Education & Society, Science & Medicine

Victims of Deception: A History of U.S. Mass Sterilization in Puerto Rico and Beyond

Timothy Alexander Guzman, Silent Crow News – Disturbing revelations made by doctors based in Kenya regarding the World Health Organization (WHO) in collaboration with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) located in New York City, exposed a sterilization program supposed to prevent neonatal tetanus which effects newborns aimed at young girls and women ranging from 14 – 49 years of age. The discovery is much more than just a prevention vaccine for individuals who become infected with tetanus, a disease that enters the body through open wounds and spreads a poisonous substance called Tetanospasmin which can become deadly because poison eventually attacks the body’s nervous system. Global Research News published a story based on what doctors in Kenya found in the Tetanus vaccines titled ‘WHO-UNICEF Tetanus Vaccination Campaign: A “Well-Coordinated Forceful Population Control Mass Sterilization Exercise’: Kenya Doctors’ and it stated:

With great difficulty, the Kenya Catholic Doctors Association managed to access the tetanus vaccine used during the WHO immunization campaign in March 2014 and subjected them to testing. The unfortunate truth is that the vaccine was laced with HCG. This proved right our worst fears; that this WHO campaign is not about eradicating neonatal tetanus but a well-coordinated forceful population control mass sterilization exercise using a proven fertility regulating vaccine. This evidence was presented to the Ministry of Health before the third round of immunization but was ignored

In other recent international news, India had 13 women who died and dozens more hospitalized in a “sterilization camp” run by the government in the central state of Chhattisgarh. It was reported that the drug given to the women after the procedure was laced with poison according to Amar Agarwal, a Chhattisgarh state health minister told the Associated Press (AP) that “a preliminary finding suggested that a poisonous chemical compound, zinc phosphate, got mixed with the drugs at the manufacturing firm.” Women were also coerced with payments of up to 1,400 rupees or $23 for the surgery.

The procedure of sterilization affects women (and men to a certain extent) from all across the globe. Sterilization is a form of birth control, a procedure that actually prevents male and females from producing babies or in medical terminology “reproducing their offspring.” Throughout history, many procedures for birth control were used such as Tubal Ligation (having your tubes tied) and Hysterectomy for women. For men, a procedure known as Vasectomy was a modern form of sterilization since the 1800’s. Castration was one of the most barbaric forms of sterilization which was used to remove the ovaries in the female which is also known as an oophorectomy. Castration was also used on men to remove their testicles. Throughout human history, castration was used for religious and social purposes even during wars. Those who were defeated were forcibly castrated by the winners of the war as a sign of victory. But that is another story.

However, the recent news in Africa and India concerning sterilization procedures are not new revelations. Since the 1930’s, Puerto Rico was one of the first countries to sterilize women under the U.S. funded programs to prevent population growth. Other groups in the U.S. also suffered the same fate as Puerto Ricans such as Native Americans, African Americans, low-income whites and other Latinas (from Mexico) who were treated as test subjects for sterilization and other forms of birth control such as contraception. For example, In California alone, more than 20,000 women were sterilized without consent between 1909 and 1979. The U.S. government also admitted to funding the sterilization of over 3,400 Native American women between 1973 and 1976 who were also coerced by the Indian Health Services. In 1977, The Chicago Women’s Liberation Union (CWLU) produced an article titled ‘Sterilization Abuse: A Task for the Women’s Movement’ stated the following:

A recent Government Accounting Office (GAO) study commissioned by Senator James Abourezk of South Dakota, discovered that more than 3400 Native American women of childbearing age had been sterilized over a three year period in four different Indian Health Service areas in the Southwest

As sterilization techniques were used on Native American tribes in the U.S. mainland since the early 20th century, it was also strategically applied to reduce population levels in Puerto Rico, which did have a significant impact on women. Puerto Rico had one of the highest rates of sterilization in the world. Dr. Helen Rodriguez-Trias wrote an article titled ‘Puerto Rico, Where Sterilization of Women Became “La Operacion” published by the Committee on Women, Population and the Environment’ explained:

Puerto Rico, under the United States since 1898 when it was ceded by Spain, has long been a laboratory for U.S. initiated social, economic and cultural policies. Beginning in the late thirties, privately funded foundations based in the United States, and later, the Puerto Rican government with U.S. government funds, have promoted sterilization of women as a way of limiting population growth. In the forties, just when women were joining the work force in large numbers as industrialization opened up job opportunities, sterilizations were provided at minimal or no cost. While women suffered from lack of safe, legal abortion services, other methods of contraception, day care services, and health care services, they were offered sterilizations.

