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  • The 1940s research was conducted to test antibiotics for STDs, to prevent their spread in soldiers who would frequent prostitutes.

    The 1940s research was conducted to test antibiotics for STDs, to prevent their spread in soldiers who would frequent prostitutes. | Photo: Reuters

Published 15 December 2015

In 1946-48, the U.S. secretly infected prisoners, the mentally ill and sex workers in Guatemala with STDs to test the effectiveness of certain drugs.

The Guatemalan government has said that it will look further into cases of secret medical testing by the United States on Guatemalan citizens in the 1940's, after victims of the tests said they did not see fair compensation or justice for their suffering.

“We will explore the possibilities of attention both within the government of Guatemala while we have also informed the United States Embassy,” Guatemalan Vice President Juan Alfonso Fuentes Soria told reporters Tuesday.

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The vice president's announcement came after he met with a family in which three people were directly affected by the secret medical testing. The family said they felt “neglected” and called for further “economic and moral reparations.”

The victims, who chose to remain anonymous, were among more than 5,500 Guatemalan citizens who were deliberately infected with the sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) syphilis, gonorrhea and chancroid as part of a U.S. medical research project that lasted from 1946-48.

The citizens included mainly mentally ill patients, prisoners, and sex workers who were infected without their consent.

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The objective of the research was to test the value of different medications, including the antibiotic penicillin, in treating certain STDs in order to prevent the contraction and spread of such diseases among soldiers who consorted with prostitutes.

The tragedy was first brought to public attention in 2010, with then Guatemala President Alvaro Colom calling the events a “crime against humanity.”

Soria added that the victims “wanted to know the possibilities of an amicable settlement” in addition to seeing further judicial action.

The vice president said he will meet with the appropriate U.S. Embassy officials to analyze and discuss the case.

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