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Guatemala played a role in the U.S. 1940s syphilis experiment, says victims' lawyer

posted 5 Apr 2011, 17:28 by Mpelembe   [ updated 5 Apr 2011, 17:32 ]

Guastemalans say their own state also has to take responsibility for a 1940s experiment by the United States which saw prison inmates, women and mental patients deliberately injected with syphilis to test antibiotics.

ALDEA ACASAGUASTLAN, GUATEMALA REUTERS - Two Guatemalans who were injected with syphilis in 1940s experiment by the United States government are forming part of a call for compensation.

Although a lawsuit has already been filed against the U.S., now attention is being turned to the Guatemalan state which was is said to have been compliant with the experiments that were carried out on prison inmates, women and mental patients.

Federico Ramos, from the small rural town of Acasaguastlan, was a young man in the army when he says he was one of around 700 Guatemalans unwittingly injected with a disease so the U.S. could test the then-new drug penicillin.

"The injections were put into us in there, and one did not know what they were injecting into you. I had purgation [gonorrhea]," said Ramos.

Ramos is now 86 and wants justice to be done.

So does Manuel Gudiel, who is one year Ramos's junior and says he was infected after having sex with a prostitute who had received a U.S. injection.

"No one told the person what injection they were giving, only the doctor knew what was injected and the disease the person had. He knew and gave the person the injection," explained Gudiel.

Gudiel said he knew he was taking a risk back to his family following his military service, but he never expected it to be part of a deliberate plot.

"One never thinks that these diseases have a root, and one in civil law [not military]. Maybe it will infect his wife or children and make them sick, but one never thinks that," said Gudiel.

In March, a group of Guatemalans filed a class action lawsuit against the U.S. government for intentionally infecting them with syphilis.

Now lawyers say Guatemalan state should also offer compensation for allowing the experiments to take place, even if was a time of national instability relating to the end of General Jorge Ubico's dictatorship.

The experiment was discovered last year by Susan Reverby, a professor of women's studies at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, while researching a book.

According to Reverby, the records suggest that, despite intentions, not everyone was cured.

The U.S. sent a public apology when the discovery came to light.

Lawyer Oscar De La Mora, who is working for the victims, said Guatemala had to own up to its involvement too.

"Our authorities in this time, to be an undivided state, complied with these experiments and they also have to take responsibility and compensate the families affected," said De La Mora.

Those seeking compensation include the children of the original participants in the study, but some believe that the identities of the prostitutes who took part in the study might not have been documented.

"We have international human rights courts where we are sure that we would achieve favourable outcomes for these families because the experiments carried out against these people really are crimes against humanity that have no limits," said De La Mora.

The federal lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, alleges that the Guatemala research was related to a syphilis experiment in Tuskegee, Alabama that spanned four decades.