_HHS Tommy Thompson Zap




Activists' Chants Drown Out Thompson's Speech on AIDS

July 10, 2002

BARCELONA, Spain -- Activists stormed the stage at the International AIDS Conference here, temporarily halting an address by Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson. Yelling "Shame, shame," the protesters carried signs accusing the U.S. of the "murder and neglect" of people with AIDS. They believe the U.S. is giving too little money to the global AIDS fight, now estimated to require about $10 billion annually.

Mr. Thompson continued his speech, though it was inaudible because of the jeers and whistles. Afterward, he defended the U.S., saying no prior administration or foreign country had done as much on the issue. "The U.S. can't do it alone," he said, noting that current U.S. spending for AIDS overseas is about $1 billion, including research.

Mr. Thompson said expenditures would rise, with the administration seeking to spend another $300 million next year, though that increase has yet to be approved. "I think we can probably get to $2.5 billion by 2005," he said, but only if the administration sees "results."

The $2.5 billion figure is the target that many advocates have urged for the U.S. Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs, speaking here, said the U.S. actually should be spending $3.5 billion in 2003 on the fight against AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, including $2.5 billion to the United Nation's Global Fund alone. "Massive confusion by the world's most important donor" is how Mr. Sachs described U.S. efforts to fight AIDS, and he also criticized U.N. agencies.

"We will meet the objectives of the protesters," Mr. Thompson said, "but not the way they want." A few hours after the protest, he met with about 10 U.S. activists. One of those at the meeting said he seemed "pretty sympathetic."

Still, the secretary's vision for combating AIDS differs from what activists and many developing nations are demanding. Most notably, he defended patent protection for medicines, even in poor countries that might be able to buy generic versions of the same drug for far less. He also stood firm against using federal funding for needle-exchange programs, even though his top scientist, Anthony Fauci, said scientific evidence shows that such programs slow the spread of HIV without promoting drug use.

While Mr. Thompson said "morality" and abstinence are key to preventing the spread of the virus, he also said that condom use is included in federal programs abroad. He expressed concern about the high rate of HIV among young African-American gay men and the fact that most of those who carry the virus don't know it. He said he has asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to mobilize a large outreach program to encourage black gay men to get tested and to reduce racial health disparities generally.

But mostly, he highlighted the administration's new, $500 million initiative to prevent HIV-positive pregnant mothers from infecting their babies in 12 African nations and the Caribbean. Activists charged that this program is too narrow, because it doesn't offer immediate treatment to the mother and father, and so could create legions of orphans. But the secretary countered that the program will be a springboard for just that kind of comprehensive treatment, though he gave few specifics and no timetable.

The last U.S. secretary of health to attend an AIDS conference, Louis Sullivan, was also booed and taunted by activists in San Francisco in 1990. Dr. Sullivan, sitting in the front row and speaking over the bedlam, characterized the protest as "mindless advocacy." Mr. Thompson, on the other hand, seemed to be trying to turn the protest to his political advantage. "No other secretary [of health] has had the courage to come back since then," he said.

After Mr. Thompson left the stage and still-chaotic crowd, Global Fund director Richard Feacham took the podium, calling for massive infusions of cash for the fund and vowing to account strictly for the money.

Some Bush administration officials are using a classified intelligence report to bolster the case for more funding, according to a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity. The study, prepared by the National Intelligence Council, which reports to the head of the Central Intelligence Agency, predicts an avalanche of infections in some of the world's largest and most strategically important countries, especially China, India and Russia. The council, stressing the potential political instability the epidemic could bring, forecasts 50 million to 75 million HIV infections in those countries alone by 2010, numbers even grimmer than those put forth by U.N. agencies. -- Michael M. Phillips contributed to this article.

Although the Shouting Down of HHS Sec.Tommy Thompson at last week's moribund Barcelona AIDS Conference certainly LOOKED like an ACT UP action, the community outreach and whistles were initiated by GMHC. [ I DO love to give credit where deserved...but admittedly, some people should never be given whistles.]

HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson held a press conference after the Barcelona AIDS Conference GMHC Zap
[transcription at: http://www.kff.org/aids2002/transcript/transcript_webcast_09_h.html The Prepared Remarks (.pdf) of Secretary Thompson's Barcelona presentation that was drowned-out by the GMHC Zap can be found at: http://www.kaisernetwork.org/aids2002/docs/ThompsonRemarks.pdf

The last time AIDS activists shouted down a "high level" political bureaucrat at an International Conference WAS done by ACT UP at the 1990 San Francisco International AIDS Conference where HHS Sec.Louis Sullivan was also shouted down. [Conservatives are so touchy...once every 12 years shouldn't be too big a cross for them to bare.]

The following was Dean Lance's response to news writer Mark Schoofs' "opinion." in his Village Voice article about ACT UP's 10th anniversary, which called the Shouting down of HHS Secretary Louis Sullivan at the 1990 San Francisco International AIDS Conference a "tactical error". 

