From Cancún to Cancún: mega-diverse pretense

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In February 2001 representatives from the 12 countries with the highest levels of biological and cultural diversity met in Cancún, following an initiative by the Mexican Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat), with the aim of creating the so-called Group of Like-Minded Megadiverse Countries, whose existing members are: Bolivia, Brazil, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, the Philippines, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, South Africa and Venezuela. According to its own estimate, 70 percent of the world's biodiversity and 45 percent of the world's cultural diversity is found in these countries (including, indigenous, campesinos, fishermen, black communities, inhabitants of the rainforest). This group has since acted as an organization of "consultancy and cooperation to promote their interests related to the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity" in various United Nations' forums, including the Convention on Biological Diversity and the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. This "consulting" has since been carried out between government sectors: in not one of the countries concerned has any attempt been made to consult this 45 percent of the world's cultural diversity in order to ascertain their opinion on the proposal. This has not inhibited the fact that in Johannesburg, although maintaining a shameful silence about the contamination of indigenous maize with GMOs – which is still going on - and the lack of respect for indigenous rights and cultures, Mexico underlined this initiative as one of the principle contributors to sustainable development. Or the fact that Bolivia, while it persecutes and represses its indigenous population and campesinos, announced that its main accomplishment in this summit has been to join the Group of Like-Minded Megadiverse Countries. Submerged in a flood of "eco-demagogy", as Alejandro Nadal has called it, the group's true objectives are to construct a platform of a cartel to sell their biodiversity to the highest bidder. This objective, whose origins are found in the Declaration of Cancun, forms the basis for, amongst other things, the financial assessment of biodiversity, the encouragement of private participation in its "conservation", patents for living beings in exchange for acknowledging the origin of the resources and paying a percentage for these and why not, as they are in confession, also for promoting the development of bio- technology. In a subsequent meeting held in Cusco, Peru, in November 2002, they also took up the mandate of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Doha, which established that, in the context of discussions regarding intellectual property, the agreements of TRIPS, which forces all of the member countries to patent living organisms, must be related to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and traditional knowledge. This is a proposal that has already been widely rejected by many indigenous peoples, and indigenous, campesino and peoples organizations around the world, who object to any form of patenting of biodiversity and related knowledge, and who are of the opinion that the WTO is the most anti-democratic and inadequate forum to handle these themes. The inclusion of this issue corresponds to an attempt to subordinate – now legally – all of the themes to the voracity of the one god, international trade, and its priests, the transnationals. At the same time, the Convention on Bio-Diversity has been increasingly preparing this route, for example through the Guidelines of Bonn, which accept patents as a means of obtaining a "distribution of profit" from the use of biodiversity, and urges all countries – above all the megadiverse - to create legislation to access the genetic resources which legalize bio-piracy. Following the example of England with Francis Drake: when not paying the crown a percentage he was considered a savage pirate, but when he agreed to the "distribution of profit", although he went about the same business as before, the English crown knighted him Sir Francis Drake. Next September the circle will close, once more in Cancún, this time at the ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization. The members of the Group of Like-Minded Megadiverse Countries, led by Mexico as the host, are preparing to appear as the great defenders of biodiversity and traditional knowledge, to demand that TRIPS assure the recognition of the origin of resources to be patented and provide for payment of a certain percentage for these resources. In other words, it now seems that the patents, which are one of the privileged instruments of the multinationals for privatization and monopolization of the common and public resources, will be the avenging instrument of those same people that it has been looting for centuries. And as a final paradox, in the face of the apparent lack of agreement of the world powers regarding how they are going to negotiate agrarian issues in Cancún in order to better exploit the Third World and throttle the campesino economy, these countries will leap to the salvation of the governments and multinationals of the US and Europe, offering them a way out in the form of a good media image by making it seem that the sale of biodiversity and even of many other environmental services is a claim of the South. (Translation by ALAI) * Silvia Ribeiro is a researcher for the ETC Group.
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