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U.S. apologized to Guatemala for intentionally infecting hundreds of people with venereal diseases

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In a telephone conversation, President Barack Obama apologised to Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom.

The United States issued an apology yesterday to Guatemala for conducting experiments in the 1940s in which U.S. doctors infected hundreds of Guatemalan citizens sexually transmitted diseases.

In a statement, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, jointly with Secretary of Health Kathleen Sebelius, apologized on behalf of the U.S. government for the experiments carried out in Guatemala more than 64 years ago, describing them as unethical, abhorrent and irresponsible.

’’These acts go against the principles and values of the American people", reads the text. (Even though these practices and experiments continue. Editor’s note.)

Guatemalan Head of State, Alvaro Colom, informed the international media about his telephone conversation with U.S. President Barack Obama last Friday, in which the latter apologized to the people of Guatemala.

In addition, Obama said that these events amounted to “crimes against humanity” perpetrated against the people of that Central American country.

In their telephone conversation, the two leaders agreed to establish a bilateral commission with scientists from both nations to analyze the facts.

The commission would examine possible ways of compensating the surviving victims of the experiments or their relatives.

Between 1946 and 1948 some 696 Guatemalans were deliberately infected with a venereal disease by U.S. scientists, who performed experiments without their knowledge, using them as guinea pigs.

Many of those infected were prisoners or mental patients who did not give their consent to the experiment.

In the case of male inmates, they were directly infected or were forced to have sex with prostitutes carrying syphilis or gonorrhea.

The objective of this research was a heinous attempt on the part of U.S. to test the effectiveness of penicillin against syphilis and gonorrhea.

The experiment was readily supported by the Pan American Health Organization and the then Guatemalan government, and was headed by John Cutler, medical Public Health Service officer.

In the long run, more than 1 500 Guatemalans were affected by the experiment.

Among the health problems that syphilis can cause are heart complications, mental illness and even death.

According to the international media, there is no way of knowing how many people might have recovered from the disease or whether the treatment given was the right one.

The experiment was discovered when a Wellesley College professor happened to find some old files while working on a historical research on untreated syphilis in connection with the Tuskegee incident.

In her statement, the U.S. State Secretary called for the "full respect of the inherent rights of every human being, and the repudiation of this and any other degrading and inhuman procedure that violate the lives and safety of people."

Translated by Luis Mdahuar

Source: TeleSUR, 02/10/2010.

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