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Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and Human Health Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will formally apologize to Guatemala today for the experiments conducted on Guatemalan patients by the U.S. Public Health Service where in the 1940’s people were intentionally infected with sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea and syphilis without their knowledge or permission.  

Not scenes from a horror movie, these were the all too real shock and awe tactics of the US government.  

This is a breaking news story, links and more below.

The breaking story is up on MSNBC’s website
U.S. to apologize for STD experiments in Guatemala

The episode raises inevitable comparisons to the infamous Tuskegee experiment, the Alabama study where hundreds of African-American men were told they were being treated for syphilis, but in fact were denied treatment. That U.S. government study lasted from 1932 until press reports revealed it in 1972.
The Guatemala experiments, which were conducted between 1946 and 1948, never provided any useful information and  the records were hidden.

According to the article, this story was discovered by a Wellesly Women’s Studies professor, Susan Reverby. She has a pdf of her article available at her website here: Susan Reverby

Here is another take on the story from RawStory US to apologize for ‘atrocious’ STD experiments in Guatemala. The Rawstory article has several blockquotes from Reverby's article and synopsis, which are both not opening correctly for me at the moment. I strongly encourage all to read her article for the full details.

   In 1946-48, Dr. John C. Cutler, a PHS
   physician who would later be part of the Syphilis Study in Alabama
   in the 1960s and continue to defend it two decades after it ended in
   the 1990s, was running a syphilis inoculation project in Guatemala,
   co-sponsored by the PHS, the National Institutes of Health, the Pan
   American Health Sanitary Bureau (now the Pan American Health
   Organization), and the Guatemalan government.

   ....

   Cutler and the other physicians chose men in the Guatemala
   National Penitentiary, then in an army barracks, and men and
   women in the National Mental Health Hospital for a total of 696
   subjects. Permissions were gained from the authorities but not
   individuals, not an uncommon practice at the time, and supplies
   were offered to the institutions in exchange for access. The doctors
   used prostitutes with the disease to pass it to the prisoners (since
   sexual visits were allowed by law in Guatemalan prisons) and then
   did direct inoculations made from syphilis bacteria poured onto the
   men’s penises or on forearms and faces that were slightly abraded
   when the "normal exposure" produced little disease, or in a few cases
   through spinal punctures. Unlike in Alabama, the subjects were then
   given penicillin after they contracted the illness. However, whether
   everyone was then cured is not clear and not everyone received what
   was even then considered adequate treatment.

   Yet the PHS was aware then that this was a study that would
   raise ethical questions. For as Surgeon General Thomas Parran made
   clear "’You know, we couldn’t do such an experiment in this
   country."4 Deception was the key here as it had been in Tuskegee.
   Much of this was kept hushed even from some of the Guatemalan
   officials and information about the project only circulated in selected
   syphilology circles. When it proved difficult to transfer the disease
   and other priorities at home seemed more important, Cutler was told
   to pack up and come back to the States.

Knowing a bit about the history of US foreign policy in Central America, and in Guatemala in particular, this story doesn't exactly surprise me. The apologies are a good start, but are nowhere near enough in the long run. Much more change in America's imperial behavior, from past to present, needs to come.

Originally posted to Cosmic's tales on Fri Oct 01, 2010 at 07:12 AM PDT.

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