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Anthropological Niche of Douglas W. Hume
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Internet Source: Dawn, November 3, 2000
Source URL: http://www.dawn.com/2000/11/03/int14.htm


US scientists treat Venezuelan Indians as guinea pigs

Andris Caqizalez

CARACAS: Indigenous leaders, govt agencies and human rights activists in Venezuela are demanding guarantees that members of the Yanomami community in the Amazon jungle will not be used as guinea pigs by researchers.

Harrowing reports of experiments to which Yanomami Indians were allegedly submitted in the late 1960s have shaken the global scientific community, and public opinion at large, since the early October publication of the book "Darkness in El Dorado: How Scientists and Journalists Devastated the Amazon", by investigative journalist Patrick Tierney.

Indigenous rights activist and People's Defender of the Venezuelan state of Amazonas, Luis Bello, said that it was a US researcher, apparently a student, whose 1968 bestseller "Yanomami: The Fierce People" gave the isolated indigenous group international fame.

Based on 10 years of work gathering evidence, Tierney maintains that as part of the project, US geneticist James Neel injected members of the Yanomami ethnic group with a virulent vaccine, Edmonson B, counter-indicated by medical experts for use on isolated populations with no prior exposure to measles, in order to observe symptoms similar to those of measles.

According to Tierney, Neel, who passed away in February, gave his team orders to let the disease run its course, and not to provide any medical assistance to the sick and dying Yanomami.

The aim of the experiment was apparently to study natural selection in "primitive," genetically isolated human societies, the reporter argues, based on what professors Terence Turner of Cornell University and Leslie Sponsel at the University of Hawaii describe in a letter to the American Anthropological Association (AAA) as "convincing evidence."

Neither the Venezuelan government nor the Yanomami subjects were previously informed of, or gave their permission for, the vaccination campaign, says Tierney.

Sergio Arias at the Venezuelan Institute of Scientific Research outlined irregular mechanisms and procedures used by foreign anthropologists carrying out research in this South American country.

The Venezuelan Education Ministry's Office of Indigenous Affairs and the parliamentary Commission on Indigenous Peoples announced an investigation of Chagnon and of Neel's experiments, as denounced by the book "Darkness in El Dorado."

Venezuela's brand-new constitution enshrines a number of indigenous rights that must now be specifically legislated and regulated by parliament. -Dawn/The InterPress News Service.