Following weeks of massive demonstrations, El Salvador's National Assembly voted on November 14 to ratify a decree that prohibits the privatisation in any form of the national health care system (known as the Salvadoran Social Security Institute, ISSS). Salvadoran president Francisco Flores had been attempting to let private providers contract for ISSS services.
Fifty-nine of the assembly's 84 members voted for the decree, enough to override Flores' objections. The leftist Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation and some right-wing deputies supported the decree, while the 29 deputies from Flores' right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance opposed it.
Flores is constitutionally obligated to swallow his pride and sign the bill into law. The new law establishes as dominant legal principle the state's obligation to provide accessible quality health care to every Salvadoran near their home, regardless of ability to pay.
Health workers, supported by El Salvador's working class and poor, have protested against the plans since September. On several occasions, giant marches have attracted more than 200,000 people in support of the prolonged strike by health workers.
Ricardo Alfaro, who heads the ISSS doctors' union, said on November 15 that the strike would not end until ISSS workers fired during the protests were rehired.
On November 15, Ricardo Monge, secretary general of the ISSS health workers' union, told thousands of doctors, nurses and health workers who rallied to celebrate that the passage of the decree was a "historic victory".
"We have proven the truth of our most important rallying cry: the people united will never be defeated. Through struggle, the Salvadoran people have stopped the privatisation of health care and struck a decisive blow against the neo-liberal model which strips us of our humanity", Monge declared to a deafening cheer.
Before the jubilant crowd flooded the streets of San Salvador in a spontaneous celebration, strike leaders reminded them that the struggle continues. They warned that Flores could delay signing the decree.
Despite this victory, Flores is still seeking to privatise many other public services. Monge called for the hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans who participated in the three "White Marches" to join in solidarity with the electricity workers' union campaign against privatisation of the energy utilities.
[From the web site of the Committees in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador. Visit <http://www.cispes.org>.]
From Green Left Weekly, November 27, 2002.
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