It’s Uncle Sam’s universal law: there’s no free lunch. While Kerry was meeting with Santos in London to express his support for the peace process, the U.S. Congress was busy blackmailing our country as they always do: the price of the primary cancer drug will stay where it is or the $450 million of gringo aid to Colombia runs the risk of evaporating.
The following threat came into public light last Thursday when The Huffington Post published an internal memo from the Colombian chancellor's office: “Given the direct relationship between a significant group of congressmen and the U.S. pharmaceutical industry, the Glivec case may escalate to the point of creating inconveniences in approving resources for the new Peace Colombia initiative."
This isn’t just any old pill. Glivec is the primary medication for treating leukemia in Colombia. The proposal by the minister of health, Alejandro Gaviria, is to lower the price by half. His reasoning is simple: the price is sky-high and bleeding our national healthcare system. But the multinational Novartis refuses to lower the price, which is why Gaviria went to lobby the U.S. Congress, which historically bows to the interests of the pharmaceutical companies.
So great is this industry's power that the three candidates in the final run for the White House all coincide on this topic. Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have all spoken about how the industry's ruthless ambitions have dwarfed the U.S. Congress. The pharmaceutical and arms industries are the two great lobbyists of Washington.
Colombia has been victim to blackmail in the past. It happened like this a decade ago, when the U.S. Congress approved the extension of tariffs on Colombian goods. It was no different than now: more profits from the multinational pharmaceutical companies or no more ATPDEA for Colombia. It happened again with the FTA negotiation: we tighten patent regulations for medications – to the detriment of generic medications – or no more Free Trade Agreement.
The United States has always made the same argument about intellectual property and the supposed protection of medical patents. But I wonder if the $450 million from Peace Colombia is more important than the lives of thousands of Colombians that die each year from leukemia because they can't afford the high price of their primary medication.
That's the gringos for you. Always handing us money one minute, only to charge us more the next. That's been the case with the "support" from Plan Colombia: $10 billion to Colombia to buy tons of guns and hundreds of planes and helicopters from North American companies. Not to mention all the phone interception equipment, the millions of dollars in herbicides for all the damn fumigation and a long list of accessories and consultations from North American agencies.
There's no free lunch, says Uncle Sam. But it seems absurd to me that in Colombia we choose a handful of dollars over the lives of millions of people. Life has no price.