Eric Ambler

Chris Brady cdbrady at
Mon Aug 19 09:52:15 MDT 2002

Martin, I thought I'd pass along an article by John le Carre to shed
some light on why a New York Times columnist might describe him as
leftist (as they seem to characterize anyone with a hint of a

Le Carre “sickened” by Crimes of unbridled Capitalism

The Vancouver Sun, December 16, 2000

John le Carre's latest novel, The Constant Gardener, begins with the
murder of Tessa Quayle, the wife of a British diplomat in Nairobi, who
fell foul of a pharmaceutical giant. She was about to expose the cynical
use of Africans as guinea pigs. She died.

Here, in an interview with The Spectator offered to The Vancouver Sun,
the author explains why he is enraged at the behaviour of multinational
drugs companies, and why, as he puts in the novel's postscript, "by
comparison with the reality, my novel was as tame as a holiday

By John le Carre :

[Undated] - From my very first book to this one, my central characters -
whether we're talking about George Smiley or Justin Quayle in The
Constant Gardener - have been forced to ask themselves what they owe to
Caesar and what they owe to their consciences. Or so it seems to me now,
with the bland assurance of hindsight. In The Constant Gardener the
search for a solution reaches its summation. I seem to have written'
what the Germans would call a Bildungsroman - a novel of searching and
growing up. And the recipient of that education, and ultimately its
victim, is Justin Quayle, where in some earlier books it might have been
George Smiley.

Times have changed since the Cold War but not half as much as we might
like to think. The Cold War provided the perfect excuse for Western
governments to plunder and exploit the Third World in the name of
freedom, to rig its elections, bribe its politicians, appoint its
tyrants, and, by every sophisticated means of persuasion and
interference, stunt the emergence of young democracies in the name of
democracy. Which is why many influential people in the United States,
and in Russia too, would like nothing better than to put the clock back.
Bush versus Putin? They'd love it. So would Wall Street. No more damned
ecologists to worry about: this is war. And no more arms control. Let's
go for it. And while they did this - whether in South-east Asia, Central
and South America, or Africa - a ludicrous notion took root that we are
saddled with to this day. It is a notion beloved of conservatives and,
in my country, New Labour alike. It makes Siamese twins of Tony Blair,
Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and that
rich liberal Oil Boy supposedly converted to conservation, Al Gore. It
holds to its bosom the conviction that, whatever profit-driven
corporations do in the short term, they are ultimately motivated by
ethical concerns, and their influence upon the world is therefore
beneficial - and so God help us all.

In the name of this deluded theory, we look on, apparently helpless,
while rainforests are wrecked to the tune of millions of square miles
every year, native agricultural communities are systematically deprived
of their livelihoods, uprooted and made homeless, protesters are hanged
and shot, the loveliest corners of the globe are invaded and desecrated,
and tropical paradises are turned into rotting wastelands with
sprawling, disease-ridden mega-cities at their centre.

And of all these crimes of unbridled capitalism - some of them, like the
present oil war in central Sudan, bordering on genocide - it seemed to
me, as I began to cast round for a story to illustrate the argument,
that the pharmaceutical industry offered me the most eloquent example. I
might have gone for the scandal of spiked tobacco, deliberately designed
by Western manufacturers to cause addiction - and cancer - in
communities already plagued with AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and poverty
on a scale few of us can imagine. I might have gone for the oil
companies and the impunity with which Shell for instance triggered a
vast human disaster in Nigeria, displacing tribes, polluting their land
and causing an uprising that led to kangaroo courts and the shameful
torture and execution of very brave men.

But the pharmaceutical world, once I entered it, got me by the throat
and wouldn't let me go. It had everything: the hopes and dreams we have
of it; its vast, partly realized potential for good, and its pitch-dark
underside, sustained by corporate cant, hypocrisy, corruption and greed.
And it is not only the obvious sins that the pharma giants have to
answer for: the dumping of inappropriate or out-of-date medicines on
people they reckon won't know the difference; the arbitrary overpricing
of their products, underpinned by the draconian exercise of patent
rights. It is not the deliberate widening of a drug's specifications at
whatever cost to the patient in order to broaden its sales base - so
that, for instance, a drug that in Britain or the U.S. would be
prescribed only for extreme cancer pain is represented to Africans as a
simple headache cure. It is not even the suppression of
contra-indications and side-effects, and the repeated campaigns,
supported by the U.S. government, to halt the manufacture of generic
drugs by countries that can't afford inflated Western prices. When the
Thais wanted to manufacture their own generic drugs, for instance, the
U.S. state department threatened to impose sanctions on the import of
Thai timber.

No, it's bigger even than all that - and, in the long run, worse. The
pharmas, whether they know it or not, are engaged in the systematic
corruption of the medical profession, country by country.

Do we ever think to ask our GP, when he or she prescribes a drug for us,
whether he or she is being paid by the drug company to prescribe it? Of
course we don't. It's our child. Our wife. It's our heart or kidney or
prostate. And, thank God, most doctors have refused the bait. But others
have not, with the consequence, in the worst cases, that their medical
opinions are owned not by their patients but by their sponsors.

