BIOWEAPONS TESTS ON MEXICO: AFTER 40 YEARS OF US ARMY INTRODUCING VEE VIRUS THERE...
( This note is dedicated to mexican ornithologists like Carlos Juárez López, who still believe in the words PATRIOTISM and ETHICS...)
As soon as it was discovered in 1943 in the Caribbean Island of Trinidad, "across the street" from Venezuela, this nation equine virus or VEE, short for Venezuelan equine encephalitis- caught the eye of the US military; their "Biowar Program" had just been installed and this virus offered good potentialities as a bioweapon.
Eventually, three decades later, this would explain the thousands of gallons of the "weaponized" virus in US Army arsenals that not even with a President´s Nixon mandate the CIA destroyed...
Too bad for horses, mules and donkeys but how does the VEE virus manifests itself in humans? Considered technically a "zoonoses" infecting both humans and animals- it produces sudden, very severe flu-like symptoms, muscle and headaches, plus high fever for 3 to 10 days; in children, furthermore, there may be somnolence, disorientation, convulsions, paralysis, coma and death... or neurological disorder sequels, -nice bioweapon, isn´t it?- The arbovirus producing the disease is transmitted by mosquitoes or arthropods, involving also wild animals and birds in the cycle. Known previously only in the Venezuela-Colombia region, the VEE virus was surprisingly recovered in Veracruz, México in 1964, and it´s translocation attributed "perhaps to migrating birds" ( 1 ).
This event sparked a chain of studies on VEE in both Mexican Pacific coast near San Blas, Nayarit and Gulf coast near Tlacotalpan/Lake Catemaco in Veracruz under the support of The Smithsonian Institution of Washington DC- . Simultaneously, this last source was beign accused of beign "a front" for the US Army with the purpose of studying the use of migratory birds as "vectors" or transports to disseminate microbes ( 2 ).
Two research groups were apparently formed, one led by Philip S. Humphrey from the University of Kansas and another, for México and Middle America, led by William Scherer and Robert Dickerman of Cornell University. Both had "colossal" funds at their disposal ( 3 ), from the official USA umbrella "Biowar Program" ( 4 ).
Mexican government authorities, then as now frequently acquiescent to acritical initiatives from their USA counterparts, PAHO (Pan American Health Organization) or USAMRIID-Fort Detrick-US Army officials, gave green light for research about the "natural history" of the VEE virus within Mexican spaces ultimately focused on verifying it´s presence. Further on, as "an unexpected" epizoodemic of the disease surged in México´s south east the irresponsible "ignoramus" permission was extended to produce, test, use, evaluate and sell an EXPERIMENTAL vaccine labeled TC-83, originally developed for US Army soldiers in Vietnam ( 5 ). The huge funding through PAHO, US army or Smithsonian channels allowed an enormous amount of un- classified research papers on VEE, migratory birds, their air-routes, their ecology, related wild fauna and their interactions. Not always prudent as to their author´s financial support, credit was given generously to US Army DOD (Department of Defense) or similar agencies ( 6 ) ( 7 ).
It is worth mentioning that at least in one case the institutional affiliation of the investigators performing innoculations of fauna, was NOT in "academia" but, surprinsingly, in the American Embassy itself... ( 8 ) With the amount of funds involved, large numbers of personnel were mobilized: senior investigators, graduate students, health officials, technicians from a number of laboratories on both sides of the border, administrators;
big money flowed for research teams of epidemiologists, physicians, microbiologists, virologists, veterinarians, biologists, bird traffickers... Fellowships for investigators and students were numerous and generous which makes me remember that in due time I interviewed a number of them such as one student working for his degree in ornithology (1963-1966); then young with a promising career ahead told me: ..."At one point I did not like what we were doing... sitting still under jungle conditions, to count and identify high power binoculars on hand- mosquitoes sucking blood from young nesting herons was extremely nasty... furthermore, it seemed to me I was working for some secret agency like CIA with dark interests behind... my poor unaware Mexican people kept me worried... in spite of the very attractive fellowship and career promises in US academia... I jumped out of the wagon..." ( 9 ).
An overall 10 year summary on VEE research findings in México -1961-1970- was delivered to Mexican authorities by PAHO-USA officials in a SURPRISINGLY timely date ( 10 ) since the VEE anticipated scare of a possible epizoodemic in México had just come a reality (11). Hitting first the Mexican state of Chiapas, near the border with Guatemala (12), the use of migratory birds to disseminate microorganisms like VEE would soon prove to be feasible, opening the door for an extended and extensive, field test outside the USA territories- of the VEE corresponding TC-83 vaccine... In November 1969 the number of equine and human cases reported, had jumped notoriously and by July 1970, all the Mexican state of Chiapas was affected. Without previously paying attention to early warning signs México´s Secretariat of Agriculture and (Animal) Husbandry finally reacted, delivering 25,000 doses of a "vaccine timely ceded and produced in Maryland" (TC-83 Fort Detrick is in Fredericksburg Md. 50 miles N of Washington DC); further on, the TC-83 production in Mexico, was carried out by the then INIP -presently INIFAP- Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Forestales, Agrícolas y Pecuarias, pertaining to the mentioned Secretariat...
As said before, the VEE employed initially as a bioweapon in Vietnam ( 5 ) required the development of an specific vaccine and out of several prototypes, TC-83 was selected and tested in 6,000 individuals possibly recruits- within the USA; considered an "investigational drug" IND- not yet approved for its live virus character, then and now shouldn´t be used without permission and serious precautions taken and one is shocked about the permissiveness with which it was ceded? sold? franchised? to México "to curb" the epizoodemic"... Not too much attention was paid in alerting Mexican authorities about the dangers of employing an "IND" type of live virus vaccine. However, a few Mexican experts voice of alarm on this matter were raised, with their voice silenced by the then President Echeverría´s veto; after all those were the days of J.F. Kennedy´s "Biowar Project 112", Navy´s wide SHAD Program, biosabotage aggressions to Cuba, plus dozens of bioweapons tests in American cities and land ( 13 ) (14 ).