Dear Mark Schoofs,

RE: The Sixth International Conference on AIDS, San Francisco 1990

I beg to differ. I was there when Louis Sullivan spoke, shooting video for DIVA TV. I had spoken with researchers, delegates, PWAs, et al throughout the week and had my finger on the pulse (as an activist and media person) as per the sentiments of those attending.

You seem to have forgotten the boycott of that conference over the Helms legislation denying HIV+ people entry into the country. People who were delegates were detained at customs by INS and thrown into detention when AZT was found in their luggage.

Many of the delegates including the organizers of the conference wore red armbands protesting the Bush Administration's refusal to veto the legislation. Waivers were granted, but many organizations (not to mention FRANCE!) refused to participate because of this.

At the plenary session (where it is customary for the head of state to make the opening address), George Bush couldn't be there. He chose instead to keep his "previous commitment", a fundraiser in North Carolina for Senator Helms, sending a member of his cabinet in his absence to represent the President (and to take the expected heat.)

Everyone knew well beforehand that Secretary Sullivan, in his capacity as the shill (and sacrificial lamb) for the administration, was not going to have his speech heard. In fact, most of the delegates - by their own admissions - were looking forward to the anticipated obfuscation of his speech at the closing session. ACT UP placed a fact sheet on each of the 12,000 seats at the Moscone Center before the session commenced explaining why Louis Sullivan's speech was being drowned out.

For those who cared what he had to say (and they were few and far between as most of the delegates realized it was going to be mere lip service - face-saving rhetorical apologist bullshit), copies of the speech were given out in advance. So his performance was all that was blocked, not the "empowerment of information" he had to disseminate for which you accused ACT UP of being censorious.

Two nights before, when Aldyn McKean debated Dr. Sullivan on "Nightline", the Secretary of Health and Human Services stipulated that they must be in separate rooms so he would not have to confront Mr. McKean head on, face-to-face. When the speech was given that Sunday morning, delegates could have heard it through headphones, though the majority of them turned their backs to the stage as he was making his address in an expression of their outrage over the Bush administration's discriminatory policies.

It was actually a joyous celebration. Not only for those who concurred with ACT UP, but a small victory for those who have toiled on any level for the benefit of people with AIDS .

If you doubt accuracy of my account, any number of the people you'd quoted in your article who were also there will back it up anecdotally, as does the unedited video footage from the event that is now part of the Testing the Limits archives. Mine included (some of which made it into "Voices from the Front.") [..and permanently ARCHIVED in the AIDS Activist Video Preservation Project at the New York Public Library --JW]

Thought you'd want to know. Sincerely, Dean Lance DIVA TV


The following HATE MAIL came to ACT UP/NY
after the Tommy Thompson Zap at the Barcelona AIDS Conference


Do you now,or did you ever think that in the ongoing stupidity of the human race,that instead of sreaming at politicians,homophobes,and everyone else you think is involved in some way of not coming up with a solution,that maybe,just maybe,the answer starts with the peaple spreading the disease? <vsmith2@hvc.rr.com>

Act-Up - have you ever heard of maybe, acting mature? Your arrogance knows no bounds. Let me educate you a little since you seem to fail to realize the truth: most Americans don't give a fuck about aids and never will. In fact, the more you idiots "act-up" like a bunch of assholes, the more you alienate your cause. To counter your irrational activism, I've recently started a grass-roots action group to end tax dollars expenditures on aids research. We have a petition signed by hundreds of citizens already and we are completely commited and totally motivated towards ending this total waste of our money. As far as I'm concerned, the more of you freaks that die from aids, the better off this world will be. Publius <publius02@hotmail.com>

Why should we give your organization any more money? You people who are irresponsible take funds away from Breast Cancer research. You are saying that Bush administration is killing people with aids. Why don't you homos who practice butt sex be more responsible and wear your rubbers, better yet, the only safe sex is no sex. You are the ones killing yourselves. In the Bible it talks against homosexuality, you should read it and get saved. Gail Sanderson <SGGS007@aol.com>

After reading the article:
My first impression was to tell your organization to go fuck itself. But before you give me the racist homophobic bullshit blowoff, I'd just like to let you in on an obvious fact. You guys are your own worst enemy and you will ultimately bring yourselves down. <barellic@hotmail.com>

You guys are fascist idiots and only hurt our cause. <sfosket@cox.net>

You know, I for one am sick and disgusted and tired of the homosexual community, period. You participate in risky behaviors and then, when you come down with AIDS you want the taxpayer to foot the bill for your illness. Here's a unique concept: Stop Fucking <lorene@fidnet.com>

While it is absolutely your right to demonstrate, I have just got to tell you that many of your organization's tactics "stink". Please don't classify this as "hate" mail...because it isn't. As a former NYer, I have been watching ACT UP act up in public for quite a while, and I often wonder what the response would be to a conservative group -young, loud, and hip- who used the same , some would say harrassment, methods to demonstrate abortion.... <renllua@attbi.com>

