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México en la Lucha/Mexico in Struggle 7,Un éxito en Chiapas/A success in Chiapas

by George Salzman Saturday, Dec. 08, 2001 at 4:30 AM
george.salzman@umb.edu (from U.S. 011-52)-951-514-8242 Oaxaca, Oax., México

A U.S.-funded biopiracy project in Chiapas has been 'definitively terminated'. Popular resistance by indigenous communities, supported by international criticism, led to its cancellation when ECOSUR, the School of the Southern Frontier, discontinued its collaboration with the University of Georgia team of anthropologists. The announcement, 1.) in Spanish, is first, followed by 2.) my translation into English.

For the English translation, scroll down to 2.)

Fue enviado el mensaje siguente debajo el encabezamiento:

------------------------------------------------------------------------

1.) Spanish original

Subject: [Biodiversidad-l] PROYECTO DE BIOPIRATERIA EN MEXICO CANCELADO DEFINITIVAMENTE

Date: Wed, 14 Nov 2001 18:30:54 -0600 (CST)

From: Juan Paez

To: chismosilla@yahoo.com

Saludos a todas y a todos. Me pareciimportante compartir este boletín, una victoria de las organizaciones chiapanecas.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

Subject: [Biodiversidad-l] PROYECTO DE BIOPIRATERIA EN MEXICO CANCELADO DEFINITIVAMENTE

Date: Sat, 10 Nov 2001 17:03:40 -0600

From: Foro Biodiversidad

To: Biodiversidad-l@nopal.laneta.apc.org

ETC Group. Grupo de Acción sobre Erosión, Tecnología y Concentración (antes RAFI)

COMUNICADO 9 de noviembre 2001 www.etcgroup.org

PROYECTO DE BIOPIRATERIA EN MEXICO CANCELADO DEFINITIVAMENTE Una victoria de los pueblos indios de Chiapas

Luego de dos años de intensa oposición local de las organizaciones indígenas de Chiapas, México, el proyecto ICBG- Maya, financiado por el gobierno de los Estados Unidos con el objetivo de realizar bioprospección del conocimiento y plantas tradicionales de Chiapas fue "definitivamente cancelado" por parte de uno de los socios del proyecto, la institución pública de investigación Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR), con sede en Chiapas. El gobierno de Estados Unidos también confirmó hoy que el proyecto ICBG Maya es un capítulo cerrado.

* * *

"La cancelación definitiva del proyecto ICBG-Maya es algo muy importante para nosotros, pero también para todos los pueblos indios de México. Hace más de un año declaramos una moratoria activa a todos los proyectos de bioprospección, para poder discutir en nuestros propias lenguas y ritmos, entender bien lo que contienen estos proyectos y hacer nuestras propias propuestas sobre el uso de nuestro conocimiento y recursos. Queremos asegurarnos que nadie va a poder patentar estos bienes y que los beneficios se puedan seguir compartiendo entre todos. Nuestra lucha está dando frutos". Antonio Perez Méndez, médico indígena, secretario del Consejo de Médicos y Parteras Indígenas Tradicionales de Chiapas (COMPITCH). "Vemos la cancelación del proyecto como una victoria, pero también sabemos que tenemos que desarrollar nuestras propias alternativas económicas. Si no, vamos a seguir viendo como llegan proyectos extranjeros a privatizar nuestros recursos y conocimientos." Rafael Alarcón, médico, asesor del COMPITCH.

La decisión de ECOSUR de retirar su apoyo al proyecto ICBG- Maya es un epílogo bienvenido a este proyecto de biopiratería, mal concebido desde sus inicios, que no sólo se topó con la amplia oposición de las organizaciones locales indígenas y otras de Chiapas, sino que tampoco logró conseguir los permisos necesarios del gobierno mexicano para seguir adelante. (El gobierno le negó los permisos de evaluación biotecnológica de las plantas recolectadas por el proyecto.)

