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U.S. apologizes to Guatemala for infecting prisoners with syphilis October 2, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Guatemala, Health, Human Rights, Latin America.
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(Roger’s note: an apology without compensation, SOP for the US.  I beg to differ with the article’s conclusion.  To the Obama government, nor any of its predecessors, it really does not matter how they treat other countries except when it suits their geopolitical interests.  By their own admission dozens of experimental abuses were carried on during this period.  Imagine the pain and suffering to indefensible innocents.  Today’s experimental abuses involve, among other things, using unmanned missiles to terrorize civilians in Pakistan and Afghanistan.  Interesting to note that the abuses were easier to carry off in Guatemala because of the control that the United Fruit Company had over the local government (and when that government was democratically replaced by a popular one, the CIA overthrew it).  Again, SOP for US foreign policy vis-à-vis Latin America, the intimate relationship between corporate needs and government policy.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the author of the hollow apology towards Guatemala, is the same one who, along with her husband gave aid and comfort to the illegal coup in Honduras and couldn’t wait to embrace the illegitimate de facto government of Porfirio Lobo.  Americans whine: why do they hate us?  I ask you what is the real difference between the grotesque and barbaric experiments the US government carried out in Alabama, Guatemala and dozens of other places and those carried out oin the name of science by the Nazis in Germany.)

Toronto Star, October 2, 2010

By Olivia Ward Foreign Affairs Reporter

It was a reality that mimicked a horror film: Guatemalan prisoners coerced to have sex with prostitutes who were infected with syphilis. Prostitutes who were healthy smeared with the bacteria. Mentally ill inmates inoculated with syphilis.

It was not a deadly biowar experiment, but an American-backed attempt to test whether newly discovered penicillin could prevent the sexually transmitted disease. And it took place in deeply impoverished Guatemala between 1946 and 1948 without the consent of the experiment’s 696 victims.

On Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius issued a startling apology to Guatemala, saying that “although these events occurred more than 64 years ago, we are outraged that such reprehensible research could have occurred under the guise of public health.”

In another chilling admission, Dr. Francis Collins, who heads the National Institutes for Health, told reporters that the Guatemalan experiments were among dozens of abuses by Washington over years of loose standards.

The government “could identify more than 40 other studies where intentional infection was carried out with what we would now consider completely inadequate consent, in the United States,” he said.

The Guatemala experiment — in which subjects were treated with penicillin after attempts to infect them — was uncovered by Wellesley College medical historian Susan Reverby, whose earlier research on an infamous experiment on 500 poor African-American men near Tuskegee, Ala. won a public apology from President Bill Clinton.

The same U.S. Public Health Service researcher, Dr. John Cutler, took part in both experiments.

In Alabama the men were already suffering from syphilis, but scientists merely studied them under the pretence of treating them for “bad blood,” even after penicillin was a known cure. During the 40-year study, beginning in 1932, many of the men died, their wives became infected and children were born with congenital syphilis.

Leaked reports brought the experiment to a halt, and sparked higher standards and closer monitoring of human medical research.

On Friday, Clinton and Sibelius said that the government was launching two investigations into the Guatemala case, including a review by a high-level presidential commission to ensure current medical research met “rigorous ethical standards.”

The hundreds of Guatemalans used in the U.S. study are either very elderly or dead by now, though their photos in research files are silent testimony to their participation. The question of compensation for their relatives is still unanswered. And, Reverby said, the experiments brought no apparent advances in medical science.

Her research in the study’s records found that in spite of penicillin treatment, “not everyone was probably cured” of syphilis after they had been infected. And she said, “what’s interesting about it is (the scientists) knew the study had an unethical edge.”

In fact, the experiment was moved to the small Central American country because the American team could work there with greater freedom, with the co-operation of a government that was promised badly needed medical aid in return. It was not clear whether senior American politicians were aware of the experiments.

Guatemala was an easy target for unbridled research, Reverby said, because the American-owned United Fruit Company controlled much of the country. Washington later helped to overthrow Guatemala’s elected government, and backed the brutal dictatorships that replaced it.

Now, said Reverby, the Obama government has shown it wants to draw a line under that dark history.

“It believes that how we treat other countries does matter.”