If you FAGS quit puttin' it up your INFECTED asses, aids would be under
control. More money??? HELL NO!!! You want to reduce aids in the US? drop a
fuckin' h-bomb on SF...........for starters.... Homo-sexual activity IS the
problem...I really dislike your kind and this organ-ization. <korcipa@hotmail.com>

Does it really prove anything to act like a bunch of unevolved cave men, when people are there and trying to help you?.What a bunch of moorons, in the good old days they would have shot ass hole groups like you on the white house lawn. What if you all lived in Egypt, would the Government take care of you any better, if you feel it would, then get the hell out of this country....The Old addage holds true, God helps those who help them selves....So quit blameing others for your downfalls, and quit expecting true Americans to bail your asses out.....But being the typical liberal lovers you are I doubt that will happen....give me give me give me.....when u should think , more like how can I help my self..... <wanhungdude@yahoo.com>

I listened to the news reports of your actions to silence Secretary Thompson at the AIDS confernece. Free speech is guaranteed in this country. Your should be ashamed of your behavior. Your malady is preventable, particularly in the developed world. It is a self induced problem. I will write my representatives to divert the US's 40% funding to the war on terrorism. I believe under that definition, you may become a target yourself. Robert Brown, Ed.D. <ultrarunner@msn.com>

In Light of todays development in Barcelona and your actions regarding Secretary Thompson, what can you tell me, a straight, right wing, Republican who nevertheless has compassion for all suffering people, that will cause me to take up your cause, keeping in mind that you will need me and millions like me to lobby congress in order to help YOUR CAUSE ? No matter what you do or say you guys ( Gays , Queers , People that think your OK ) are a minority and you need the rest of the country in order to help your cause , so will you keep aleniating us to the point that we say fuck it let them rot ; i dont want to do this but this is were all your attitude is leading me to , what can you say to convince me to be sympathetic to your cause ? <Landsart@aol.com>

You should be ashamed of yourselves. Taking resources from the whole of
humankind for your pitiful disease which has a cure. Taking research money
from diseases like cancer for a bunch of fools who can't keep their clothes
on, is perhaps the most abhorant manifestation of selfishness known to the
world today. Sincerely, Reality <Leescreen01@aol.com>

Hello - I read today that your organization took part in the protesting durring Tommy thompson's speach at the AIDS conference in Spain. The article said that Mark Milano from ACT-UP New York, and others,argued that "U.S. funding to fight AIDS remains inadequate." I would like to know why your organization wants me and other tax payers to pay for preventing and treating a disease that is 100% preventable through actions of those not infected. It doesn't cost anything to avoid AIDS through sexually transmitted avenues. The cost to better screen blood before blood transfusions would be minimal and I don't believe the tax payers should have to pay for it unless they use the services. I am very interested in your response and will share it with those I work with. Thanks for your time. -Chris minneapolis <cconnaker@hotmail.com>

I've been trying to be empathetic with your organization and the search for a cure for the AIDS virus. Your endorsement and/or condoning of the silencing of Secretary Thompson after being invited by the Barcelona Conference today has certainly gotten my attention. I will no longer ever consider supporting an organization which does not believe in free speech...you're killing yourselves! I'll now write my congressmen and tell them to take our 40% funding of the World's Aids fight and put it toward the War against Terrorism, which by the way, you may be added to that infamous list... Eric E. Spencer <TIMETRPR@aol.com>

I read a UPI story today about the demonstrations at the 14th International AIDS Conference and how Sec. Tommy Thompson was kept from making his speech. In particular I read with disgust the statement by Milano Mark from your organization: "He was going to tell lies and we shut him down." How mature. We don't like what someone has to say so we are going to act like children having a temper tantrum and shout them down. Very productive. I think the technical term is CENSORSHIP. As someone who is battling with HIV, I find your organization and its members totally reprehensible. You are nothing more than a bunch of ignorant anti-American radicals doing your best to destroy America. Do the country a favor and go get a real job. Those of us with HIV don't need you or ACT UP. I pray and work daily for the destruction of your organization. <mail@davidbrehan.com>

I just read an article about you crazy whackos and the way you treated our Commissioner of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson. Again you people show what you are really all about, and that is causing mayhem and trouble. What possible good can it do when you are complaning that the US should pay $10 billion to treat the AIDS crisis worldwide to spit in the face of the man who has a large role in getting the funds you are fighting for. Wouldn't it make more sense to listen and try to work together. By the way why is it the job of the US to pay for other countries problems? why is it all out job to take care of everyone else? do you have a sensible answer for this? I know you don't so don't even try. Your organization is a joke and your members are crazy finatical lunitics who will never do any good for anyone engaging in the tactis you use. So why don't you all get a life and try to help someone in your own neighboorhood and forget about some guy in Africa who refuses to use a condem. You are Pathetic, Jason C. B. <str8gop@hotmail.com>

Are you proud of the actions taken by your delegates in Spain? I think it is a disgrace to speak over a person, especially a person in a leadership position at a meeting of this nature. There are ways to get points across, but I really think you missed the boat on this one. JJ <jwagner_222@yahoo.com>

< end >

The following letter was sent by
Republican Congress members to Secretary Thompson
regarding the recently held International AIDS Conference:

July 17, 2002

Honorable Tommy G. Thompson
Secretary, Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20201

Dear Secretary Thompson,

The U.S. Congress and the Bush Administration are both set to significantly increase the U.S. resources committed to the fight against HIV/AIDS globally. We commend the Administration for its decision to make preventing mother-to-child HIV transmission a priority in this effort.

