And people wonder why there are those in other countries who view the United States' often self righteous perception of itself with cynicism and contempt.
To those who wonder, wonder no more.
I took some heat earlier this summer by pointing out in a couple of different columns the hypocrisy of the United States lecturing Mexico about its war against the drug cartels, while in the US very few acknowledge our role in fueling the war vis-a-vis the huge domestic demand for drugs, the profits that demand generates, and our lax gun laws. That demand, those profits, and lax gun laws allow the murderous cartels, and their surrogates in the US, easy access to highly sophisticated weaponry that they then ship south to their waiting "armies".
The United States' hypocrisy about the drug war may be lost on many Americans in the US, but it is not lost on millions of other Americans from other countries in our shared hemisphere.
Sadly, I suspect a news story that broke in early October will only serve to heighten those non-US Americans' cynicism towards the United States and reinforce the notion that the United States is a nation that often preaches one thing while practicing another.
The story I'm referring to involves the horrifying revelations that, between 1946 and 1948, American doctors from the National Institutes of Health deliberately infected at least 700, in the Latin press the number is said to be 1500, Guatemalan male prison inmates, psychiatric patients, and soldiers with syphilis in an experiment to test the efficacy of penicillin.
US taxpayers' money was used to pay prostitutes known to have syphilis to have sex with the men. If such sexual contact did not result in infection, the bacteria was poured into scrapes made by researchers on the mens' faces, arms, penises, and, according to records recently uncovered by a medical history professor from Wellesley College while researching another topic at the University of Pittsburgh's library, was even directly injected via spinal puncture.
It is unknown whether all the US researchers' Guatemalan guinea pigs ever received adequate treatment with penicillin to be cured, or if they, like their African American counterparts at Tuskegee, Alabama, were allowed to languish with inadequate treatment and suffer the horrific, long term agony of tertiary syphilis.
When the grisly story broke, our Secretaries of Health and Human Services and State, Kathleen Sebelius and Hillary Clinton respectively, moved quickly to condemn the research study as "unethical".
As I read the account of their denunciations on line from San Jose, I found myself saying to myself, "Unethical!? Ah, Hil and Kate, this isn't just 'unethical', this is criminal."
But it was over coffee with my friend Ana in a cafe in San Jose this morning that I realized just how much potential damage the Guatemalan story might do to our relations in Latin America, at a time when China, Russia, and even Iran, are expanding their economic and strategic influence in the region.
Ana, a University of Michigan educated woman from Costa Rica's upper classes who, if she lived in the US, would, no doubt, be a Republican in the tradition of my maternal grandparents, was not just appalled by the report, she was angry.
The revelations about what happened in Guatemala in the 1940's are but the latest example of the United States' very checkered past here in Latin America.
In El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua in the 1980's, the Reagan-Bush junta aligned itself with and enabled forces that carried out horrific attacks against indigenous Mayan Indians, members of the Catholic clergy who dared to challenge the right wing, fascist regimes backed by the Reagan-Bush White House, and even collaborated with Colombian drug cartels, as evidenced by Oliver North's use of a plane provided by Pablo Escobar to deliver weapons to the right wing Contras in Nicaragua that had been purchased with funds generated by the illegal sale of missiles to the ayatollahs in Iran by the Reagan-Bush uber patriots.
US Americans may have long forgotten this sordid history, if they were ever aware of it at all, but equally American people of Latin descent have not.
I've been emaling friends in Gloucester and Newburyport to urge them to contact Senators Kerry and Brown, Congressman Tierney, State Representatives Ann Margaret Ferrante and Harriet Stanley, along with State Senators Bruce Tarr and Mike Costello, to express their outrage at the fact the United States, at the same time it was trying German scientists and doctors for their crimes against humanity, vis a vis using human beings as laboratory rats, was doing the very same thing to their fellow Americans in Guatemala.
I urged them to demand our state and national representatives call for a full investigation into this horror film that is our nation's ugly reality.
I did so because I love both the United States and Latin America. I did so because I firmly believe if we Americans from the United States don't take an honest inventory in relation to the often vile things we have done to our fellow Americans in countries south of our border, the influence and power of countries like China, Russia, and Iran will only grow in Latin America, and such a development is in the interest of no American, whether born north or south of the Rio Grande.
Puerto Viejo de Limon
Costa Rica & Gloucester, MA
2 weeks ago