So, why bother about using México´s corrupt "useful fool" authorities once more and carry out the needed field tests?
To make a long story short, VEE epizoodemic affected and infected, in the next 6 years ALL of the Mexican states but three, reaching and alarming- the southern tip of Texas mind you, where the famous affluent equine "King´s Ranch" is located- In the 1970-1976 period 29 million plus doses of TC-83 vaccine were produced in Mexican laboratories "reporting daily to Fort Detrick". (D. Batalla personal communication)- to vaccinate more than 14 million equines and additionally exporting 1.6 million doses; in those years, and in spite of vaccination, 49,209 equines died, 51,137 human cases developed the VEE disease and, sadly enough ¡ 93 ! persons died mainly children and elderly- ; mind you, 30 more than in the Sverdlovsk bioweapons "accident" in the former USSR or the 9 killed by "snail mail" anthrax after "11/9" in US... After surviving the VEE infection in México,an unaccounted high number of patients developed serious neurological sequels and surprisingly however understandably- the full official Mexican sources statistics ( 15 ) have always been minimized by USA official sources ( 16 ).
In recent years, after the opening of the National Security Archives it can be easily confirmed by anyone, that in the 1960´s to 1970´s period, huge amounts of "weaponized" VEE virus were stocked by the USArmy for "defensive" purposes (17) and , not very surprisingly, the denounced collaboration of the Smithsonian Institution "as a cover" for the US Army through its "Pacific Bird Banding Project" extending for ¡ 20 years ! was a sad ethically verification ( 17 ). Meanwhile, the dangerous TC-83 VEE live virus "IND" vaccine, tested on a scientifically backward but conveniently "good neighbor" nation like México, is kept quietly but surely on the shelves of some USArmy/Fort Detrick/USAMRIID laboratory with a sign "Handle with Care"...
Has the international referee in these matters, SIPRI, said anything in four decades? Not a bloody word... Has influential experts like the "Harvard-Sussex Group" under J.P. Robinson and/or M.Meselson pronounced itself publicly on this topic? Do they know the problem? ¡Sure they know! but...why bother? The usual USA double standard in matters of biowar ethics is clearly seen in the above described case and, furthermore, we should also consider seriously that "biological warfare..." (and bioweapons development)... "must represent the ultimate obscenity..." as Furmanski american physician recently wrote (18); unless of course, this dictum does not apply to the US...
1.- Scherer,W.F. et al VEE virus in Veracruz, México and the use of Hamsters as Sentinels, Science, vol. 45, 414, July 17, 1964
2.- Boffey, P. M., Biological Warfare: is the Smithsonian really a "Cover"? Science, vol.163, 791, 1969
3.- McLeod, R., Strictly for the Birds: Science, the Military and the Smithsonian´s Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program, J. Hist. of Biol., vol. 34,315, 2001
4.- Bernstein, B.J., Birth of the US Biowarfare Program, Scient. Amer., 256, 94, 1987
5.- Reeves, W.C., http//sunsite.berkeley.edu:2020/dynaweb/teipro/oh/scie
6.- Dickerman, R.W., et al Ecological Studies of VEE, numbers 1-8, Amer. J. Trop. Med. and Hygiene, 20-21, 740, 1971- 1972
7.- Scherer, W.F., Laboratory Safety for Arboviruses and Certain other viruses of Vertebrates, Amer. J. trop. Med. and Hygiene, 29, 6, 1359, 1980
8.- Corristan, E.C., from the American Embassy in México DF, carried out previously unpublished VEE inoculation studies; results were published and cited by Bowen, G.S. in Experimental Infection of North Amer. Mammals with Epidemic VEE, Amer. J. Trop. Med. and Hygiene, 25, 6, 1976
9.- Juarez L., C., Head of the Vertebrate Laboratory, Facultad de Ciencias, UNAM, various interviews
10.- Horowitz, A., Informe del Programa de Investigaciones y Adiestramiento en Arboviirus en México, PAHO, ref.10/2 febrero 1971, Archivo Histórico de la SSA, México
11.- Larrondo, H., Epizootia de EEV, Doc. De Alerta, Archivo Histórico de la SSA, México
12.-Quan Kiu, DS., Epizootia/EEV/Chiapas, 1970, Tesis, Escuela Salud Pública SSA
13., Harris, R., and J. Paxman, A Higher Form of Killing, ed. Triad, Aylesbury, 1983
14.- US Congress Senate Records, Approp. Com., Feb 19 to July 15, 1969
15.- Batalla, D., Memorandum Creación/Des. Progm. EEV/INIP, 1976, Archivo. Hrico SSA
16.- Fort Detrick Medical Management of Biological Casualties, Fred., Md., 2001
17.- National Security Archive, vol.III, Biowar, document 26 www.gwu.edu/nsarchiv/NSAEBB58
18.- Furmanski, M., Letters to the Editor, New E.J. of Med., vol. 342, p. 61, Jan 6, 2000
This article is a summary of chapter 10, p. 63 "¿vecino distante o tonto util? of the book in spanish "bioterrorismo, armas de destrucción masiva y Ética" that can be downloaded f r e e, from the web site www.scienceanddemocracy.com please refer to it for figures, tables and credits to them.
Este texto puede ser leido en español buscando el sitio www.cienciaydemocracia.com y entrar al capítulo 10 "¿vecino distante o tonto Útil?" del libro "bioterrorismo, armas de destrucción masiva y Ética" que ¡es gratis! entrar a el para tablas, figuras y fuente de las mismas.