As you know, the U.S. spends more on global HIV/AIDS than any other nation. This year alone, we will spend $1 billion on global AIDS in addition to the money we will spend on research and development for treatments and vaccines from which the whole world will benefit. To date, the U.S. government has spent more than $100 billion in combating the epidemic

In addition to treatment, research, prevention efforts, and care, these funds support gatherings of scientists and advocates at conferences, such as the XIV International AIDS Conference held last week in Barcelona.

As the representative of the largest contributor to the global AIDS fight, we were very disappointed by the rude reception which prevented you from addressing this conference. We were also shocked to learn that the Vatican-which cares for one in four people receiving treatment for HIV infection globally-- was uninvited to the conference. None of the major speeches or lectures dealt with faith's role in the crisis. And the Associated Press reports that some of the conference's "seminars and workshops often became 'religion-bashing' sessions."

As you know from your own recent trip to Africa, it's often local churches and religious communities who are caring for orphans and taking care of those dying of AIDS. And the prevention programs which have incorporated religious leaders that promote sexual restraint to youngsters have played a significant part in reducing HIV infection rates in Uganda, Zimbabwe and other nations. Experts widely note that AIDS campaigns will be ignored without church backing in regions such as southern Africa which faces the world's highest HIV infection rates.

Clearly, organized religion is already and must continue to play an important part in the global response to HIV/AIDS.

The religious intolerance and outright disdain expressed by the conference organizers and many of the activists who attended should not be subsidized with U.S. taxpayer dollars. It is beyond disgraceful that those calling for tolerance and understanding of people living with HIV/AIDS would themselves act with such intolerance and discrimination toward you, the American taxpayers, and the religious institutions that are providing so much to care for those suffering from AIDS.

After all, while HIV/AIDS may not discriminate against people based upon gender or sexual identity, it likewise does not discriminate on the basis of religious or other beliefs and neither should our response or those we work with to address this dreadful pandemic.

We would like to know:
1. What was the total amount of U.S. federal assistance-both direct financial support and in kind donations-which went to the XIV International AIDS Conference?
2. How many individuals-from both the government and non-government organizations-- attended the conference with some form of federal assistance?
3. Please provide a complete list of these individuals including their affiliations.

Finally, we would request that unless the International AIDS Conference can guarantee the freedom of speech to U.S. representatives and discontinues it discrimination against those of religious faith-in particular the Catholic Church- that the U.S. withhold assistance to future conferences and redirect the funding to helping those living with HIV/AIDS-- either in the U.S. or abroad-- who can not afford treatment.


Robert Aderholt

Jim DeMint
South Carolina

Jim Ryun

Todd Tiahrt

John Sullivan

Mark Souder

Joe Pitts

John Shadegg

John Doolittle

Sue Myrick
North Carolina

Sam Johnson

Jo Ann Davis

Follow-ups in the News:

Barcelona Backlash
Gay City News
26 Jul Aug 1, 2002

Protests that drowned out a speech by U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tommy Thompson at the recent International AIDS Conference in Barcelona have led to demands by a dozen Republican members of Congress for an accounting of how much federal money was spent on the gathering.

In a July 17 letter to Thompson, the Republicans, led by Indiana Congressmember Mark Souder, demanded to know "the total amount of U.S. federal assistance--both direct financial support and in kind donations" that went to the Conference, and the number of "individuals--from both the government and non-government organizations--[who] attended... with some form of federal assistance."

The letter asked Thompson to provide "a complete list of these individuals including their affiliations."

While demanding information from Thompson, the letter's authors also voiced sympathy for the secretary: "We were very disappointed by the rude reception which prevented you from addressing this conference," and urged the U.S. to withhold future assistance to such meetings, unless they can "guarantee the freedom of speech to U.S. representatives."

Ronald Johnson, the associate executive director of Gay Men's Health Crisis, among the groups that protested Thompson's appearance at the Conference, also sees the issue as a matter of free speech--but not that of government officials, but rather of AIDS advocates.

In responding to the letter, Johnson said, "This is part of an ongoing effort to silence us, to quash progressive thinking and thought, and is intended as a threat to us."

"This proves that the bizarreness of the world knows no bounds," Johnson also said. "A letter from twelve Congressional representatives to the Secretary of Health and Human Services must be taken as a potential threat, as ludicrous as its contents were. Otherwise, we would just toss it into the loony bin where it belongs."

