Workers Vanguard No. 968
5 November 2010
Sadistic U.S. Tuskegee Experiment in Guatemala
Last month, the news got out that U.S. government doctors exposed hundreds of Guatemalan prisoners, soldiers, prostitutes and mental patients to syphilis in 1946-48. Medical historian Susan Reverby uncovered this barbaric crime in the papers of Dr. John Cutler while researching her book, Examining Tuskegee. Cutler was the head of the Guatemala experiment, which was co-sponsored by the “humanist” regime of Juan José Arévalo. Afterward, Cutler joined the infamous “Tuskegee experiment” of 1932-72. During that period, U.S. government officials denied life-saving penicillin to hundreds of black men in Alabama with syphilis. The purpose of this “study” was to watch the ravages of the disease as it destroyed the men’s bodies and minds.
In Guatemala, Cutler and his assistants brought infected prostitutes into the prisons to have sex with healthy men. Uninfected prostitutes had the bacteria inserted into their vaginas before sex. At the mental hospital, Cutler and his ghouls injected the disease directly into the patients’ spines or made them drink solutions containing syphilitic sores of other men or animal tissue. Another “technique” was to scrape a man’s penis with a needle and drip the bacterial solution onto the wound for up to two hours at a time.
Cutler’s victims, who were derided as “rabbits,” did not know what they were being infected with, and no one knows how many died as a result. The 700 people infected supposedly received treatment. But one physician from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about one-third did not receive enough penicillin to cure them. Cutler’s papers documented some resistance from his victims. One man ran away but was found two hours later. Others opposed the constant drawing of blood. A researcher lamented in his notes, “Unfortunately our female donor is leaving her profession for marriage and is no longer available.”
These inhuman torments recall Dr. Josef Mengele and the Nazi experiments on Jews, Gypsies and others held in concentration camps. The Guatemala experiment took place while the U.S. and other Allies were trying fascist war criminals at Nuremberg in 1945-49. The U.S. smuggled to safety many Nazi military officers, concentration camp doctors and prison guards. The U.S. saved Mengele, while Dr. Hubertus Strughold, associated with the experiments at Dachau, was brought to the U.S. to strengthen its military research apparatus. As U.S. imperialism geared up its anti-Soviet Cold War drive, America’s rulers knew they couldn’t let all that Nazi “talent” go to waste.
The U.S. carried out Nazi-like experiments on poor, working-class and black people. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers were sent into irradiated blast sites after atomic bombs were set off. As Washington actively pursued plans for a nuclear “first strike” against the USSR, America’s rulers wanted to know how much radiation their troops could stand in order to train them to subdue survivors of an atomic attack. Poor pregnant women seeking medical care were fed highly radioactive iron, while Harvard and MIT scientists fed breakfast cereal laced with radioactive doses equivalent to 50 chest X-rays to more than 120 mentally retarded teenagers, telling their parents the children were receiving an improved diet.
Such crimes are not a thing of the past. To the capitalist rulers, minorities and the colonial and semicolonial slaves of imperialism are “inferior” and “expendable.” In Africa in the late 1990s, the U.S. and the UN funded 15 studies on mother-to-infant HIV transmission that used a placebo instead of AZT—even as AZT was known to effectively block this type of HIV transmission. Some 1,500 infants were expected to die. Such experiments continue to this day. As Harriet A. Washington, the author of Medical Apartheid, noted in a 2007 Democracy Now! interview, “Africa is being treated as a laboratory for the West by Western researchers.”
The Obama White House was quick to offer its cynical apologies for the Guatemala study—which was carried out under the Democratic Truman administration—expressing “deep regret” about the “reprehensible research.” This is but a sneer at the countless numbers of Iraqi, Afghani and other prisoners that the U.S. has rounded up and subjected to waterboarding and other forms of torture. The U.S. employs doctors to watch over its inquisitors in order to “refine” their methods of torture and to make sure that their victims live to see another day of torment.
Six years after the Guatemala experiment ended, the U.S. carried out a bloody coup there and for the next several decades installed one brutal dictatorship after another. Between 1960 and 1996, more than 200,000 Mayan villagers, trade unionists and leftist insurgents were slaughtered, as the U.S. directed the transformation of a monstrous but inefficient military gang into an organized machine of systematic mass murder. As part of its war on Communism, the U.S. armed and trained murderers and torturers throughout Central America. To this day, the infamous School of the Americas (now renamed WHINSEC) in Fort Benning, Georgia, trains U.S. imperialism’s Latin American henchmen to torture and butcher unionists, leftists and peasants.
None of this is an aberration. Such atrocities are inherent to the capitalist system of production. Even under the “ordinary” everyday workings of imperialism, billions of human beings across the planet must suffer starvation and thirst. They must die excruciating deaths from curable diseases. They must endure cruelty, humiliation, terror or even death at the hands of police and the military. They must feel their bodies break down from work that barely pays enough to prolong their lives another year while the profits from their labor fill the capitalist rulers’ multibillion-dollar bank accounts.
It will take the working class seizing power through socialist revolution—above all in the belly of the U.S. imperialist beast—to put an end to this barbaric capitalist system. As Marxist leader Rosa Luxemburg underlined during the carnage of the First World War, the choice facing humanity is: socialism or barbarism.