EL SALVADOR: 50,000 march against privatisation

October 23, 2002


The streets of El Salvador's capital San Salvador were flooded as more than 50,000 people marched on October 16 in a resounding rejection of the privatisation of health care.

Doctors, nurses, medical students and health workers were joined by the city's working people in the six-hour march, which stretched for more than 20 blocks in downtown San Salvador. Thirty-five organisations from the Salvadoran social movement, along with every MP of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, mobilised to show their solidarity with the health sector trade unionists' month-long strike.

Union leader Ricardo Monge declared: "We are many, we are as one, we are 50,000, we are the entire nation. And we are united in one common cause: to defend the people's right to health care."

Marchers wanted to go to the residence of President Francisco Flores to deliver a document detailing their rejection of his privatisation plan, but were stopped by a military roadblock. Hundreds of riot police armed with automatic weapons, as well as tear gas and pepper spray, had stretched razor wire across the road. Behind them stood a line of soldiers with a water cannon. It appeared that Flores had authorised police to use force to prevent the marchers reaching him.

But the marchers were undaunted, and returned to the Rosales hospital with spirits high, committed to stay in the streets until the Salvadoran government drops its plan to privatise health care.

Omar Castillo, a patient with hypertension who used crutches in order to march, speaking for his fellow patients, stated: "90% of the population are with the doctors. We reject privatisation. We reject Flores' tyranny."

Also on October 16, public Ministry of Health hospitals across El Salvador began a 48-hour solidarity strike which shut down the network entirely. Public hospitals handled only emergency cases.

The popular movement against privatisation is gaining strength by the day. The October 16 march was the largest demonstration in El Salvador in years.

From Green Left Weekly, October 23, 2002.
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