Johnson said GMHC and other AIDS organizations would monitor developments related to the letter if and when they occur. He speculated that even if HHS wanted to respond to the request for a full financial accounting it would be impossible. It would not be privy to a list of everyone who attended the conference, nor could it calculate whether any federal money given to a group sending representatives was traceable to the conference.

The letter from the congressmembers also claimed that the Vatican had been "uninvited" to the Conference, a point used as a springboard to attack organizers as being hostile to organized religion.

On this point, too, Johnson considered the letter absurd. He said anyone from the Vatican could have spent the $850 paid by other attendees and fully participated in Barcelona.

The HHS press office said Thompson had not yet made any public response to the letter.


Inside source says Thompson Staff is BALLISTIC [8/2/02]:

A "Deep Throat" has given disturbing information regarding the shut down of Thompson's speech in Barcelona.

Apparently, Thompson's Staff is very angry. So angry that Staff has demanded that they be provided with photographs of all participants at the demonstration. They are identifying people and the organizations with which they are affiliated, along with their funding sources.

The source for this information is terrified to lose his (or her) job. The impact will be likely considerable defunding of AIDS Service Organizations.

This is BEYOND witch hunting. This is WAY BEYOND McCarthyism.
If they do this, it will result in people dying.
This petty retruibution is of HORRIFYING proportions.

We DEMAND COMPLETE accountability of all THEIR actions!

The Bush administration represents at least as big if not a bigger threat to people living with HIV/AIDS as the pernicious greed of pharmaceutical companies blocking developing nations' access to generically-priced drugs.

read more:  download pdf paper


see latest media report >>>

HHS Studies Funding of AIDS Groups Protest at Speech Fueled Audit Request;
Activists Cite Fear of Retaliation

by David Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer, Monday, August 19, 2002; Page A01

The Department of Health and Human Services is reviewing the federal government's financial support of more than a dozen prominent AIDS service organizations whose members joined in a noisy demonstration against Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson at last month's international AIDS conference in Barcelona.

HHS officials said they launched the reviews at the request of 12 members of Congress, who also said they were upset by the absence of religious themes at the meeting. While it remains unclear what the outcome of the audits might be, their existence has produced a level of suspicion and mistrust between AIDS activists and government officials not seen in years.

Many of the targeted groups provide services to AIDS patients through government contracts at the same time they act as advocates for various causes. At best, they believe the inquiry threatens the role of protest in AIDS policymaking; at worst, they fear it might threaten their budgets.

"I've never heard rumors like this going around before," said Terje Anderson, executive director of the National Association of People With AIDS. "Groups that do advocacy and get public money are always concerned that there's an awkwardness in that situation. But I can't think of another time there's been talk of retaliation."

Robert Dabney, communications director for the National Minority AIDS Council, said his organization recently was asked by HHS's Health Resources and Services Administration to document spending at the Barcelona conference. The council receives $6 million a year from the federal government, which it uses to assist 400 AIDS organizations in the African American, Hispanic, Asian and Native American communities.

"The question we have to ask is what is the intent of this. Our fear is that audits will have a chilling effect on these organizations," he said.

Mark Harrington, executive director of Treatment Action Group, said he thinks that "all organizations are threatened" by the gathering of names and numbers, regardless of what's done with them. "Anybody who hears what's happened is going to think twice about signing another flier or planning another demonstration," he said.

HHS officials describe the congressional request for information on the groups' funding as routine and one that, in any case, the department is duty-bound to honor. Observers both inside and outside the department, however, say that some people at HHS are genuinely angry and are seeking to prevent what they view as disrespectful behavior in the future.

Thompson was heckled on the third day of the weeklong conference when he delivered a speech on the U.S. government's overseas AIDS activities. Protesters blew whistles, chanted "Shame, Shame," rhythmically jabbed their fingers and eventually surrounded Thompson on the stage. He read his address to the end but his remarks were entirely inaudible. Handouts in both English and Spanish criticized the government for not spending enough on care and treatment of people infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in poor countries. At the bottom of the flier was a list of 12 organizations.

On July 17, five days after the end of the conference, a letter signed by 12 members of Congress asked Thompson to provide "the total amount of U.S. federal assistance" that went to the AIDS conference. It also asked: "How many individuals -- from both the government and non-government organizations -- attended the conference with some form of federal assistance? Please provide a complete list of these individuals and their affiliations."

One of the signers was Rep. Mark Edward Souder (R-Ind.). On the same day the letter was written, Roland Foster, a staff member for the House Government Reform subcommittee on criminal justice, drug policy and human resources, which Souder chairs, sent an e-mail message to someone in HHS's legislative affairs office.

"Can you determine the current fed funding levels if any received by the following organizations that led the demonstration that shut down Secretary Thompson during his address last week?" the message asked, naming Gay Men's Health Crisis, AIDS Project Los Angeles, AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition and Treatment Action Group. Six days later, Foster sent another message expanding the list to 16 AIDS community groups.

