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Syphilis, the face of American Exploitation 

It seems it wasn’t just bananas.  A report has shown us that during the late forties American scientists took advantage of the fact that The United Fruit Company had a throttle hold on Guatemala, and used its people and institutions to conduct vile medical experiments on its weakest and most vulnerable citizens including children as young as six.

 At the very time that America on one hand was trumpeting its highest virtues at the trials at Nuremburg of Nazi doctors, where medical doctors ( Beiglbock, Brack, Karl and Rudolf Brandt, Hoven, Murgowsky and Sievers) were all found guilty and subsequently executed for having used prisoners and children in ghastly medical experiments, she was herself conducting experiments on brown foreign people, by deliberately giving them syphilis and gonorrhoea so they could test various cures.

Some of us may remember the horror and outrage that accompanied the discovery during Clinton’s presidency of the infamous Tuskegee tests in Alabama where black sharecroppers, who already had syphilis were callously observed over the rest of their lives so the course of the disease could be tracked scientifically.  These experiments had run from 1932-1972.  During all that time they were left to suffer and no treatments were given.

It seems, according to the evidence of Professor Susan Reverby of Wellesby College, that the scientists at Tuskegee went one stage worse.  In Guatemala, off-site, down south, hidden away from the eyes of the American public, secreted from the scrutiny of their fellow doctors and their professional bodies, they deliberated infected prisoners and mental health patients and even used children from the state orphanage.

Was it meant to be all right because they were, poor, brown and powerless?

Professor Reverby’s report “Normal Exposure” and Inoculation Syphilis : A PHS Tuskegee Doctor in Guatemala 1946-8, is disturbing.

The United Fruit Company, owned largely by oligarchical American interests, had owned and controlled Guatemala in the first half of the twentieth century.  (If you click the link you will go to my previous post).  PHS were looking for somewhere to hide this research unit ,and Guatemala was far enough away, but still close enough for travel to be perfect.  In a country as tightly managed as Guatemala was by the oligarchy and the Fruit Company it is inconceivable that they did not know and authorise these experiments.  Indeed the control by the Fruit Company let PHS run unbothered by what the locals might have thought.

PHS wanted victims to infect so they could test various types of anti syphilis agents in that immediate first post infection stage. 

Syphilis is difficult to keep alive outside the human body.  It can’t be grown in vitro in the lab so they infected their victims in the prisons and mental institutions by using pox ridden prostitutes.  The prostitute bit seemed to work as the prisoners did not know what was going on.  They resisted the blood testing though, so the scientists moved to prey that was easier to manage.  They chose children from the state orphanage (some as young as six) for the blood tests. 

Americans love vampire stories.  I assume this is going down a treat.

The White House described it as “shocking”, “tragic”, “reprehensible”.  But didn’t mention compensating the victims.

So why bring this sad tale up after half a century?  Do I need to regale you with another “bad old days” story of a time before institutional oversight, modern review boards, proper medical ethics committees?

Well yes, and indeed even more so today.  What this tale tells us is that the doctors and the companies knew full well what they were doing was wrong and evil.  Their own country was actively hanging Nazi doctors at that time for just such experimentation.  They deliberately sought dark places controlled by Americans, far from professional and public scrutiny, where they could do as they willed.  Places that today are marked for extraordinary renditions, secret prisons, closed to the media and shut away from professional oversight.

What dark horrors are being done today out there in the name of America?

Copyright David Macadam 2010

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