Guatemalan health system in collapse

Issue 

By Margaret Gleeson

GUATEMALA CITY — The Guatemalan public hospital system has collapsed as the country's economic, social and political crisis deepens. Those seeking treatment are required to provide their own medicines, bandages and syringes.

Emergency services have been closed at most hospitals here in the capital, leaving road accident victims with no services.

"Corrupt management and cuts of government funding have resulted in the total dysfunction of the health system at the national level", a trade union organiser (who, for reasons of security, could not reveal his name) told Green Left. "The current health statistics are very grave, but this is a structural problem of Guatemalan society, not one that has arisen overnight."

The popular movement has demanded that the government provide more funds for education, health and housing.

Public sector workers on strike since the beginning of February have included in their demands an increase in funds to the hospital system. The current industrial campaign began at the end of 1993 in response to a rapid rise in inflation. The inflation rate of 90% to 100% is denied by the government, which estimates it to be 12%.

Workers in the public sector are campaigning for a pay rise of 40% in partial compensation for the cost of living increases.

"To date, the government's response has consisted of intimidation and repression of strike leaders", the organiser said. "The government declared the strike illegal — this means that strikers are deemed enemies of the state, in what amounts to a death sentence." Other mechanisms of the government to undermine the strike include death squad activity, intimidation of families and threats of imprisonment of strike leaders.

Government negotiators have also sought to split the two unions leading the strike, FENASTEG and FENASEP, by negotiating only with the more moderate FENASEP. However, FENASTEG has now forced the government to the negotiating table.

The militant demands of the striking public sector workers were taken up at the 5000 strong march to the National Palace on International Women's Day, which included large contingents of women and men workers.

"In not responding to our concrete demands, the government has shown itself incapable of solving the problems of the country. In the face of this the workers see the necessity of continuing the struggle", the union organiser concluded.