Claude A. Allen, deputy secretary of HHS, said the department "is working feverishly" to obtain the requested information, which is held by dozens of offices and involves both cash and in-kind contributions. He said he doesn't know what use, if any, will be made of the information.

"It doesn't behoove us to want to engage in a witch hunt," Allen said. "This is not Secretary Thompson's style. We work with both our supporters and our detractors. We know that when you're engaged in highly significant issues that affect life and death, you're going to have differences of opinion."

None of the congressmen could be reached for comment last week. A staffer for one, however, said: "I doubt that there is any real plan to do anything with the information. Right now these members just want to expose any abuses that may exist. Sometimes sunlight is the best disinfectant."

In the letter, the legislators complained mainly about what they viewed as a slighting of religion in Barcelona. They noted there were no major speeches on "faith's role in the crisis," and asserted that the Vatican "was uninvited" to the conference.

"The religious intolerance and outright disdain expressed by the conference organizers and many of the activists who attended should not be subsidized with U.S. taxpayer dollars," they wrote. "It is beyond disgraceful that those calling for tolerance and understanding of people living with HIV/AIDS would themselves act with such intolerance and discrimination toward you."

They concluded by saying "we would request that unless the International AIDS Conference can guarantee the freedom of speech to U.S. representatives and discontinues its discrimination against those of religious faith" that financial support for future meetings be diverted directly into care of AIDS patients.

There were several research poster presentations on the role of faith in AIDS treatment, and a three-hour "skills-building workshop" for faith-based organizations. In general, though, religion played a minor role, as it did in previous meetings.

Jordi Casabona, a Spanish epidemiologist and one of the conference co-chairmen, said the Vatican was not in any way "uninvited" and was free to send delegates. The only people not allowed to attend the meeting were those actively advocating the view that HIV does not cause AIDS.

Casabona also said that while he believes the protesters should have let Thompson speak eventually, he doesn't support forcing such an action.

"I think it is possible to agree that if someone destroys property or does physical violence, then something must be done," he said. "But I'm afraid it is impossible to agree what level of response you should have for people who just yell. I think most people would agree that a physical intervention [to stop them] would be much worse."

Allen, the HHS deputy secretary, said protesting groups "need to recognize that Congress is watching what we do. Therefore, they need to think twice before preventing a Cabinet-level official from bringing a message of hope to an international forum. We certainly hope we don't have to have Congress mandate that we not participate."

The heckling of Thompson was especially dramatic because it occurred in a movie-theater-sized space and went on for half an hour. (The Spanish health minister was heckled into inaudibility at the conference's opening ceremony, but that protest took place in a cavernous sports arena and lasted only 10 minutes.) Nevertheless, the quasi-ritualized nature of the protest was evident in what happened in the hours after it.

Afterward, one group of protesters held a scheduled news conference in the media center to explain their action. About a dozen activists, including numerous hecklers, met with Thompson in a previously scheduled meeting at his hotel.

According to several people there, the secretary was told that the protesters' vehemence was not directed at him personally. Anthony S. Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a key Thompson adviser, mentioned that Larry Kramer, a founder of ACT-UP, used to call him a "murderer" but was now his friend. An hour-long discussion of AIDS policy ensued.

"I think all the participants were pleased with the overall tone of the meeting," said Ronald Johnson, associate executive director of Gay Men's Health Crisis, which receives about $2 million in federal money per year, mostly through the Ryan White CARE Act, which supports treatment of HIV-infected patients. "We were pleased to hear his responses, and I think we had a good dialogue." The group subsequently wrote Thompson a letter thanking him and asking to meet again soon.

The Washington Post, August 19, 2002

Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints on national and international issues under-reported in mainstream media
July 22, 2002

International AIDS Conference in Barcelona Proposes Strategies for Prevention and Treatment,
But Lack of Funds Prevents Implementation

Click here to listen: .. Needs RealPlayer

Interview with Julie Davids, director of ACT-UP Philadelphia, by Scott Harris

As the AIDS epidemic continues to spread around the world, more than 17,000 people engaged in battling the disease gathered in Barcelona, Spain for the 14th International AIDS Conference in July. Among the critical issues discussed there by doctors, researchers, activists and government officials was the urgent need to develop more effective prevention programs and making life-saving drugs available to treat millions of those infected in impoverished nations.

Since the first cases of AIDS appeared in 1981, more than 20 million people have died from the disease. But most of the 40 million people who are currently living with the HIV virus will die without receiving specialized drugs now effectively used in the world's wealthy countries. Both former South African President Nelson Mandela and former U.S. President Bill Clinton addressed the conference. In a rare admission, Mr. Clinton stated in an interview at the conference that he regretted not doing more to control the spread of AIDS while he was in the White House.

Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Julie Davids, director of the Philadelphia chapter of ACT-UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power and member of the HealthGAP Coalition, who attended the Barcelona Conference. She examines some of the critical issues discussed at the gathering and describes a protest against Bush administration policies directed at Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson who tried to speak to those meeting in Barcelona.

Julie Davids: Tommy Thompson, who was scheduled to speak as part of a panel of leaders was the first speaker and he was shouted down. Activists took the stage, took the microphone and would not let him speak. (Activists) had whistles in the audience and made it impossible. He delivered his speech, but as some papers reported, the only people that could hear him were the security guards flanking him.

I think it's important to recognize that this has happened before. About 10 years ago in San Francisco, Louis Sullivan, who was the Health and Human Services secretary under Reagan, was also booed down and not allowed to speak at that conference. I think it shows that both in the United States and internationally, people have had enough of the excuses of the United States. Thompson had the audacity to come to the conference not apologetic, not saying we can do more, but to actually try to assert that the United States has done more than any other country in the fight against global AIDS. And people just wouldn't let it stand.

One of the most amazing things that happened was that after the protesters left the stage many people in the audience gave them a standing ovation. I think it spoke to the widespread support for this action, the frustration that people feel not only with the neglect of the U.S. government towards the crisis, but the active work of the U.S. government to stand in the way of solutions that are broadly endorsed for combatting global AIDS.

In addition, domestically the U.S. government continues to refuse to fund needle exchange and the Bush administration is pushing abstinence-only measures. And in fact in the United States we have people who can't get anti-HIV treatment. There's about 10 percent of people who need U.S. support for AIDS drugs that can't them in any other way, are not able to get them at this time because the AIDS drug assistance program is so underfunded.

Between The Lines: I wonder if we could turn our attention to some of the core issues that were discussed at the Barcelona conference, among them: getting affordable life-saving medicines to treat people with HIV and AIDS living in impoverished, developing nations where there currently is no access. Certainly the role of drug companies and the role of profits and patents has come under the scrutiny of many activists around the world.

Julie Davids: That's right. I think what we saw at that conference in Barcelona was that treatment can happen and that a major obstacle remaining is price. And if we look at the supposed best efforts of the multinational drug companies to lower their prices, it's still about six times as expensive as generically produced medication.

And so the U.S. government and other G8 countries are still trying to push patent regulations to limit access to generically produced drugs. In addition to it being misguided, I think we need to recognize that there's a real practicality of having drugs not bound by patents. There's a generic manufacturer in India that's producing three AIDS medications in one pill that you'll never see in the United States because there's three different companies that own the patents in the U.S. So (the Indian manufacturers) actually make HIV treatment easier. The patents even in wealthy countries are standing in the way.

Between The Lines: Julie, could you tell us the status of the global AIDS pandemic? Because the AIDS epidemic has received a lot less attention in recent years, waning attention from the nation's news media, it certainly has resulted in things you were just touching upon: the lack of political support to make funds available for those suffering throughout the world with this disease that can be treated but isn't because of lack of funds, patent complications and the rest. But maybe you could give us your overall assessment of where the AIDS pandemic is.

Julie Davids: Where it is, is worse than anyone thought it was going to be, honestly. Even the gloom-and-doom predictions of UNAIDS, which is a U.N. group tracking global AIDS from 10 years ago, were off the mark. It's worse than people thought it would be. Whether you look at Africa, where in some nations one in four people is infected and that's from all walks of life -- from children, to teachers, to truck drivers, to the globe-trotting elite, we're looking at these outrageous levels of infection -- to newer epidemics in Russia and the former states of the Soviet Union, where injection drug use has spread the epidemic into the millions just over the last five years. Or in China, where it's been very hard to have the government give any honest assessment of HIV-AIDS, but it's believed that there's an out-of-control epidemic not just from tainting of the blood supply, but from drug use from sex work and other things of an economic nature.

I think what we see is the global epidemic continues to track along the lines of social disruption, along lines of poverty, along lines of war and gender inequality to shine like a beacon on the increasing problems across the globe, and unfortunately, it's getting much, much worse.


Jeers drown out speech of U.S. delegate to AIDS conference
Lawrence K. Altman, The New York Times Wednesday, July 10, 2002

BARCELONA The U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson, was drowned out Tuesday by jeering protesters who prevented an audience from hearing his address to the 14th International AIDS Conference.

As Thompson, the head of the U.S. delegation to the conference, began his speech, advocates approached the stage, blew whistles and jeered. Thompson then stopped talking until the demonstrators retreated up the aisle of a main conference hall.

Thompson, surrounded by security agents, resumed speaking. But the protesters began jeering again, calling on the Bush administration to support safer sex and needle exchange programs, provide more funding for AIDS drugs and giving billions more to the Global AIDS Fund.

A resolute Thompson then read his talk, but the noise prevented the audience from hearing his words.

