In a US-funded program during the 1940’s designed to study the effects of penicillin, researchers infected hundreds of Guatemalan prisoners, psychiatric patients and sex workers with syphilis and gonorrhea, none of whom were informed of the procedure. In total, approximately 1,300 people were exposed to or inoculated with venereal diseases between 1946 and 1948, less than 700 of which received any kind of treatment.
President Obama established the Presidential Commission on the Study of Bioethics in November of last year to investigate the research program after it was discovered last year (see article below). The Commission plans to publish its first full report next month outlining the historical facts of the case. So far, the Commission has declared the syphilis project an ‘institutional failure’ and a ‘shameful piece of medical history,’ recognizing the grave violations and inhumane conduct that took place in Guatemala. Furthermore, according to the commission, the program may have resulted in the deaths of 83 people unwillingly infected with diseases.
Documentation of the research was acquired by the National Security Archives earlier this year, ‘consisting of some 12,000 pages of reports, correspondence, patient records, and graphic
photographs of the effects of syphilis infection on Guatemalan subjects.’ According to the reports, the initial experiments were preformed in Guatemala’s Central Penitentiary, where U.S. researchers paid infected prostitutes to transmit the diseases by having sex with prisoners. When this method proved inefficient, the team of researchers began targeting the country’s insane asylum, where they could easily access hundreds of vulnerable men and women unable to speak for or understand their rights. The NSA analysis of the documents reveals that the doctors and scientists involved were fully aware that what they were doing was unethical and violated research standards, even skeptical at times.
In an interview with Prensa Libre, Amy Gutmann, the president of the Presidential Commission on the Study of Bioethics, declared that the researchers and doctors who participated in the syphilis study are morally responsible, given that they were well aware of the ethical standards they were violating. Gutmann said that the commission plans to recommend compensation to the victims in its upcoming published report. The Guatemalan government announced on August 29th that five survivors of the syphilis and gonorrhea experiments will be medically examined to determine any lasting effects of their infections. Vice-president Rafael Espada made the announcement after the presidential commission revealed that the experiments left 83 people dead.
· As recovery and reconstruction efforts in Haiti continue to fall short, leading thousands of refugees to flee the country, the Dominican Republic is no longer welcoming the influx. The Dominican Republic traditionally has had a cooperative relationship with Haiti and, despite its own economic troubles, was one of the first nations to lend aid after the earthquake devastated the country. Amid protests calling on migrants to go home, the Republic has begun deporting Haitians and ‘generally making their lives difficult.’
· The Supreme Tribunal of Bolivia convicted five former military commanders of genocide on Tuesday with prison sentences ranging from 10 to 15 years. Protests and unrest stemming from government plans to exploit natural gas came to a head in October of 2003 when those convicted were involved in a military crackdown on riots, resulting in the deaths of at least 64 civilians.
· In Venezuela, Leocenis Garcia, the editor of the weekly newspaper, 6to Poder, turned himself in to intelligence officials yesterday as he faces charges of ‘insulting public officials and instigating hatred.’ According to the Associated Press, the newspaper found itself in trouble after publishing demeaning photographs of the Supreme Court president, the elections chief, and four other women in revealing outfits.
· According to human rights activists in Haiti, women and girls have been ‘badly neglected’ in recovery efforts following the devastating earthquake 20 months ago. Human Rights Watch released a report on Tuesday documenting a ‘serious gap’ in the healthcare that women and girls are receiving. Sexual violence, high maternal mortality rates, unwanted pregnancy, unhealthy conditions for children, and poor prenatal care are just some of the problems facing women in Haiti.
· Yesterday, the International Day of the Disappeared, Mexico reported that over 3,000 people have ‘disappeared’ since 2006, the same year President Calderon launched his campaign against organized crime. The high number of disappearances in Mexico have led to comparisons to the country’s “Guerra Sucia” (dirty war) in the 1960’s and 70’s and the Southern Cone military dictatorships. Colombia reported 61,604 disappeared, up from 47,000 in June 2010.
· In Sight Crime argues that lowering drug demand in the United States is not enough to combat organized crime in Mexico. Increases in violence, kidnapping, extortion, human trafficking, and pirating against Mexican civilians call for dramatic institutional reform within the country.
· Bus drivers in El Salvador are striking to demand better protection from authorities against extortion and violence from gangs, a common practice in much of Latin America.
· Facing pressure from congress, the director of the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and the US attorney in Arizona announced their resignations yesterday. A Congressional investigation into Operation Fast and Furious discovered US agents were allowing thousands of guns into Mexico with the hopes of tracking them to organized crime members. However, many of the guns went missing or were found at crime scenes in Mexico.
· Five Chilean police officers have been dismissed after admitting that the shot that killed a sixteen-year-old boy during anti-government protests came from a police weapon. Until yesterday, police officials had denied any involvement in the death of the boy.
· Dialogue between the Bolivian government and indigenous groups began on August 26, as the President’s administration as agreed to set up a round of six negotiations to provide a forum for indigenous community members to express their concerns over the construction of a highway through the protected TIPNIS territory.
· Standard and Poor’s raised Peru’s debt rating from a BBB- to a BBB, the second-lowest investment grade due to President Humala’s ‘broad fiscal and monetary policy continuity.’ In the past five years, economic growth as averaged 7.2% in Peru, in large part due to a booming global mining industry.