Do we ever ask our governments to tell us what cash payments and
benefits in kind are on offer to our doctors from the pharmaceutical
companies - the "seminars" and "training courses" in sunny holiday
resorts, with free travel for yourself and your partner, and
accommodation thrown in?

Do we ever ask our corner-street pharmacist when he hands us the latest
new-blue, all-conquering headache cure, why it costs six times as much
as a bottle of Aspirin, and what exactly it does that Aspirin can't do?
Mostly we are simply too diffident, too scared, too lazy, too polite.

Do we ever ask ourselves just why the pharmas have taken to direct
advertising, to us the public, over the heads of the medical profession?

Do we ever stop to wonder what happens to supposedly impartial academic
medical research when giant pharmaceutical companies donate whole
biotech buildings and endow professorships at the universities and
teaching hospitals where their products are tested and developed?

There has been a steady trickle of alarming cases in recent years where
inconvenient scientific findings have been suppressed or rewritten, and
those responsible for them hounded off their campuses with their
professional and personal reputations systematically trashed by the
machinations of public-relations agencies in the pay of the pharmas. In
The Constant Gardener I made an amalgam of these unfortunate cases and
called them Lara. She is a chemical research scientist in Canada -
hounded by the pharma giant that hired her, and by the academic
colleagues whose livelihoods, like hers, depend on its favour.

Multiply those concerns by tens and you begin to understand the
corrupting power of pharmaceutical companies when they operate in
emerging countries and can delegate huge slush funds to local "managers"
who know how to get a drug accepted by local officials and ministers.
Doubtless there are companies with clean records. There are even a few
genuine heroes among them. But they are not my subject. My subject - and
the subject of The Constant Gardener - is the dilemma of decent people
struggling against the ever-swelling tide of heedless corporate greed,
and our own complacency in letting the corporations get away with it -
even, at government level, helping them to do so in the joint names of
profit and full employment.

Perhaps we do indeed need a great new movement, an international,
humanitarian movement of decent men and women, that is not doctrinal,
not political, not polemical, but gathers up the best in all of us: a
Seattle demo without the broken glass.

The mainstream media, I decided as I went on my journey, have failed us
completely, here and in the United States. The subject is just too
damned uncomfortable to handle; too complicated, often deliberately, too
scientific for the layman. Many hacks who should know better have been
lunched, holidayed and bamboozled into silence. Fake nostrums are taken
as gospel. For every new drug that reaches the market, the spinners
assure us, $600 to $800 million have been spent in research and
development. Yet the companies' accounts, where they are visible, rarely
support these claims. And many compounds are acquired by pharmaceutical
companies after they have been partly developed at taxpayers' expense.

When we read that pharma giants have donated their products to the Third
World, we think: so that's all right then. But it isn't. For one thing,
the Third World doesn't want to live on free handouts, and least of all
of drugs that have been superseded in the West. For another, we're not
talking philanthropy but profit, business expediency and market

When a U.S. corporation donates medicines to the Third World, it gets a
tax break, rids itself of the cost of warehousing old stock, and saves
itself destruction costs. It also gets to look like a saint.

Above all - witness the "philanthropically donated" triple-therapy AIDS
cocktail that has yet, in reality, to be donated - their charity heads
off the local manufacture of generic drugs than which, in the eyes of
the donors, there is no greater evil. To call it enlightened altruism is
to do the pharmas a favour.


Book revisits Canadian pharmaceutical scandal

A character in John Le Carre's new novel is remarkably similar to a real

The plot in John Le Carre's new novel The Constant Gardener is based on
a Canadian pharmaceutical scandal.

-- One of the characters in The Constant Gardener is remarkably similar
to Dr. Nancy Olivieri, a Canadian hematologist and whistle-blower of a
drug controversy.

-- Like Olivieri, Le Carre's creation Lara Emrick conducted clinical
trials for a new wonder-drug.

-- In the fictional version, Emrick was testing a new tuberculosis drug
called Dypraxa, which she later discovers has lethal side-effects.

-- She blows the whistle on her bosses and suffers professional and
personal consequence.

-- "She lives only with the monstrosity of her case and its hopeless
insolubility," Le Carre writes.

-- Olivieri, a medical doctor at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children,
faced a similar fate after she was hired by the Canadian pharmaceutical
company Apotex in 1993 to conduct trials for a new drug for patients
with the inherited blood disorder thalassemia.

-- Olivieri was found by an independent review to have placed herself in
a conflict of interest when she signed a restrictive contract with
Apotex but nevertheless reported her findings.

-- Emrick was prevented from exposing negative findings because she,
too, signed a "wretched contract."

"I trusted them. I was a fool," the character says.

-- Both Olivieri and Emrick received anonymous and threatening letters
after they blew the whistle and in real life and in fiction, the writer
was exposed using DNA testing of saliva on the envelope or stamp.

-- In describing the tribulations of Emrick, Le Carre‚ wrote at the end
of the book, he drew on several cases:

"Particularly in the North American continent where highly qualified
medical researchers have dared to disagree with their pharmaceutical
paymasters and suffered vilification and persecution for their pains."

He added: "Nobody in this story, and no outfit or corporation, thank
God, is based upon any actual person or outfit in the real world."

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