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[Fwd: Chiapas biopiracy project cancelled!]

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Chiapas biopiracy project cancelled!
Date: Fri, 09 Nov 2001 17:24:52 -0600

Biotech Activists (    Posted: 11/09/2001  By	

ETC group News Release:
9 November 2001

US Government's $2.5 Million
Biopiracy Project in Mexico Cancelled

Victory for Indigenous Peoples in Chiapas

After two years of intense local opposition from indigenous peoples'
organizations in Chiapas, Mexico, the US government-funded ICBG-Maya
project aimed at the bioprospecting of Mayan medicinal plants and
traditional knowledge has been "definitively cancelled" by the
Project's Chiapas-based partner, ECOSUR - El Colegio de la Frontera
Sur. The US government confirmed today that the ICBG-Maya Project has
been terminated.

"The definitive cancellation of the ICBG-Maya project is important
for all indigenous peoples in Mexico. Indigenous communities are
asking for a moratorium on all biopiracy projects in Mexico, so that
we can discuss, understand and propose our own alternative approaches
to using our resources and knowledge. We want to insure that no one
can patent these resources and that the benefits are shared by all."
- Antonio Perez Mendez, indigenous doctor and secretary of the
Council of Traditional Indigenous Doctors and Midwives from Chiapas
(Consejo de M╚dicos y Parteras Ind╠genas Tradicionales de Chiapas -

"We see the cancellation of the ICBG-Maya as a victory, but we also
realize that we must develop capacity to respond with our own
economic alternatives. If not, we will continue to see foreign
projects which seek to privatize our resources and knowledge." -
Rafael Alarc█n, advisor to COMPITCH

ECOSUR's decision to withdraw its support for ICBG-Maya is the final
blow for the ill-conceived biopiracy project - which not only faced
widespread opposition from indigenous peoples organizations in
Chiapas, but also last year failed to get regulatory approval from
the Mexican government (that is, permission to conduct bio-assays on
collected plant materials).

The $2.5 million dollar ICBG-Maya project, entitled "Drug Discovery
and Biodiversity among the Maya in Mexico," was funded by the US
government in September 1998, and included the University of
Georgia-Athens (UGA), USA, the Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR),
Mexico, and Molecular Nature Limited (MNL), a Welsh biotechnology
company. The International Collaborative Biodiversity Group (ICBG),
is a US government initiative involving the National Institutes of
Health, the National Science Foundation and the US Department of
Agriculture (USDA).

No Means No!  "Despite all the talk about 'prior informed consent'
and the 'right to say no,' it took two years for the indigenous
peoples of Chiapas to convince the ICBG-Maya that no means no. The
Project was unacceptable to many indigenous communities in Chiapas
that oppose commercial exploitation of their genetic resources and
traditional knowledge," explains Silvia Ribeiro of ETC group. "ECOSUR
has made a responsible decision and now seeks to re-build community
support for its public research programs," adds Ribeiro.

Slow to Go: The ICBG Maya Project was staunchly defended by its
director, anthropologist Brent Berlin of the University of Georgia.
Failing to win consensus at the local level, and facing increasing
criticism internationally, Berlin sought to redesign the project and
salvage it. In August 2001 Berlin proposed to ECOSUR that a
re-designed project would seek to define the risks and benefits of
bioprospecting, train indigenous leaders on ethical norms related to
prior informed consent, and develop an informational campaign on the
risks and benefits of bioprospecting for indigenous communities.
Although ICBG approved the new project, to be financed by a
re-direction of funds from the first ICBG Maya proposal, the advisory
board of ECOSUR rejected it. On 7 October 2001, perhaps in a
last-ditch effort to win approval for the project, a representative
from the US Embassy in Mexico travelled to Chiapas to meet with
representatives from COMPITCH, the indigenous group in Chiapas most
active in protesting the project. Again, the local communities said

Lessons Learned?  The decisive rejection of the ICBG-Maya, and the
continuing struggles of indigenous peoples in Chiapas to defend their
collective rights over biodiversity and traditional knowledge, offers
valuable lessons for bioprospectors worldwide, including the
US-government's remaining ICBG projects in Latin America, Asia and

Ultimately, neither well-meaning anthropologists nor civil society
organizations can make decisions for indigenous peoples; nor can
outsiders appoint organizations to determine who will legitimately
represent the interests of indigenous communities. The collective
rights of indigenous peoples must be respected, as well as the
fundamental right of local communities to veto projects that target
their resources and knowledge.

In a world where biological products and processes are being
privatized and patented, and where Farmers' Rights are being trampled
by intellectual property and trade agreements, it is not surprising
that proprietary rights are confounding negotiations at the local,
national and international levels. Equity-based bioprospecting is a
myth in the absence of regulatory mechanisms that safeguard the
rights and interests of farmers, indigenous peoples and local

Unanswered Questions: What will happen to plant materials collected
in Chiapas prior to the termination of the Project? While it is
understood that bio-assays were not conducted on these plants, how
will the University of Georgia and ECOSUR insure that any plant
collections are repatriated to the local communities?

For more information, contact: 

Silvia Ribeiro, ETC group:  tel: 52-5563-2664

Hope Shand, ETC group:   tel: (919) 960-5223

In Chiapas: Consejo de Medicos y Parteras Indigenas Tradicionales de
Chiapas - COMPITCH
Antonio Perez Mendez, Rafael Alarcon (52) 967 85438 :

The Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration, formerly
RAFI, is an international civil society organization headquartered in
Canada. The ETC group (pronounced Etcetera group) is dedicated to the
advancement of cultural and ecological diversity and human rights.

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