A recent report shows that while Nicaragua suffered scores of human rights abuses under the decades-long Somoza dictatorship in the leadup to the Sandinista Revolution in 1979, the Somoza family was also simultaneously involved in a little-known but shocking business venture exploiting poor Nicaraguan people: literally sucking their blood to sell for hefty profits in the United States.
The aptly-named company Plasmaferesis was launched in Nicaragua in the 1970’s by Pedro Ramos, a right-wing Cuban doctor who left the island after the Cuban Revolution in 1959. The company bought blood on the cheap from poor and desperate Nicaraguans, separated and froze the plasma, and sent it to Europe and the United States, raking in huge profits.
The Somoza regime was directly linked to the shady business. Anastasio Somoza — the last of the Somoza dynasty to rule the country before his overthrow in 1979 — and his son were both part owners of Plasmaferesis, according to historical accounts of the era published in the 1980’s. The firm also ran its operations on Somoza-owned property in Managua.
Adding to the controversy, Somoza was peddling Nicaraguan blood abroad at a time when the poverty-stricken country needed donations most after a devastating earthquake hit Managua in 1972. The disaster left some 10,000 people dead, 20,000 injured, and over 250,000 homeless. Medical supplies, including blood transfusions, were in short supply.
The Nicaraguan newspaper La Prensa, the most prominent opposition voice that criticized the Somoza dictatorship, broke the scandal in 1977 in a series dubbed the “Vampire Chronicles.” According to the Nicaraguan newspaper El Nuevo Diario, founded in 1980 by a breakaway group of La Prensa staffers, the Plasmaferesis exposé was among the dictatorship-era coverage that most repulsed the society and “devastatingly impacted Somoza.”
Reports said that every morning, the homeless, alcoholics, and poor people went to sell half a liter of blood for 35 (Nicaraguan) cordobas” -- about a $1.25. According to reports published at the time, Plasmaferesis’ health standards were dismal, and the clinics would take blood from the same person up to twice a week if they showed up to sell. While health experts suggest that blood plasma is replaced in a matter of days, the body needs more than 30 days to recuperate a normal red blood cell count.
A report published in the Nicaraguan daily El Nuevo Diario said: “Pedro Ramos was the single most prosperous exporter of human blood plasma in the Western Hemisphere. His donors were desperately poor people, who were paid a pittance for their blood at a private clinic the locals referred to contemptuously as La Casa de Vampiros, or ‘The House of Vampires.’”
The Cuban doctor, Pedro Ramos, fled the grips of justice in Nicaragua and took refuges in Miami. He died in the United States, after having been tried in absentia and found guilty of murder after the Sandinista Revolution. But he never returned to Nicaragua to face his bloody past.
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