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The Drug Company Next Door

The Drug Company Next Door: Pollution, Jobs, and Community Health in Puerto Rico

Alexa S. Dietrich
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 251
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  • Book Info
    The Drug Company Next Door
    Book Description:

    "This fascinating and most timely critical medical anthropology study successfully binds two still emergent areas of contemporary anthropological research in the global world: the nature and significant impact of multinational pharmaceutical manufacturers on human social life everywhere, and the contribution of corporations to the fast-paced degradation of our life support system, planet Earth. . . . Focusing on a pharmaceutically-impacted town on the colonized island of Puerto Rico, Dietrich ably demonstrates the value of ethnography carried out in small places in framing the large issues facing humanity." - Merrill Singer, University of Connecticut The production of pharmaceuticals is among the most profitable industries on the planet. Drug companies produce chemical substances that can save, extend, or substantially improve the quality of human life.However, even as the companies present themselves publicly as health and environmental stewards, their factories are a significant source of air and water pollution--toxic to people and the environment. In Puerto Rico, the pharmaceutical industry is the backbone of the island's economy: in one small town alone, there are over a dozen drug factories representing five multinationals, the highest concentration per capita of such factories in the world. It is a place where the enforcement of environmental regulations and the public trust they ensure are often violated in the name of economic development. The Drug Company Next Door unites the concerns of critical medical anthropology with those of political ecology, investigating the multi-faceted role of pharmaceutical corporations as polluters, economic providers, and social actors.Rather than simply demonizing the drug companies, the volume explores the dynamics involved in their interactions with the local community and discusses the strategies used by both individuals and community groups to deal with the consequences of pollution. The Drug Company Next Door puts a human face on a growing set of problems for communities around the world.Accessible and engaging, the book encourages readers to think critically about the role of corporations in everyday life, health, and culture.Alexa S. Dietrichis Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Wagner College.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-2464-4
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
    (pp. xix-xx)
  7. INTRODUCTION: Understanding Political Ecologies of Risk in Puerto Rico
    (pp. 1-17)

    The sun was disappearing and the crowd began to gather for the first night of the annual patron saint festival of Nocorá in Puerto Rico, as the air crackled with excitement and the potential for a thunderstorm. But while the locals clustered in groups around the wooden racing horse machines, boughtbacalaitos(codfish fritters) and beer, and waited for the live music to start, I had finally arranged an introduction to “the biggest environmentalist in Nocorá.” Don Lirio listened attentively as I described my interests, and then hastened to invite me to the next meeting of theComité para Defender...

  8. Little by Little
    (pp. 19-20)

    A few weeks after finding a place to live, I was chatting with my landlord, a shy man named Samuel, about 15 years my senior. He asked me how I liked Puerto Rico and how I was fitting in. “I like it a lot,” I told him, “though in some ways it’s different than where I’m from.”

    “Well, it’s very different from New York … even I know that,” he said with a grin. Samuel was born and raised in Nocorá, and his family still lived on a farm in Tipan. His mother worked at the local library, and sold...

  9. 1 The Dose Makes the Poison: How Making Drugs Harms Environments and People
    (pp. 21-47)

    Although it is a subject that most people would rather not think about, wastewater treatment is rapidly becoming a premiere global environmental problem.¹ On a tropical island like Puerto Rico the problem is only magnified, and this problem has been compounded by the increasing need to deal with the industrial waste that also enters the water system. Treatment and management of both domestic and industrial waste has improved in recent decades. Nevertheless, a number of Puerto Rican communities must bear the burden of the compromise made between the financial costs of waste management, and the human and environmental costs of...

  10. Progress
    (pp. 49-50)

    Benicia’s neighbor, Lucia, took it upon herself to explain the local political dynamic to me. “Estrello and I, we go way back, and so people always ask me about him. I’m not in his party. But I know him, and he’s always seen things the way he sees them. He’s always had a vision for the town.” She sighed. “The problem is, he’s stubborn, and he doesn’t let anyone say anything. He just does things his way. A lot of times he’s had ideas I can understand, but then he takes it too far.

    “Take the houses by the river....

  11. 2 In the Beginning Was the Corporation: Progress, Pollution, and the Public Trust
    (pp. 51-75)

    As Puerto Rico entered the twenty-first century, a number of scholars undertook the difficult task of analyzing the island’s economic struggles and recommending new pathways to development.¹ This is always a difficult task because traditionally the question of development has never been one solely of economic policy. It is necessarily the combined product of political, economic, and social policies, ultimately framing the health of individual bodies and the broader community. As a once-celebrated and then much-maligned development “project,” Puerto Rico in fact has a significant place in the scholarly literature on development.² Export-led industrialization practices, known as Operation Bootstrap, were...