The results of deliberate policies, more concerned with curbing population than with meeting women’s and children’s needs, were high regret rates among the unprecedented nearly forty percent of women who by 1968 were sterilized. More than one third of women surveyed did not know sterilizations were permanent! Many approached sterilization decisions from mistaken notions that sterilization would improve their health, sexual life or marriage relationship. Many found depression, complications of surgery and abandonment by husbands as unexpected results

Puerto Rico is a primarily a catholic nation that had laws which banned abortions, sterilization and other contraceptives well before the 1930’s. Then in 1937, the sterilization of women in Puerto Rico became legal. Population control was a political and social phenomenon among the elites within the U.S. and other Western countries. There have been numerous studies based on sterilization rates in Puerto Rico. For example, the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union (CWLU) published an article by the Committee for Puerto Rico Decolonization based on an island-wide survey conducted by Paul K. Hatt between 1947 and 1948 discovered the following:

In a study of 5,257 ever-married women 15 years old or over, found that 6.6 per cent had been sterilized. A figure more or less equal (6.9 per cent) was put forward in 1948 by Emilio Cofresi from studies of women who were clients of various programs of the Department of Health in Puerto Rico

According to the CWLU article, Hill, Stycos and Back also initiated an island-wide survey between 1953 and 1954 and found that 16.5% of women 20 years and older were sterilized. By 1965, 31.9% of Puerto Rican women between the ages of 20-49 years were sterilized. Women who were sterilized within the same age group rose to 35.3% in 1968 according to demographer Dr. Jose Vasquez Calzada. In a study conducted by ‘The United Nations, DESA- Population Division: World Contraceptive Use 2010’ it showed the following results of Puerto Rican women who were sterilized by year:











In a documentary film called “La Operacion” (The Operation) about women in Puerto Rico who were coerced to undergo an operation to prevent population growth. The film’s director Ana Maria Garcia was interviewed by Iraida Lopez of Jump Cut: a Review of Contemporary Media, a non-profit organization that offers critical analysis on film and television. Here is part of the interview:

García: One reason for my taking up the theme of sterilization had a lot to do with the eruption of this issue between 1974 and 1976, both in Puerto Rico and in the United States. It was a time when sterilization was a very hot topic, and I always wanted to make my first film about Puerto Rico. I also chose sterilization because it deals with life, with reproduction, with children — all very important issues in peoples lives, that touch me deeply.

In 1974, Puerto Rican politicians of every stripe spoke before the United Nations to present the case of genocide on the island. At that time, more than one-third (35%) of all Puerto Rican women had been sterilized. By 1981 it was 39%. These rates were actually developed on paper in 1968, but it wasn’t until 6 years later that they were fully realized. In 1974, the Puerto Rican Health Department created an auxiliary section of Family Planning headed by Antonio Silva. Silva’s department was to direct an extremely aggressive program of population control. Its explicit aim was to lower the birth rate, unlike other family planning programs which were designed to contribute to mothers’ health.

In this program, sterilization played a particularly intense role. All the goals were superceded. The original goal of the program was 5,000 sterilizations per year (this was confirmed by Silva in a New York Times interview). In fact, over 1,000 women were sterilized each month in public hospitals alone. The same “service” was also offered in private facilities and was covered by medical insurance. Pro-independence leaders and the Catholic Church began to sound the alarm. Cardinal Augusto Martinez wrote editorials in several newspapers, pointing the finger at Silva. The then opposition party also opposed sterilization — ironically today it’s operating the same program, although not on such a massive scale.

The film really isn’t just about sterilization, although that is its focus. Its wider context is the colonization of Puerto Rico and the politics of population control. Sterilization and emigration were the results of a political and economic situation forced on Puerto Rico by the United States

López: When did the sterilization program actually begin?

García: In 1937 a law was approved permitting sterilization for health and economic reasons. This law was primarily aimed at low-income women. Certain laws already existed allowing the dissemination of birth control information. But before these laws went into effect, there was a great public controversy which began around 1920 about what was called “Neo-Malthusianism” in Puerto Rico. The idea was laid out that the island was “over-populated” and this “over-population” had to be controlled. When Operation Bootstrap began, Puerto Rico suffered a rapid transformation of its economy. Unemployment skyrocketed and an outlet was needed for the burgeoning workforce. To achieve this, sterilization was consciously developed as a long-term solution (by lowering the birth rate) and emigration was encouraged as a short-term solution

They were not only sterilizing Puerto Rican women, they were also sterilizing other groups in the U.S. including African-American, Native-American and low-income White women. They also targeted people who were mentally ill, deaf and blind, people with Epilepsy and others who were considered “unfit” or poor for society, it did not matter. Women in Puerto Rico were deceived just like other groups within the U.S. population who were considered “human test subjects” or “Guinea Pigs.” The sterilization procedure was a step towards population reduction. It was a model for other countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia. It was their solution to prevent population growth. Their ideology was exported to the rest of the world which we now see in Kenya. The so-called “Elites” think that they are above all of humanity by coercing or forcing women (in some cases men) to undergo sterilization procedures. It is a crime against humanity. Their main goal is to control the economic, political and social landscapes in a less populated world. That is their ideology, one that serves themselves and no one else.




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