A Continental Victory Over Mass
Care professionals Derail Mass Sell-off in El Salvador
and other medical workers in El Salvador are striking to prevent
public health care from being gobbled by private, for-profit interests,
matching the anti-privatization struggles in BC and the rest of Canada.
doctors – two of whom toured the province early June – are calling for
support from Canadians to help their fight to defeat health care
Armando Lucha, a gynaecologist, and Dr. Luz Estrella visited several
centres in BC to inform Canadians of how the sell-out of public health
care in their country and here is part of the agenda of several
hemispheric free trade deals. The two are leaders of a strike involving
more than 400 doctors and some 350 other health care workers now eight
will especially hard for El Salvador's poor residents since
health care is already 50 years behind in the war-torn Central American
nation, Lucha told a forum in Vancouver June 2. "In a situation like
that, privatization would just mean death for many of the population."
strike affects five of the largest hospitals in the social security
segment of the Central American country's health system. That segment
provides health care for workers and comprises about 11 per cent of the
system. The health ministry provides the national health segment -- 89
per cent -- while the small private sector accounts for the rest.
current battle aims to force the government to live up to an agreement
struck three years ago, said Lucha in an interview. Then, a four-month
medical strike wrung from the ruling right-wing ARENA government a
written commitment "to stop the first steps of privatization." The
agreement was signed also by several health care institutions, civil
organizations, medical colleges, and the doctors and general health
care workers' unions.
pact also contained a pledge to improve the health care system. Foreign
private firms could participate, but only in clearly marked areas such
as the provision of desperately needed medical equipment. Control of
health care services would remain public.
being public, the national health system charges fees for some services
and materials. "Poor people don't have enough money to obtain these
services; some 50 per cent of Salvadorans live under the poverty line,"
strike is dragging on because the government and employers hope to wear
down the opposition, said Lucha. But the strike and its aims have found
broad support, demonstrated by peaceful protest marches of up 350,000
in the nation's capital, San Salvador. There have been seven large
"white" marches, so named because participants wear white to show their
support for the health care workers.
also represents peace. The marches are non-confrontational and involve
no civil disobedience," Lucha said.
Salvador has suffered decades of violence through armed insurrection
against repressive right-wing government's representing an oligarchy of
the country's top wealthy families, who have ruled with the army,
police and death squads. In the nineties the Farabundo Marti Liberation
Front – FMLN – disarmed through an accord and now fights in elections.
It has several representatives in congress.
FMLN made major gains in municipal and legislative elections in March.
Dr. Estrella was elected mayor of Apopa, a large town on the outskirts
of San Salvador. Lucha said the strike,
which began over the firing of 10 health care workers, is having a
strong effect on the fortunes of political parties. ARENA is predicted
to lose next year's presidential race.
the protests have been broken up violently by police, despite the fact
that many police officers don't relish their role and support the aims
of the protests, said Lucha. "So far, no one has been killed – yet."
with Canada there are ties between the
governing parties and those looking to profit from the privatization of
public health care, Lucha observed. That's why it's important for
Canadians to "help us attain the kind of health services you have
here," he urged.
doctors' tour was sponsored by several BC groups, including the BC
Health Coalition, the Christian Task Force on Central America and other support groups,
several unions and the Vancouver & District Labour Council. VDLC
president Bill Saunders cited the "incredibly positive example of
taking up an issue that is current here and showing how much gain can
be made on it, under incredibly repressive conditions.
hear a lot about how corporations dominate the global agenda, said
Saunders. "They don't get enough examples like Bolivia's successful struggle
against privatization of water. Argentina is another example of the
total failure of the World Bank prescription for countries and people
are starting alternative economies. These examples need to be
popularized here. It's not just us who can teach Latin America -- they can teach us some
things. The fight they're fighting is our fight."
striking health care workers are calling on Canadians to write El Salvador's president Francisco
Flores, Canada's foreign affairs minister Bill Graham and Canadian
ambassador to El Salvador, James Lambert. More
information can be obtained from the Christian Task Force on Central America, 604 875-9218, email@example.com.