It was a day of protests seldom seen since the early years of the AIDS epidemic when advocates chained themselves to doors of drug companies, squirted red fluid at scientists, and heckled political leaders. In 1990, heckling prevented participants at the International AIDS Conference in San Francisco from hearing Dr. Louis Sullivan, who was Secretary of Health and Human Services in former President George Bush's administration and who was attending this conference.

On Tuesday, the protesters led a pharmaceutical company, Gilead, to close its large exhibit where many among the 17,000 conference participants stopped for a free cup of coffee.

At this conference, international AIDS leaders like Dr. Peter Piot, an assistant director general of the United Nations and head of its AIDS program, have been urging the public to demand greater accountability from their governments for not doing more to stop the epidemic. On Sunday, Dr. Ronald Valdiserri, a senior AIDS official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a federal agency, called on Americans "to revive the passion with which the U.S. once faced the HIV epidemic."

But Dr. Piot was among the leaders who immediately criticized the protesters for the rudeness of their demonstrations in not allowing the audience to hear Thompson discuss Bush administration policies.

Dr. Piot, who was a political activist in his youth, said in an interview that he supported the concept of protests "but only after someone has had a chance to speak, and there's no way one can judge what Thompson wanted to say."

Then at a news conference shortly after the demonstrations ended, a leading American economist, Dr. Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University, criticized the Bush administration for causing widespread confusion in its failure to issue a plan to battle AIDS.

Gregg Gonsalves, of the Gay Men's Health Crisis in New York City and a spokesman for the protesters, said that they represented 12 groups in the United States.

They said they were demouncing as "hollow" Thompson's statements made in Barcelona on Sunday that the Bush administration was committed to reducing HIV incidence among American youth by 50 percent by 2010; redressing racial and ethnic disparities fueling the epidemic in the United States; and providing sufficient support for domestic and international programs to reverse the epidemic.

The protesters said that instead the Bush administration was "attacking science-based prevention programs that talk frankly about sex and supporting abstinence-only prevention programs." The protesters criticized the Bush administration for refusing to support needle exchange programs despite ample scientific evidence that they can reduce the spread of HIV and not increase drug use.

Another charge was that the administration was denying 10,000 Americans with AIDS access to drug treatment because it did not fully fund the U.S. AIDS Drug Assistance Program.

Still another charge was that the administration was reducing the U.S. donation to the Global Fund for AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis to $200 million from $500 million "and restricting that donation to the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV only."

Thompson criticized the protesters "for being close minded." In a telephone interview from his car as he left the conference center after the protests, Thompson said that he was "sorry that the militants had to rush the stage instead of listening, but that is their prerogative."

In a prepared text of his speech, Thompson said that the government had doubled its international funding in 18 months.

"No administration in any nation has ever made fighting HIV-AIDS as high a priority as the United States under this administration," Thompson said.

The U.S. has pledged $500 million, more than any other nation, Thompson said, in urging other countries need to contribute more.

[COMMENT: This pathetic lie of Thompson's ignores that this $500 million is spread out over a few years, represents a cut from what even that right wing zealot Jesse Helms was requesting and overall reflects a tiny percentage of what the richest nation in the world SHOULD be offering to address the worst pandemic in human history. The United States could EASILY invest the entire $10 billion that could help build infrastructure, improve health access and develop prevention and treatment programs that may avert the destruction of economies throughout Africa and Asia.]

An afternoon plenary featuring Tommy Thompson turned into a visible display of the United State´s inaction on global AIDS. As Thompson prepared to speak, approximately 30 AIDS activits marched down the aisles chanting "Shame! Shame¨ using whistles and signs as props. Many other audience members joined in the whistling and the chanting.The activists predominately from ACT UP marched on stage and formed a line across blocking view of Tommy Thompson. Mark Milano of ACT UP NY used a bullhorn to scream his demands on the United States. A call for the US to join with activists and the WHO to put 3 million people on treatment by 2005, to stop preventing other countries from trying to produce generics, domestic issues including ADAP and abstinence only until marriage programs. Many people in the audience joined in solidarity, standing up and shouting and chanting along with ACT UP. Africans and Latin Americans joined in solidarity with American activists calling out Thompson´s murderous policies. Chants included, "Where´s the 10 billion?" "Clean Needles Now!" ¨Money for AIDS, not for war, fund the global Fund!¨

A group of Latin Americans chanted "Viva ACT UP" throughout the program.

After listing the deamns, ACT UP protestors marched down the aisles to leave the auditorium. As Thompson resumed his speech, remaining audience members booed and whistled resulting in ACT UP members returning chanting ¨NO more lies!¨ Thompson continued to give his speech although could not be heard. Thompson was silenced.

The media loved it all, there were at least 8 film cameras and 20 still cameras.

The entire action lasted about a half an hour. As Thompson left, three rows of HHS members stood to clap but could not be heard amidst the audience booing and whistles. The audience clapped in support as ACT UP left the room.


use back button on browser to return


back to> Barcelona AIDS Conference Reports > > >


back to ACT UP Home Page