign he flew on a Gulfstream executive jet courtesy of Schering-Plough
Corp., and his son is a well-paid lobbyist at a firm representing PhRMA and

Given his record, it was outrageous but not surprising when El Espectador,
a leading Colombian daily, reported that the country's embassy in
Washington, D.C., had sent an urgent letter to Bogota. The letter stated
that Hatch's office had warned the embassy of how the Colombian dispute
with the pharmaceutical company Novartis over the pricing of its
cancer-fighting drug Gleevec could "make the relevant interest groups
become very vocal and interfere with other interests that Colombia has in
the United States."

The Colombian interests he was referring to were Paz Colombia, the
multi-million-dollar aid package destined to help the country transition
from decades of war against Marxist guerrillas into a peaceful and
prosperous society. The warnings must have sounded serious enough. The
embassy proceeded to advise the Ministry of Health that it might want to
reconsider allowing local manufacturers to produce a generic version of
Gleevec. The decision, which is in full compliance with WTO rules, had been
recently announced in view of Novartis' refusal to charge a reasonable
price for the drug.

More than 200,000 people have died in the Colombian civil conflict, and
peace negotiations have yet to be concluded. Even after an agreement is
signed, it will be fragile for years to come. Unless Colombia solves the
issues that gave rise to the conflict — income and land inequality, as well
as the systematic disenfranchisement of political minorities under the
auspices of the U.S. government — the war can start anew. The Obama
administration has taken the right step by pledging $450 million to fund
the guerrilla demobilization program, rid the country of land mines and
help coca farmers transition to the production of legal crops.

Threatening to make Paz Colombia conditional on the outcome of the dispute
between Novartis and the Colombian Ministry of Health is foolish. It stems
from the kind of boundless greed that many Latin Americans suspect always
motivates U.S. foreign policy.

Prove them wrong. The values of the people of the United States are not
such that they would put the profits of corporations over the lives of
their neighbors. However, Washington has historically given Latin America
plenty of reasons to think otherwise. Fortunately, there is still time to
do the right thing and demand that Hatch support Paz Colombia without

Luis Carlos Reyes, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of economics at the
Universidad Javeriana in Bogota, Colombia.

Zack Struver, Communications and Research Associate
Knowledge Ecology International
zack.struver at keionline.org
Twitter: @zstruver <https://twitter.com/zstruver>
Office: +1 (202) 332-2670 Cell: +1 (914) 582-1428

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