El proyecto, titulado en castellano "Investigación farmacéutica y uso sustentable del conocimiento etnobotánico de la región maya de Los Altos de Chiapas (ICBG-Maya)", contaba con una financiación del gobierno estadounidense de 2,5 millones de dólares, aprobada en setiembre de 1998. Los socios del proyecto eran la Universidad de Georgia-Athens, Estados Unidos, el Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR), México, y la empresa biotecnológica de Gales, Molecular Nature Limited. Los proyectos ICBG (Grupos Internacionales de Colaboración en Biodiversidad), son una iniciativa del gobierno de los Estados Unidos en la que participan la Fundación Nacional de la Ciencia, los Institutos Nacionales de Salud y el Departamento de Agricultura (USDA).

¡No es no!

"Pese a la muchas veces que se nombró el "consentimiento informado previo", y el "derecho a decir no", a los indígenas de Chiapas les tomó dos años convencer al ICBG-Maya de que "no" quiere decir "no". El proyecto era inaceptable para muchas comunidades indígenas de Chiapas que se oponían a la explotación comercial de sus recursos genéticos y su conocimiento tradicional", explica Silvia Ribeiro del Grupo ETC (antes RAFI). "ECOSUR tomó una decisión responsable y, al parecer, ahora están tratando de restablecer el apoyo comunitario para sus programas de investigación pública", agrega Ribeiro. Antonio Perez Méndez del COMPITCH expresó, "Estamos contentos que los investigadores de ECOSUR entendieron que tenían un virus adentro y ahora lo están sacando, sabemos que ellos también tienen sus discusiones dentro de ECOSUR."

Lentos para irse:

El programa ICBG Maya fue arduamente defendido por su director, el antropólogo Brent Berlin de la Universidad de Georgia. Luego de haber fracasado en lograr el consenso a nivel local, y frente a las críticas crecientes a nivel internacional, Berlin trató de salvar el proyecto rediseñándolo. En Agosto 2001, Berlin le propuso a ECOSUR una restructuración del proyecto, que ahora se dedicaría a recabar información sobre los posibles riesgos y beneficios de la exploración e investigación de productos naturales con fines biotecnológicos, a entrenar especialistas indígenas sobre normas éticas relacionadas con la obtención del consentimiento informado previo y al desarrollo de una campaña de información sobre los riesgos y potencialidades de la bioprospección para las comunidades indígenas. Aunque el ICBG de Estados Unidos aprobó este nuevo proyecto, a ser finaciado con fondos re-dirigidos de la primer propuesta del ICBG-Maya, el Consejo Técnico de ECOSUR rechazó esta propuesta a fines de octubre. Poco tiempo antes, el 7 de octubre del 2001, quizá en un último intento de conseguir la aprobación del proyecto, un representante de la Embajada de los Estados Unidos en México viajó a Chiapas para hablar con representantes del COMPITCH, la asociación indígena chiapaneca que ha sido más activa en oponerse al proyecto. Otra vez, las comunidades locales dijeron no.

¿Lecciones aprendidas?

El rechazo definitivo del ICBG-Maya, y la continuidad de las luchas de los pueblos indígenas de Chiapas para defender sus derechos colectivos sobre la biodiversidad y el conocimiento tradicional, dan un ejemplo aleccionador que debería ser aprendido por los bioprospectores de todo el mundo, incluyendo los restantes proyectos ICBG en México, y en América Latina, Asia y Africa.

Finalmente, ni los antropólogos bien intencionados, ni las organizaciones de la sociedad civil puede tomar decisiones por los pueblos indios, y menos aún determinar desde afuera quiénes son los que pueden representar legítimamente los intereses de las comunidades indígenas. Es imprescindible el respeto de los derechos colectivos de los pueblos indios, así como del derecho fundamental de las comunidades locales a vetar proyectos que afecten sus recursos y conocimientos.

En un mundo donde los productos y procesos biológicos están siendo privatizados y patentados en forma creciente, donde los Derechos de los Agricultores son pisoteados por los acuerdos de libre comercio, no sorprende que los derechos de propiedad estén confudiendo las negociaciones a nivel local, nacional e internacional. En ausencia de mecanismos regulatorios que salvaguarden realmente los derechos e intereses de los campesinos, pueblos indios y comunidades locales, la bioprospección equitativa es un mito.

