Monday, October 6, 2014

Coffee, Sex, Poison and Colombian Insecurity

Ana Maria Gonzalez-Angulo, brilliant
doctor, researcher, poisoner
and Colombian.
After moving to Florida in the late 1990s and beginning an extraordinary career researching and treating cancer, Popayán, Cauca native Ana Maria Gonzalez-Angulo became a United States citizen.

However, when Gonzalez-Angulo went on trial last month for giving poison-laced coffee to her fellow doctor and lover, in the eyes of many she became a Colombian again.

The case, which was tried in a Houston, Texas courtroom, not only exposed a sordid love triangle, but also exposed enduring Colombian insecurities about its identity and image.

Image: Screenshot from
Gonzalez-Angulo, 43 single and childless, treated patients and did research in the world-renowned Her page on the center's website lists 119 peer-reviewed papers which she authored or co-authored, as well as other publications. She also won a prestigious Susan G. Komen fellowship and was a caring, dedicated physician who saved many lives, according to patients who testified at her trial.

M.D. Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas in Houston.

But beginning in early 2011 Gonzalez-Angulo carried out an affair with fellow Dr. George Blumenschein, who also worked at M.D. Anderson. At the same time, Blumenschein, 50, was also in a long-term relationship with his live-in girlfriend, with whom he was trying to have a child.

Image: Screenshot from
On Jan. 27, 2013, as their affair was apparently breaking up, Gonzalez-Angulo invited Blumenschein to her home for "a special Colombian coffee", according to court testimony. The two had sex, and then Blumenschein drank the coffee. But the coffee tasted "sickeningly sweet," Blumenschein later testified. Soon after, he felt disoriented and then went to a hospital, where he was diagnosed with serious kidney damage. The jury concluded that Gonzalez-Angulo had laced her lover's coffee with ethylene glycol, a sweet-tasting ingredient in anti-freeze.

Gonzalez-Angulo could potentially have received a life sentence, but instead was sentenced to ten years in prison for assault. She also appears likely to lose her medical license.

In the U.S. press, Gonzalez-Angulo was portrayed as something of a manipulative, psychopath.
Gonzalez-Angulo at work during better times.
Months before the poisoning incident, she had claimed that she'd been assaulted, supposedly by thugs hired by Blumenschein's long-time girlfriend. But instead of immediately reporting the alleged assault to police, Gonzalez-Angulo told friends that she would handle things "the Colombian way," according to court testimony. Gonzalez-Angulo told co-workers that back in Colombia she'd had people murdered, according to testimony.

Colombian media, however, gave a different spin to the drama, and to Gonzalez-Angulo. Semana, Colombia's leading newsmagazine, put Gonzalez-Angulo on its cover with the question Innocent? El Tiempo, the leading newspaper, published a list of supposed 'doubts' about Gonzalez-Angulo's conviction, such as that the poison supposed laced into Blumenschein's coffee can be purchased over the Internet, and so is available to non-doctors.

Colombian media also sang Gonzalez-Angulo's praises as a life-saver, and emphasized that her imprisonment would be a great loss for science - as tho that were relevant to her guilt or innocence.

Colombian media repeatedly asked: Did Gonzalez-Angulo's Colombian origin weigh against her during the trial? with the obvious implication that it had, and that the star doctor had very possibly been framed.

After all, during the trial the prosecution supposedly kept referring to Gonzalez-Angulo as 'the Colombian doctor.'

Might Gonzalez-Angulo's birth nationality have prejudiced the jury against her? Conceivably. However, one would think that the multiple testimonies about her life-saving medical work would have far outweighed that. But the Colombian media's focus on this point suggests how insecure Colombians continue to feel about their international image.

That insecurity, of course, isn't completely unjustified. After all, the movie and TV-miniseries industries, both in Colombia and internationally, love making dramas about Colombian mafiosos, which make for much more exciting plot-lines than, say, the nation's strong economic growth.

And here a brilliant life-saving doctor is changing that image - and she ends up in prison, too.

The anguish is only compounded by the crime being committed by a Colombian woman - who are supposed to be mostly beautiful extras on Colombian tourist ads - using Colombia's proudest export, coffee.

But the Texas jury surely had access to lots more information than we do, and they concluded that Gonzalez-Angulo was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Sadly, sometimes, even brilliant, talented, accomplished people do really stupid, ugly things.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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