Indigenous People Fear
by Silvio Hernandez
PANAMA CITY, Dec 17 (IPS) - The lack of protection for the human
cultural rights of the indigenous Central Americans has awoken
fears of being submitted to genetic slavery by unscrupulous
The first alarm was sounded several years ago when the genes of a
Panamanian Ngobe-Bugle woman were patented in the United States as
scientific discovery by two US researchers.
The woman, resident in the Caribbean province of Bocas del Toro
whose name was reserved to protect her identity, was carrier of
HLV2 virus, similar to that which produces AIDS.
Kuna indigenous leader Atencio Lopez, who has been running an
international campaign against the ''stealing'' of genes from
peoples for the last four years, told IPS the genes were taken
the woman by foreign researchers with the help of local doctors
extracted the blood.
The ngobe-bugle are carriers of HLV2 but do not develop the
associated with this as they have antibodies which protect them.
Lopez explained that as AIDS ''is like El Dorado'' for the big
pharmaceutical transnationals, anything close to the virus which
causes this ''makes them crazy and they will stop at nothing to
hold of and control their formulas.''
The patent of the HLV2 virus was cancelled by the US government
following international pressure, but the cells of the Ngobe-
woman and other indigenous people from Papua and New Guinea and
Solomon Islands, which were also patented, are still being kept in
Lopez warned that if the discoveries were part of the production
medicines to alleviate human suffering without making money, the
indigenous people would be willing to be investigated.
But they do not approve being studied and having genes extracted
produce medicines for the profit of the transnational
companies, nor to experiment with biological weapons ''so that
powerful states can submit the weaker ones.''...
... This type of research, said the document, ''attacks human
''the genetic integrity of the indigenous peoples.''
Lopez explained that for the indigenous peoples blood ''is like
nucleus or the cell of the earth'' whose fruits, like the trees,
animals and rivers ''are considered as brothers.''
''If we allow them to delve inside human beings and their
there will come a moment when we will be the slaves of other
and subjected to immoral use,'' he said.
''We do not see knowledge as personal property but as something
belonging to all our people,'' said Lopez.
As well as the robbing of human genes, researchers in the rich
countries ''are extracting medicinal secrets from the indigenous
people and their cultural property on seeds and soil use practices,
He explained how researchers of traditional medicine arrived in
indigenous areas as tourists, finding out how the local people
certain illnesses, taking the remedies to the North and patenting
as though they were their own inventions.
The states of the Third World do not protect the indigenous people
farmers from cultural pillaging and ''many governments see the
indigenous peoples' complaints themselves as science fiction,''
From One World
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