  12. Playing Politics
    (pp. 77-78)

    I was uncharacteristically nervous that afternoon as I drove toward the beach for the regular monthly meeting of CDAN. Over the course of the year I had become an accepted and visible fixture at the meetings, something less than a full participant, but certainly more than a regular observer of their activities. The group’s leaders had insisted that I always sit near the table from which the vice president ran the meetings so I could hear well, but in a way it made my position seem more active, even to those who had placed me there. Today, however, I had...

  13. 3 The Rituals and Consequences of Community Politics and Dissent
    (pp. 79-105)

    The history of Nocorá, as in all of Puerto Rico, is replete with stories of decisions “made based on health, family economies, orbeliefs about modernity.”¹ Residents of Nocorá have long struggled to balance their own notions of modernity and progress, highly influenced as they are by both development ideologies and their own, often difficult, life experiences. The quote above is referring specifically to sterilization choices. However, the observation is broadly applicable to many decisions that influence both individual and community health. In the case of Nocorá, making choices about health was likely to mean choosing to be agnostic about...

  14. “Fresh Minds” on Parade
    (pp. 107-108)

    The day was notable for a few reasons, the most important of which (so I thought at the time) was that I met the head of EPA–Caribbean. It was a typically beautiful afternoon, and the many youth organizations were lining up around the block for the GUIA-sponsored parade. There were marching bands, boy scouts, and girls that looked like miniature beauty queens. I noticed that a number of school groups were with their teachers, and unlike many of the kids who just seemed happy to have a parade, the school groups carried posters and crafts representing particular environmental themes....

  15. 4 Environmental Justice Is Not Always Just
    (pp. 109-129)

    In late January 2005, I received a phone call: it was Don Reynaldo, a representative of the citizens groupComité para Defender el Ambiente Nocoreño(CDAN), requesting that I attend a hearing in San Juan. The judge, he informed me, was to hear arguments in a lawsuit that CDAN members had filed against the locally operated multinational pharmaceutical companies and the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA). Hopes were running high that the judge would finally declare the case a class action, and that a settlement of some kind would be forthcoming. I agreed to attend and to take...

  16. Good Neighbors (A Conversation)
    (pp. 131-134)

    The night was unusually cool and Julia and I were outside while Félix and a friend watched the Cotto boxing match on Pay-Per-View. She was catching me up on the latest drama with the couple across the street and on her further plans for decorating for Christmas. She paused to take a drag on her cigarette and then looked at me with a hesitant smile. “I hope if you write these things in your book you’ll change all the names.”

    I laughed, knowing my research didn’t generally include the kind of neighborhood gossip that anthropologists might call “open secrets” about...

  17. 5 The Pharmaceutical Industry and the Problem of “Stakeholders”
    (pp. 135-161)

    In the Puerto Rican context, corporate philanthropy, let alone Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), has emerged comparatively recently. In fact, CSR in the United States really took off as corporate philanthropy was just gaining traction on the island. While philanthropy can be a component of social responsibility, the underlying social relationships that are affected by philanthropy tend to be characterized by one-way obligations, and therefore inequality. The social relationships idealized in the CSR model are more characterized as partnerships. This competing set of narratives created some confusion even among those who wished to promote the significant social responsibility in business practices....

  18. “Salud te recomienda”
    (pp. 163-164)

    I met Benicia at her house and we walked to the park a few blocks away. “The program is sponsored by the Health Department,” she told me, “they are providing logistical support to encourage people to walk for their health.”

    We climbed into the bleachers with the rest of the crowd, about 25 people, mostly women, to receive our orientation materials. Included were a t-shirt and an inexpensive pedometer, donated by a pharmaceutical company (though not one with a factory in Nocorá). After listening to a general outline of the program, we lined up to climb on a scale and...

  19. 6 Radical Redistributions of Knowledge: A Holistic View of Environmental Health
    (pp. 165-181)

    In the evolving social relationships between corporate entities and local actors, complex forms of moral commitment and priorities continue to take shape.¹ For outside observers, these commitments frame what can look like contradictory policy decisions and alliances. In the case of Nocorá, government and corporate actors often dedicated resources to projects that were legitimately for the public good, while avoiding the deeper roots of health problems and economic stagnation. This chapter looks at some of the broader health and economic implications of the industry moving forward, and I analyze a number of examples in which the structural context makes it...

    (pp. 183-186)

    In the time following my fieldwork several important events changed, and may yet change, the everyday lives of Nocoreños. The Tipan court case was declared a class action and was settled for several million dollars, including substantial investments in infrastructure for the wastewater treatment plant, and the hiring of a professional monitor. In the context of such settlements the dollar amount was not actually that significant, and at most families in Tipan received a few thousand dollars. The majority of residents nevertheless accepted the settlement in the spirit of hoping that it would create long-term accountability for management of the...

    (pp. 187-188)
  22. NOTES
    (pp. 189-208)
    (pp. 209-224)
  24. INDEX
    (pp. 225-230)
    (pp. 231-231)