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let-level agreements, and concerns were expressed about the quality of the infor-
mation which had been provided to obtain communities' consent. Wider objections
were raised regarding the commodiication of collectively owned knowledge, and
there were also concerns about the fairness of the tiny share of proits that the
Maya stood to receive collectively.
An acrimonious and very public debate ensued amid questions of proprietary
versus public knowledge, as well as issues concerning the legal and social legiti-
macy of local communities' control over their biological resources. Researchers,
NGOs and governments, as well as indigenous people, were all struggling to come
to terms with the risks and beneits of life after the CBD, and to position them-
selves in relation to the unfolding debates and conlicts. In 2000 SEMARNAP
denied the research permit application from the Maya ICBG on the basis that con-
sent had not been obtained at the appropriate community level. ECOSUR tried to
modify the project and include as a fourth member a widely representative indig-
enous organization which could conduct an appropriate informed consent pro-
cess. However, the highly charged situation was in danger of affecting ECOSUR's
other research efforts, as well as its role and inluence in developing national bio-
prospecting regulations. ECOSUR therefore withdrew from involvement with the
Maya ICBG in October 2001, on the grounds that conditions were not in place
in Mexico for the project to be seen as both legal and legitimate. Without a local
research partner, the funder terminated the project grant (Rosenthal 2006 : 124).
This case study shows that even the best intentions of researchers and funders
are not suficient for successful beneit sharing, in particular when representation
issues are not resolved and the legal situation is uncertain. The Chiapas case can
be seen as representing a crisis of transition: whereas researchers saw the CBD
as providing clear rules and a structured licence to operate, some NGOs criticized
it as 'the most sweeping biopiracy coup …, [which] legalized “recognition” of
national sovereignty over genetic resources' (Ribeiro 2005 : 49) (Tables 4.5 , 4.6 ).
The Maya ICBG remains deeply controversial. Events were signiicantly inlu-
enced by the involvement of international NGOs and other organized social net-
works, which exposed the general mistrust between Mexican institutions and the
indigenous people. The central role of NGOs, along with the dificulties caused
by a domestic legal and policy vacuum and disagreement over who constituted the
relevant communities, are all echoed in probably the most well-known beneit-
sharing case of them all - that of the San Hoodia .
Table 4.5 Time Line and Details of Chiapas Case
Five-year research project begins
National and international concerns irst expressed
Bioprospecting permit requested from SEMARNAP (later denied)
Mexican research partner withdraws
Funder withdraws grant and project is abandoned
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