Preguntas sin respuesta:

¿Qué va a pasar con las plantas recogidas en Chiapas -- miles de las cuales fueron enviadas a la Universidad de Georgia -- antes de la cancelación del proyecto? Aunque según los proponentes del proyecto no se han realizado evaluaciones biotecnológicas, ¿como garantizarán, tanto ECOSUR como la Universidad de Georgia, que no se hará un uso indebido de estas muestras en el futuro y que las plantas recolectadas serán repatriadas a las comunidades locales?

Por más información, ver antecedentes de este proyecto en http://www.rafi.org o contactar a:

Silvia Ribeiro, Grupo ETC: silvia@etcgroup.org , tel: (52) 5563-2664

Hope Shand, Grupo ETC: hope@etcgroup.org , tel: (1-919) 960-5223

En Chiapas: Consejo de Médicos y Parteras Indígenas Tradicionales de Chiapas (COMPITCH),

Antonio Pérez Méndez, Rafael Alarcón (52) 967 85438 : compitch@hotmail.com

* * *

El grupo ETC, Grupo de Acción sobre Erosión, Tecnología y Concentración, anteriormente RAFI, es una organización internacional de la sociedad civil, con base en Canadá. El Grupo ETC (llamado Grupo "Etcétera " en lenguaje coloquial) se dedica a promover la diversidad cultural y biológica y los derechos humanos.

_______________________________________________

Biodiversidad-l mailing list Biodiversidad-l@listas.laneta.apc.org

http://www.laneta.apc.org/mailman/listinfo/biodiversidad-l



2.) English translation

The following message was sent under the caption:

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Subject: [Biodiversidad-l] PROYECTO DE BIOPIRATERIA EN MEXICO CANCELADO DEFINITIVAMENTE

Date: Wed, 14 Nov 2001 18:30:54 -0600 (CST)

From: Juan Paez

To: chismosilla@yahoo.com

Greetings to everyone. It seemed to me important to share this bulletin, a victory of Chiapas organizations.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

Subject: [Biodiversity-1] BIOPIRACY PROJECT IN MEXICO DEFINITELY CANCELLED

Fecha: Sabado el 10 de noviembre de 2001 17:03 -0600

From: Foro Biodiversidad

To: Biodiversidad-l@nopal.laneta.apc.org



ETC Group. Group of Action on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (previously RAFI)

COMMUNICATED November 9, 2001 www.etcgroup.org

BIOPIRACY PROJECT IN MEXICO DEFINITIVELY CANCELLED A victory of the Indian peoples of Chiapas

After two years of intense local opposition by indigenous organizations of Chiapas, Mexico, the project ICBG-Maya, financed by the government of the United States with the objective of carrying out bioprospecting of the traditional knowledge and plants of chiapas was "definitively cancelled" by one of the partners in the project, the public research institution School of the Southern Frontier (ECOSUR), based in Chiapas. The government of the United States also confirmed today that the project ICBG Maya is a closed chapter.

* * *

"The definitive cancellation of the project ICBG-Maya is something very important for us, but also for all the Indian peoples of Mexico. It's been more than a year since we declared a moratorium on all bioprospecting projects, to be able to discuss in our own languages and at our own pace, to understand well what these projects consist of and to make our own proposals on the use of our knowledge and resources. We want to assure ourselves that no one is going to be able to patent this patrimony and that the benefits can continue being shared by all. Our struggle is yielding success." Antonio Perez Méndez, indigenous doctor, secretary of the Council of Traditional Indigenous Doctors and Midwives (COMPITCH). "We see the cancellation of the project as a victory, but we also know that we have to develop our own economic alternatives. If not, we will continue seeing foreign projects come to privatize our resources and knowledge." Rafael Alarcón, doctor, advisor of COMPITCH.

The decision of ECOSUR to withdraw its help from the ICBG-Maya project is a welcome epilogue to this biopiracy project, badly conceived since its beginning, that not only ran into broad opposition from local indigenous and other organizations of Chiapas, but also failed to obtain the necessary permits from the Mexican government to proceed. (The government denied permits for biotechnological evaluation of the plants gathered by the project.)

The project, titled in Spanish "Pharmaceutical investigation and sustainable use of the ethnobotanical knowledge of the Maya region of the highlands of Chiapas (ICBG-Maya)", was financed by a grant of 2.5 million dollars from the United States government, approved in September, 1998. The project partners were the University of Georgia at Athens, United States, the School of the Southern Frontier (ECOSUR), México, and the biotechnology company of Wales, Molecular Nature Limited. The projects ICBG (International Groups for Collaboration in Biodiversity), are an iniciative of the government of the United States in which the National Science foundation, The National Institutes for Health and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) participate.

