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Activists Chain Themselves
in House of Representatives Gallery

Arrested, They Chant 'Africa Not for Sale--AIDS Drugs Now!'

Republicans Lott & Hastert Block Generic Drugs for Africans

Compiled By GayToday

aidscongress.gif - 11.48 K Washington, D.C.--Eight activists were arrested Thursday for disrupting a vote on the African Growth and Opportunity Act/Caribbean Basin Initiative in the House of Representatives.

The activists brought the proceedings to a standstill for ten minutes, chaining themselves to a balcony, chanting "Africa is Not for Sale--AIDS Drugs Now!," and holding a banner that read "Africa is Not for Sale!"

Student activists from Delaware and members of Act Up Philadelphia, long critical of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), protested the elimination of the provisions that would provide access to HIV/AIDS medications and the erosion of development and child labor provisions of the bill.

"At the behest of the pharmaceutical lobby, Senator Lott and House Speaker Hastert stripped Senate language from the bill that would have increased availability of affordable generic versions of expensive patented AIDS medications for Africa," according to Paul Davis of ACT UP Philadelphia.

"What's worse, Congressional leadership is acting with callous indifference to hundreds of thousands of people with AIDS in the Caribbean by reversing the Clinton Administration's promise to leave internal decisions about access to HIV/AIDS pharmaceuticals up to individual countries without meddling in their domestic affairs at the World Trade Organization (WTO)."

Thursday's disruption in the House of Representatives Gallery followed recent reports of changes made in trade legislation by the House and Senate Conferees. The widely supported Senate Feinstein-Feingold HIV/AIDS amendment, which prohibited U.S. government spending to challenge WTO legal policies on access to HIV/AIDS pharmaceuticals, was altogether eliminated by Hastert and Lott.

Additionally, the converse of the Feinstein-Feingold amendment was added to the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) provisions allowing the U.S. government to challenge the pharmaceutical access rules that are legal under the WTO TRIPs agreement covering intellectual property.

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Related Sites:
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"Today's action highlights not only the threats AGOA-CBI poses to millions of people across the world but the low level of discourse among our elected officials," said Sharon Ann Lynch of ACT UP New York.

"What public policy goal is advanced here? Should we be protecting those suffering from HIV/AIDS or shielding those pharmaceutical giants who are resisting any reduction of their enormous profit margins?"

Earlier this year, ACT UP challenged the Clinton administration's attempt to gut a South African law that utilized WTO-legal policies to provide affordable, generic versions of patented HIV/AIDS medication to those that need it.

In a high profile campaign, ACT UP followed Vice President Al Gore starting at the beginning of his campaign and demanding that he reverse this policy and encourage, rather than punish, poor countries that are seeking to provide their citizens with life-saving medicines.

Gore had been negotiating pharmaceutical company-backed erosion of South Africa policy. ACT UP continued to ambush the Vice President throughout the first few months of his presidential campaign. Several thousand people took part in such a demonstration at a Gore fundraising event in Philadelphia.

After the Vice President directed the IS Trade Representative to cease actions against South Africa on September 17, 1999, ACT UP campaigned to extend the trade agreement to all other poor countries.

Activists took over U.S. Trade Representative Barshefsky's office in D.C. demanding an extension of the trade agreement. On December 1, at President Clinton's World AIDS Day address in Seattle, it was announced that the United States would no longer use its economic clout to interfere with other countries' WTO compliant measures taken to increase access to medicine.

This announcement was strengthened by Vice President Gore's address to the United Nations Security Council on January 11.

Thursday the activists angrily addressed the inclusion of the CBI provision exceeding WTO trade agreements on intellectual property and coupled with the exclusion of the HIV/IDS medicine amendment and the unilateral imposition of structural adjustment conditions.

"This bill will literally result in more AIDS for Africa and the Caribbean," said ACT UP's Brian Spina.

"AGOA sidesteps the middle institution of the IMF, by unilaterally forcing poor countries to adopt economic policies that have proven time after time to rapidly decrease life expectancy," he said.

Student activists from Delaware, the home state of Senator Roth the Senate sponsor and chief proponent of AGOA-CBI, joined the ACT UP demonstrators.

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