The Clinton Administration's "Dent" on AIDS - A Declassification Project

College of DuPage - Geography Department

Introduction: $1 billion a year

The Export-Import Bank, a small government agency responsible for helping stimulate US exports, made a big splash on July 19,2000. Chairman James A. Harmon had just announced a $1 billion per year program to help fight AIDS in sub_Saharan Africa. Harmon, speaking on September 7, said the program "reflects the deep commitment of President Clinton and our nation to a brighter future for sub-Saharan Africa."

Yet there is an untold history surrounding this billion-dollar initiative, and surprising results (well, not for the critics at least). This page provides insight into the Ex-Im Bank program, and US government actions leading up to the program's announcement. Much of the material on this page was released as part of Freedom of Information Act Request 20060011.

Document Collection

News Release - Export-Import Bank, 19 July 2000. In a touching note, this press release says "The Ex-Im Bank initiative is aimed at combating a plague that so far has left more than 13 million children of the region without mothers or both parents and, under current conditions, will kill more than one-third of all young adults in hard-hit countries." Ex-Im Chairman James Harmon is quoted (ominously) as stating, "We are a trade agency, not an aid agency." Ex-Im "will cooperated with several U.S. pharmaceutical manufacturers - those include Merck& Co., Glaxo Wellcome, Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and F. Homman-La Roche..." (original emphasis).

  • The press conference on July 19 was attended by numerous reporters from CNN, ABC, Financial Times, and by numerous ambassadors. Ex-Im provided a list of attendees (source: Freedom of Information Act release 20060011 to Keith Yearman, 3 January 2006).
  • Dr. Jeffrey L. Sturchio, Merck's Executive Director of Public Affairs for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, issued a statement on July 19, 2000. In it he writes, "The Ex-Im Bank's new initiative will certainly help African countries to respond to the epidemic in a more sustained fashion, by making it possible to marshal additional resources for needed programs. It's not just about sending drugs to Africa - that's just one piece of a complex puzzle. The ExIm Bank's new fund will help countries in sub-Saharan Africa to address an equally important piece of that puzzle - finding sustainable financing for the public health programs they know they need to fight back against HIV" (source: Freedom of Information Act release 20060011 to Keith Yearman, 3 January 2006).
  • Statement by His Execelency (sic) the Ambassador of the Republic of Ghana, Koby A. Koomson, July 19, 2000. Koomson, in attendance at the press conference, offered a statement somewhat skeptical of the Ex-Im program. While "I appreciate Ex-Im Bank's effort to do its part by providing financing for HIV/AIDS-related goods and services...the other crucial part of this effort is the cost of these pharmaceuticals...It is my hope that the companies represented here will look at ways to make these products even more affordable to the people of Africa..." (source: Freedom of Information Act release 20060011 to Keith Yearman, 3 January 2006).
  • Statement by James Harmon, Chairman of Ex-Im Bank, July 19, 2000. In this statement, Harmon truthfully describes the devastation of AIDS. "AIDS in Africa now kills ten times more people a year than war. More than 290 million Africans - more than the entire U.S. population - live on $1 a day. Market prices for these drugs are not an option. Yet in these countries mose affected, AIDS is set to claim the lives of half the 15-year-old children." He states the program will offer financing for AIDS-related pharmaceuticals and supplies "at the lowest prices and on the friendliest terms possible under the authority of this Bank. Under this program, major U.S. drug companies will offer their products at a deep discount, and Ex-Im Bank will finance their export with five-year loans, minimizing the overall cost of these medicines to the region." You might recall the press release, however, in which Harmon stated "We are a trade agency, not an aid agency" (source: Freedom of Information Act release 20060011 to Keith Yearman, 3 January 2006).

Letter from Raymond V. Gilmartin, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, Merck & Co. to James A. Harmon. 25 July 2000. In this letter, Gilmartin lauds Harmon "on the bold and creative finance $1 billion per year in exports of medical supplies, medicines, and services to help countries in sub-Saharan Africa in their fight against HIV/AIDS...I remember our initial conversation at Davos on this subject..." Harmon and Gilmartin had a later meeting at Merck's headquarters in Whitehouse Station, New Jersey. Additionally, Gloria Cabe (an Ex-Im employee) was apparently in regular contact with two Merck employees (Linda Distlerath and Jeffrey Sturchio) in planning the program (source: Freedom of Information Act release 20060011 to Keith Yearman, 3 January 2006).










This page last updated 2 January 2006. Maintained by Keith Yearman, Assistant Professor of Geography.

The Financial Details of Ex-Im's HIV/AIDS Program

I sent an e-mail to Ex-Im January 10, 2005, seeking the status of the AIDS initiative (how many nations had taken us up on the loan offer, how much money was lent out, how much had been repaid, etc. I received a reply, apparently from Jason Nagy, which was blatantly honest about the program. Ex-Im signed agreements with "a couple of governments," and authorized its first transaction with Nigeria in 2002. "The transaction has not yet moved forward," Nagy wrote. Why? "Ex-Im Bank provides non-concessionary financing, and because of this governments in Africa are finding cheaper money or direct aid for their HIV/AIDS programs."

A Billion Dollars of Nothing?

You read Nagy's e-mail correctly. Out of the billion dollars for AIDS medicines, the Ex-Im Bank lent out a grand total of - $0.00. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

So why was this program created if it wasn't going to lend any money? It seems unlikely that the honchos over at Ex-Im didn't know the nations of Africa could find cheaper money (and remember Harmon's comment, "We are a trade agency, not an aid agency").

"Loans to Buy AIDS Drugs Are Rejected by Africans," New York Times, 22 August 2000.

This New York Times article quotes Marsha Berry, an Ex-Im spokeswoman, stating, "These are poor countries and should they be taking on more debt? That's a very valid question...We have not got anyone to sign on the line yet...

If they knew the money wouldn't be lent, why proceed with the program?

Critics might suggest it has to do with the US government's assault on Argentina several years before: (Greg Palast, "Africans Find U.S. Put Catch-22 In Deal For Cheap AIDS Drugs."

"The Observer came into possession of a 12-page document from Argentina. It appears to have originated in the Office of the United States Trade Representative in Geneva (which does not deny the document's authenticity). The official missive threatens Argentina for opening its borders to the drugs trade -- not the fun stuff, but sales of legal, licensed medicines. If Argentina does not end its commitment to free cross-border trade in pharmaceuticals, said the U.S. Trade Rep, America would keep the nation on the "Section 301 Watch List," a kind of Death Row for trading partners."

After the Argentine showdown (or shutdown, as you will), AIDS activists began repeated protests at Al Gore's campaign stops. "They forced the issue onto the national political stage and into the national media in June, when they interrupted Al Gore's announcement that he was running for president. Chanting 'Gore's Greed Kills' and "AIDS drugs for Africa,' the protesters dogged Gore at various other public events for a three-month period." Multinational Monitor, "AIDS Drugs for Africa."