No is no!

"In spite of the many times that they spoke of "prior informed consent", and the "right to say no", it took the indigenous of Chiapas two years to convince ICBG-Maya that "no" means "no". The project was unacceptable to many indigenous communities of Chiapas that opposed the commercial exploitation of their genetic resources and their traditional knowledge", explains Silvia Ribeiro of the Group ETC (formerly RAFI). "ECOSUR made a responsible decision and apparently is now trying to re-establish communal help for its public investigation programs", adds Ribeiro. Antonio Perez Méndez of COMPITCH stated, "We are glad that the ECOSUR researchers understand that they had a virus within and now they are removing it. We know that they also have their discussions in ECOSUR."

They leave slowly:

The ICBG Maya program was arduously defended by its director, anthropologist Brent Berlin of the University of Georgia. Then having failed to gain consensus at the local level, and facing growing criticism at the international level, Berlin tried to save the project by redesigning it. In August 2001, Berlin proposed to ECOSUR a restructuring of the project, which would now be dedicated to asking for information on the possible risks and benefits of the exploration and investigation of natural products for biotechnological ends. Indigenous specialists would be trained on ethical rules related to obtaining prior informed consent and for the development of a campaign of information on the risks and potentialities of bioprospecting for the indigenous communities. Although the United States ICBG approved this new project, to be financed with redirected funds from the first proposal of the ICBG-Maya, the Technical Council of ECOSUR rejected this proposal at the end of October. A short time later, October 7, 2001, perhaps in a final attempt to get approval of the project, a representative of the United States Embassy in Mexico travelled to chiapas to talk with representatives of COMPITCH, the indigenous association in Chiapas that had been most active in opposing the project. Once again, the local communities said no.

Lessons learned?

The definitive rejection of ICBG-Maya, and the continuity of the struggles of the indigenous peoples of Chiapas to defend their collective rights to the biodiversity [of their region] and to their traditional knowledge, gives an instructive example that has to be learned by the bioprospectors of the whole world, including the remaining ICBG projects in Mexico, and in Latin America, Asia and Africa.

Finally, neither well-intentioned anthropologists nor organizations of the civil society can make decisions for the Indian peoples, and even less determine from outside who can legitimately represent the interests of the indigenous communities. Respect for the collective rights of the Indian peoples is indispensable, as also the fundamental right of the local communities to veto projects that affect their resources and knowledge.

In a world where biological products and processes are being increasingly privatized and patented, where the rights of growers are trampled by the free trade agreements, it's no surprise that property rights are making a mess of commerce at local, national and international levels. In the absence of regulatory mechanisms that really safeguard the rights and interests of the campesinos, Indian peoples and local communities, fair bioprospecting is a myth.

Questions without answers:

What is going to happen with the plants gathered in Chiapas -- thousands of which were sent to the University of Georgie -- before the cancellation of the project? Although according to the proponents of the project they have not carried out biotechnological evaluations, how will they guarantee, as much ECOSUR as the University of Georgia, that there will not be improper use of these samples in the future and that the gathered plants will be repatriated to the local communities?

For more information, see the background of this project on

http://www.rafi.org or contact:

Silvia Ribeiro, Grupo ETC: silvia@etcgroup.org , tel: (52) 5563-2664

Hope Shand, Grupo ETC: hope@etcgroup.org , tel: (1-919) 960-5223

In Chiapas: Consejo de Médicos y Parteras Indígenas Tradicionales de Chiapas (COMPITCH),

Antonio Pérez Méndez, Rafael Alarcón (52) 967 85438 : compitch@hotmail.com

* * *

The group ETC, Group of Action on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (previously RAFI), is an international organization of civil society based in Canada. The Group ETC (called Group "Etcetera" colloquially) is dedicated to promoting cultural and biological diversity and human rights.

_______________________________________________

Biodiversidad-l mailing list Biodiversidad-l@listas.laneta.apc.org

http://www.laneta.apc.org/mailman/listinfo/biodiversidad-l

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