Oxfam Decries US Pressure on Guatemala to Repeal Medicines Law

By Oxfam

Washington, DC—International agency Oxfam America is deeply concerned about US pressure exerted on Guatemala to repeal a law to improve public health as a condition for approving CAFTA. Widespread public opposition catalyzed in recent days, as Guatemalans took to the streets to express their concern over CAFTA's impact on their livelihoods and access to healthcare.

"As ratified, CAFTA unduly extends the monopoly period enjoyed by international pharmaceutical companies and potentially hinders Guatemalans' access to important life-saving drugs at affordable prices," said Stephanie Weinberg, Oxfam America's Policy Advisor. "Trade agreements should offer economic opportunity and development, not impediments to public health."

Health groups in Guatemala, supported by international agencies such as the Pan-American Health Organization and UNICEF, supported legislation that allowed greater competition from generic drug companies as a method of reducing drug costs in a sustainable way. The law passed by an overwhelming majority in the Guatemalan Congress late last year. Although the Guatemalan legislation complies with international intellectual property laws established by the World Trade Organization, the US Trade Representative insisted that the law would be in violation of CAFTA provisions and pressured Guatemala to repeal it. The law was repealed, paving the way for Guatemala's ratification of CAFTA, which took place last week. CAFTA has yet to be ratified by the US.

"US bullying may have convinced the Guatemalan Congress to repeal legislation that made medicines more accessible, but it has failed to convince the Guatemalan public that CAFTA is in their best interest," said Weinberg. "US lawmakers should take note. Recent demonstrations indicate strong public concern that CAFTA poses a threat to the livelihoods and health of millions of poor people in Guatemala and the region."

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