21 January 2019
As the US government prepares ever-more stringent anti-immigration measures aimed at the thousands of Central American workers and peasants fleeing violence and hunger, a decision by a US federal judge has provided a further exposure of the criminal responsibility of US imperialism and US corporations for these intolerable conditions.
On January 3, Theodore Chuang, a US federal judge in Maryland, allowed a $1 billion suit to proceed against various divisions of Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University (hospital, school of public health, health system corporation), the Rockefeller Foundation, Bristol-Myers Squibb Company, Bristol-Myers Squibb US Pharmaceutical Group and Mead Johnson & Company for their roles in a medical experiment in which hundreds of Guatemalans were infected with syphilis and gonorrhea by the US government between 1946 and 1948. The purpose of the experiments was to test the effectiveness of a then recently developed drug (penicillin) in preventing and curing sexually transmitted diseases, in part because of the high costs associated with US troops becoming infected by those diseases.
The defendants argued a Supreme Court decision shielding foreign corporations from lawsuits over human rights abuses also applied to them. The suit, by the Estate of Arturo Girón Álvarez and 733 others, was launched in 2015.
The experiment, which was similar to the government’s infamous Tuskegee study on US Afro-American share croppers (1932-1972), left unwitting subjects infected with syphilis and untreated. Similar studies were done on prisoners in Terre-Haute, Indiana.
In this study, some 1,500 healthy individuals, prostitutes, peasant military conscripts, prisoners and mentally ill patients (male and female), were deliberately infected, either through the use of prostitutes provided by the scientists, or by pouring the germs onto skin abrasions the researchers caused. The idea was to test penicillin’s effect on various strains of these diseases. None of the subjects was informed of the experiment; alcohol was often used to “lubricate” the participants. The illegality and criminal character of the study (both under Guatemalan and US laws) and the fact that it took place as Nazi doctors were being tried in Nuremberg for similar crimes required that it be kept secret. Needless to say, those that organized the experiment were fully conscious of their criminal conduct.
As the experiment progressed,